Happy Earth Day! As citizens of Planet Earth, it’s important for us to take some time each year to think about and celebrate this third rock from the Sun we call home.

As you learn about recycling and being “green,” you’ll probably hear the phrase “carbon footprint.” These footprints aren’t easy to see, though!

Your carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of greenhouse gases your human activities produce, either directly or indirectly. It’s usually expressed in a number of tons of carbon dioxide.

Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, ozone, and methane, are those gases that scientists believe are contributing to the depletion of Earth’s ozone layer and thus leading to climate change. The more of these gases your activities produce, the more damage you could be doing to the environment.

For example, when you ride in a car to soccer practice, the car’s engine burns fuel. That process produces a certain amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere. Other types of activities that produce carbon dioxide include heating your home and any activities that rely on electricity, since the generation of electrical power usually involves greenhouse gas emissions.

Some carbon footprint emissions are considered to be from direct sources. The fuel you burn in your car, for example, is a direct source.

Most sources of emissions, though, come from indirect sources. For example, when you buy a product that was produced far away from you, the fuel burned to produce and ship that product to you is considered an indirect source.

As you can probably see, measuring your carbon footprint can be a difficult task. In fact, it’s probably impossible to measure it exactly, given the large number of indirect sources involved. However, scientists have come up with many different ways of calculating your carbon footprint that will give you a rough estimate of the amount of greenhouse gases your activities produce.

You might be surprised to learn just how much of an impact your activities produce. Global climate change is a worldwide problem, but each and every one of us contributes to it through our own decisions and actions. Measuring your carbon footprint is one way of gauging how much of an impact your activities have.

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  1. Hi wonderopolis
    Don’t trees need carbon? Have you ever seen duck dynasty. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about
    a race.

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Kate! When electricity is used, carbon dioxide is produced. All the activities we do have an impact on our world. It’s great that you’ve been thinking about how we affect the Earth, and perhaps you can think of some ways you can decrease your carbon footprint? :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Sara! Trees are essential for keeping our Earth great because they absorb a great deal of carbon dioxide. You can Wonder all about the power of rainforests in our Wonder from the past: http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/why-are-rainforests-important/ :)

      Trees need carbon dioxide– this gas helps trees produce sugar for food, and the gases that they don’t need? They release those through their leaves! Fascinating! :)

  2. Thoughts, Connections, Questions: David- Why would it take 50 years for the can to decay? Michael- If it completely disappears, what happened to the dust part of the can? What is global warming? Bryan- Why do people litter? Aaliyah- How long would it take for clothes to decay?

    Predictions: Ashleigh- How do you play tug of war? Stephanie- What is a marathon? Michael- What is your favorite baseball team? Bryan- Why did they make “The Biggest Loser”? David- When was the first race?

    • Good morning, Wonder Friends in Mrs. VanDusen’s Class! Happy Earth Day! It’s so exciting that so many of you shared your thoughts, connections and questions about today’s Wonder! HOORAY for you! :)

      David, Michael, Bryan, Aaliyah, we hope you’ll do some research of your own about your very own questions! Think of how many great things we can do by recycling! Those dusty particles from an old aluminum can will not be floating around, but instead the can will be recycled and used again! How neat!

      We are so excited for tomorrow’s sporty Wonder! We think you’ll all smile when you visit us tomorrow! Thank you for all your cool predictions, Ashleigh, Stephanie, Michael, Bryan, David! :)

  3. We were so surprised that it takes 50 years for a can to recycle itself. We will think twice before littering and try to recycle more at our own homes! We cannot wait to see what is next for tomorrow! :)

    • Good morning, Ms. Burns’ Class! HOORAY for learning something new about recycling today! We are thrilled to hear that you will all find a way to recycle at home– and in school, too! Thank you for making us smile! :)

  4. Thoughts: (Will) We shouldn’t litter. (Luna) We should recycle. (Alexandra) 50 years is a long time. (Chanelle) The can got old and then started to break. (Emma) A carbon footprint isn’t really a footprint. Is it the damage we do to our earth?

    Happy Monday Wonderopolis!

    • Happy Earth Monday, Mrs. Glover’s K-class! We think your thoughts about today’s Wonder are spot on, Will, Luna, Alexandra, Chenelle, and Emma! Recycling can make the world a better place, and with your help, we can reduce our carbon footprint… or negative impact on the world. Have a SUPER day, Wonder Friends! :)

  5. Hi I think Earth day is good becuse, it helps the Earth grow or whatever I think it’s a good day to pick up trash. Also, it lowers the plant rate if we do not pick up the trash and stuff! It also can kill the animals if they eat the trash so they might get endangered or something!!!
    So PICK UP TRASH !!! :) :) :)

  6. Happy Earth Day! I didn’t know that it took 50 years for a can to recycle itself. I think you should not liter because it harms the Earth and takes a long time for the liter to recycle itself. I think it is really sad that some people don’t recycle because it takes a second or a minute to recycle your can or what ever you have.

    • Good morning, Wonder Friends Fizbin and Aubree! We are so glad you shared your enthusiasm with us as we Wonder about keeping the Earth a happy place! Perhaps you can help to spread the word about recycling to your family, friends, neighbors and classmates! Together we can make a difference! Keep up the great work! :)

  7. I agree with the statement “It takes two seconds to recycle a can and it takes 50 years for a can to recycle itself”. I’m wondering why people don’t recycle if it takes 2 seconds? Do they think its to hard or it will take them a long time? I hope everyone chooses to make the right choice to recycle.

  8. I thought that the video was really cool and I liked the message at the end,it takes a second for you to recycle a can but it takes 50 years for a can to recycle itself. So basically your carbon footprint affects the sun and even little things you do can affect your carbon footprint. I think this was a good thing to learn about because today is Earth day.

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us today, McKenna and Laura! We are glad you shared your favorite parts from today’s Wonder– it sounds like you are already recycling! Nice work! Our carbon footprint is a measurement of how we are affecting the Earth, and we can prevent pollution and trash by recycling and using less. We can do it! Happy Earth Day! :)

  9. I didn’t know that was called a carbon footprint . That was also a pretty well thought explanation that they gave. I bet that people throw away a lot of trash away.

  10. Comments: We really need to start being more carfeul about recycling items. We thought the video was a good reminder to keep recycling. 50 years is a long time for one soda can! We need to protect the environment!
    Predictions: A race, pageant, a board game, sports, having fun, fishing contest…

    HAPPY EARTH DAY!

    • Good morning, Wonder Friends in Miss Marsico’s Class! We are thrilled to know that you’ve been WONDERing about how to do our part to keep Earth clean and happy! Recycling rocks, and we can share why recycling is important with our family, friends, neighbors and classmates! We can help spread the word! :)

      Terrific predictions– we can’t wait to let the games begin! :)

  11. I think what happened in the video was that it takes 50 YEARS FOR THE CAN TO BREAK. I THINK IT BROKE BY THE CLIMATE THAT HAPPENS IN THE YEARS.

    • Can you believe it, Ms. R’s Class?! We are glad we know how to recycle so that won’t happen to our precious Earth. The elements on Earth over the course of 50 years stripped down the aluminum can until it disintegrated! We can think of another, and better, way to get rid of that can– recycle! It will be made into a new can in no time at all! :)

  12. -_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

    Sloooow Mooootion Liiiiiittering!!! :D
    Wow That Was Cool!!!
    -_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

    I Wonder What’s Next???
    In Wonderopolis, It’s Not About Whether You Win Or Lose!!!
    UUUUUUH… Soccer Football Baseball Tennis Dodgeball Basketball Volleyball!!!
    -_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

    See You Tommorow For Your WONDERfully WONDERfull WONDERing WONDER WONDERoplis Web Site!!! :D

    -_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-

    • Hey there, Max! We are glad you liked today’s Wonder– we hope you’re recycling today… and everyday! It’s Earth Day, so we are WONDERing about all the ways we can keep the Earth beautiful!

      We love your predictions for tomorrow’s Wonder, Max! So many great sports, we can barely contain our excitement! We think you’re on the right track! See you tomorrow, Wonder Friend! :)

  13. Not shocking that it would take 50 years for a can to break down, can’t wait for the sports WONDER tomorrow. ^^

    • Hey there, Shane, we are glad you’ve been thinking about our WONDERful Earth today! We hope you’re recycling, especially since it takes so long for a simple aluminum can to break down! YIKES! We look forward to WONDERing with you tomorrow… you’re in for a treat! :)

  14. HIIIIII!

    We didn’t know that it took a can 50 years to recycle itself (or decompose). It looked really gross. We think it might take 10 years for a can to just rust.

    We think tomorrow’s Wonder may be about racing or soccer. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about having fun!

    Happy Earth Day!!
    -Ms. G’s Class

    • Happy Earth Day, Ms. G’s Class! We bet you’re right about aluminum cans rusting– it could take many years to get to that stage! We hope you’ll keep up all the great ways you’ve been saving our planet, including recycling and picking up trash! We like where we live, so we have to keep it beautiful!

      Thanks for sharing your SUPER predictions about tomorrow’s Wonder… we think you’ve hit the nail right on the head! :)

    • It’s a great goal and we can try, but we will always have some effect on the Earth, Tanner, as long as we live on it. However, we can reduce it and make a big difference! :)

    • HOORAY, that’s super news, Wonder Friend Anna! Thanks for sharing your comment and visiting us today! Happy Earth Day! :)

    • Great questions, Ashlyn! Carbon dioxide is produced when we use things that involve electricity! For example, it’s important to turn off your lights or TV when you leave the room in order to conserve energy (and produce less carbon dioxide)! We Wonder what you can do to keep the world clean and happy? :)

  15. This is a good way to make little kid know why you need to clean the Earth so it will be clean for the generation and I will go around the neighborhood my mom and dad will let me.

    • Thank you for sharing your awesome comments today, Wonder Friends Brennan and Shayle! We are consumers, which means we use what the Earth produces. But we can consume less than we do today, so it’s great that we’re all WONDERing about it today! We hope you will share what you learned with your family, friends, and classmates! It’s great to spread the news about how we can help our planet! Happy Earth Day! :)

    • Great question, Tanner F! While it’s tough to completely eliminate a carbon footprint, it is important to work toward reducing our carbon footprints. Together, we can make an impact! We will still use energy, throw away garbage and use gas in our cars, but if we can do less of that, we can reduce our footprints! :)

  16. Dear Wonderopolis,

    Here is a list of ways my students said they will “be green” today!
    Jon – “One way I will be green today is I will put my papers and bottles in the recycling bins and not the garbage.”
    Michelle – “I will recycle my paper and stuff today.”
    Elliot – “I will put my can in the recylcing bin.’
    Alexa – “I will pick up the litter outside.”
    Alex – “I will put garbage in the garbage can.:
    Kevin – “I will throw the paper in the recycling bin.”
    Steve – “I will take out the garbage at home to the corner of the street.”

    Thanks for the awesome article!

    Ms. Mautone’s Reading Basics Class

    • We are totally thrilled to read your comment today, Ms. Mautone’s Reading Basics Class! Jon, Michelle, Elliot, Alexa, Alex, Kevin, Steve and Ms. Mautone: than you for sharing what you will do to make our world an awesome, clean and fun place! HOORAY for you! :)

      Happy Earth Day, Wonder Friends! Keep up the great work! See you soon! :)

  17. My class says this video was awesome! We didn’t know that a can takes 50 years to recycle itself! We recycle things in our classroom everyday!

    P.S. We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about games. :-)

    • Good afternoon, Wonder Friends in Ms. Moreland’s 3rd Grade Class! Happy Earth Day- we’re so glad to Wonder with you today! It’s awesome to hear that you have been recycling already, keep up the great work! Our world is a better place because of awesome Wonder Friends like you! See you tomorrow for lots of WONDERing fun! :)

  18. If we are reducing our carbon footprint, how and who does it help
    - Mrs. Zertuche’s 5 group
    P.S. We think this website is amazing
    P.P.S. Happy Earth Day :)

    • HOORAY for you, Mya, and the awesome Wonder Friends in Mrs. Zertuche’s 5 group! Reducing our carbon footprint means that we are doing less to harm the Earth, and more to keep it healthy, clean and happy! Every time we use less of something, including trash, we can help the planet. We are so glad you’ve joined us on this lovely Earth Day! Thank you for sharing your comment, Wonder Friends! :)

  19. Another Great Wonder!

    What we learned:
    It uses more gas when you buy things from the super market (instead of the local market) – Leanna

    It takes 50 years for a can to decompose – Andrew

    How carbon dioxide effects the ozone layer – Brian

    Prediction: sportsmanship – Bella

    Connection: I can connect this to when my phone was shipped by truck from California. – Dominic

    • Good afternoon, Mrs. Ross’s Class, and thank you for celebrating Earth Day with us! Leanna, Andrew, Brian, Bella and Dominic, we are so excited that you shared what you learned! We hope you will keep WONDERing about the different ways you can help to keep the Earth clean and happy! We look forward to WONDERing with you tomorrow, and we can’t wait to form more connections with you! Great work! :)

    • Hey there, Kyle! We’re sorry to heat that this isn’t one of your favorite Wonders, but we appreciate your comment! Perhaps there is another topic that you prefer to Wonder about…? We’d love to know! :)

  20. Last Saturday, my family and I joined an Earth Day cleanup crew, and we were sent to the jackpot! All the houses nearby had the cleanest yards, but in the area where it wasn’t anybody’s yard, it was filthy! There were five diapers and even a pillow! And to make matters worse, there were even huge trash cans nearby! People really need to take a step back and look at if they are pleased with their doings. ;(

    • We’re so glad that you and your WONDERful family are taking part in an Earth Day activity! What a great way to spend time together while you help this awesome planet we live on! :)

      We sure are glad to have a great Wonder Friend like you, Madeline! It sounds like everyone benefitted from your help– nice work! :)

  21. I think that is really rude to throw trash on the ground and it hurts the world that who ever did that they should get a ticket because who ever did that there being mean to the world.

    • Hey there, Kiersten! Thanks for sharing your comment– we’re glad you’ve been thinking of different ways you can keep the Earth clean and safe! We all need to do our part to clean up after ourselves! :)

  22. Happy Earth day Wonderopolis. We were wondering if you could write a wonder about how the Incans and Aztecs lived? Thanks, Mr. Jensens class

    • What a SUPER Wonder suggestion, Mr. Jensen’s Class! We love WONDERing about the history of our ancestors, and those who lived way before our time! We Wonder if you are studying the Incans and the Aztecs in class right now?

      Thanks for visiting us today! We look forward to WONDERing with you again! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Reid! Wasn’t today’s Wonder video fascinating? While it’s cool to learn how long an aluminum can will take to disintegrate, we know that recycling can help our world. By recycling that aluminum can, we can make even more things out of it! A can of soda or juice today might be recycled, melted down, and created into another can in just a few weeks! :)

  23. Hi Wonderopolis!

    We had no idea that it takes 50 years for a can to recycle itself! We just took a quiz about our carbon footprints! Navleen’s was 21 and Mikayla T’s was 23. Today we are going to have a workshop about carbon footprints and how to make the world a better place. The lowest footprint in our class was 18. The highest was 24. We really enjoyed this Wonder to help us with our learning! Bye

    Mikayla T and Navleen

    • Hey Wonder Friends Navleen and Mikayla T! Can you imagine… 50 years for a can to “recycle” itself, but in just a few seconds, we can recycle the things we use to be used again! HOORAY for recycling!

      It sounds like you are both thinking about ways that you can contribute to making our world a better place- we’re so proud of you! It’s great to Wonder with you, keep up the SUPER work! :)

  24. Hi Wonderopolis,
    Today we took a carbon footprint quiz! It was very fun! I had 24 points so that means I make a medium sized mark. Today we’re having a workshop on carbon footprint! I’m very excited! Today was a great wonder and I loved the video and the little saying at the end! I think tomorrow’s wind is going to be about team spirit,being supportive or being a good sport!

    -Mikayla R

  25. Hi Wonderopolis I loved your wonder today. I didn’t know that it takes 50 years for a can to recycle itself that is cool. I had a question how do you get all this information? Also my class is having a workshop about Climate Change. Also you might want to check out our wonder wall on MrstsGrade3/4′s class blog :)

    • Good afternoon, Wonder Friends Mikayla R and Kabir! HOORAY for you- we’re happy that your classroom has taken the carbon footprint quiz! We bet you’re already coming up with different ways you can make a difference in the world! There is so much going on to help our Earth– you’re making us smile here at Wonderopolis! Have a great time at your climate change workshop, we can’t wait to hear all about it! It sounds like you’re in one WONDERful class, with a Wonder Wall and all! :)

  26. The day of earth is important because there is trash all around the world. Earth Day is the day we pick the trash up.

    If there was trash all around the world, people would get dust in their eyes, kids could not go outside, and they could get hurt.

    • Good morning, Wonder Friend Injie! Earth Day is very important, and we’re glad you’ve been WONDERing about how we impact the world. It’s important to pick up after ourselves so we keep our Earth clean and beautiful, and Earth Day is a great reminder of how we can protect the world! Thanks for sharing your comment about Earth Day, great job! :)

  27. Dear Wonderopolis

    I really like that story about the carbon foot print it has a lot of details and it is very interesting. :)

  28. Dear Wonderoplis,

    I like the thing you made for Earth Day and the “How big is your compost” and the post about the compost stuff and the people that comment on Wonderoplis and where did you find all this stuff on Wonderopolis?

    Your Friend,
    Adrien.

    • Thanks for telling us about what you learned from our carbon footprint Wonder, Matthew and Adrien! We hope you’ll share what you learned and how we can all help to keep our planet happy and healthy! We do lots of reading, research, WONDERing and sometimes we talk to experts to gather all the information for our Wonders of the Day! :)

  29. Dear wonderoplis,

    WOW I never new how big my carbon foot print was. I didn’t know what a carbon footprint was. How did you know what a carbon footprint was? I wonder how big my carbon footprint is? How big is yours?

    Your new friend,

    Jacklyn

  30. Dear Wonderopolis posters,

    I liked your story and I think it is nice and I think people should stop using gas and start using bikes instead of cars and so people’s carbon foot print but I’m changing groups so I have to go bye.

    • Hey there, Wonder Friends Jacklyn and Katie! Thanks for sharing your super comments with us, we are thrilled to know that you’ve been thinking of your very own carbon footprints today! We can make a big difference if we all pitch in! There are lots of us here at Wonderopolis… so we all have different carbon footprints to report! See you soon! :)

  31. Dear Wonderopolis,

    Hello my name is Hunter I really liked the article about carbon footprint. It was really cool. I can’t wait until you make another article. Can you please make the paragraphs longer?

    Your reader,

    Hunter.

  32. Dear Wonderopilise ,

    Were do you get this information?
    I think this is the best article ever in the world.
    I like your video it is nice.

    Your reader,
    Lindsay Swigert

    • Hello to our Wonder Friends Hunter and Lindsay! It’s so awesome that you visited us today and you’ve learned something new! We need to do our part to keep our planet clean for many years to come! :) Thank you for sharing your kind comments with us today, we are glad you’re here! :)

  33. Dear Wonderopolis,

    That is cool how you put a video of can on the side of the sidewalk recycling itself. Your article it was really cool.

    Your reader,
    Raymond

    • Thanks for sharing what you learned today in our Wonder about keeping the planet clean and healthy, Raymond! We hope you like recycling, too! It’s great for our planet! :)

  34. Heyyyy I think this article is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Well thank you so very much, Wonder Friend Emily! We are oh-so-glad you’ve been WONDERing with us today! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How big is your carbon footprint?
  • What are greenhouse gases?
  • What types of activities emit greenhouse gases?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

Ready to do your part for the environment? With the help of a friend or family member, check out the following activities to extend your learning about greenhouse gases and their effects on the environment:

  • You’ve learned a bit about greenhouse gases in today’s Wonder of the Day. Extend your learning by checking out the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gases website. You’ll learn more about the different greenhouse gases, how they’re produced, and how you can reduce them. Which greenhouse gases do your activities produce regularly?
  • Want to see a more tangible example of the greenhouse effect? Jump online to check out The Greenhouse Effect Experiments to learn how the inside of a car can mimic the greenhouse effect. You can also follow the given directions to conduct your own simple science experiment to see how you can recreate the greenhouse effect right in your own kitchen.

Up for a challenge? Do you have any idea exactly how big your family’s carbon footprint is? Let’s find out! Grab a friend or family member and jump online to use the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) free online Household Carbon Footprint Calculator. Of course, a simple online calculator won’t give you an exact measurement of your carbon footprint, but it’ll give you a good rough estimate of what it is. It’ll also help you identify those areas where your family could be more “green.” Be sure to check out the areas of the EPA’s site that discuss how to reduce emissions. You can also see estimates of how much money your family can save by reducing emissions. Have fun learning how your actions as a family can make the Earth a better place to live!

Still Wondering

National Geographic Xpeditions’ Earth Day Every Day lesson demonstrates how classroom and community projects can improve the local environment and benefit communities beyond one’s own.

Wonder What’s Next?

In Wonderopolis, it’s not about whether you win or lose!

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