“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Carbon footprint adventures

I made some calculations in my last post regarding my family's use of fossil fuels. I attempted to determine as complete a picture as I could, including such things as goods consumption, food, etc. I also utilized a very simplistic model, assuming all our fossil fuel consumption could be modeled by the chemical combination of n-heptane with atmospheric oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water to estimate our production of carbon dioxide as a result of our energy use. While this undoubtedly leads to inaccuracies, I think it is "in the ballpark."

Since publishing that post, I've played a little bit with the so-called "carbon footprint calculators" to be found all over the web. I've also been as thorough with them as I know how and as they will allow. The results are rather disturbing, if one buys into the theory of anthropogenic global warming by way of carbon dioxide emissions. My "ground up" calculations indicated that my family produces 96 tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions, whereas the calculator linked above shows about 44 tons. This is a rather significant under estimation by more than half, if my calculations are correct. And though they may be off, I don't believe that they are off by that amount.

Now I suppose that those who model climate do so using a better estimate of carbon dioxide emissions than a summation of everyone's output from the carbon footprint calculator. Nevertheless, I imagine many people log on to such sites to determine their footprint and what they can do about it. Based on my results, they severely underestimate the extent of the emissions for which they are responsible and the remedial measures they would need to take.

Assuming that the averages shown on the calculator site are off by the same extent as the results of my calculations, my family of four emits carbon dioxide at a rate of about double the national average, a little under four times the average for so-called "industrial countries," about ten times the world average, and about twenty times the worldwide goal. That is, my family would have to reduce its emissions by about 95% to bring us into accord with that goal.

Wow. If both my wife and I stopped driving, and I stopped flying my airplane, we'd reduce our footprint by just over 50%. In fact, our food consumption alone represents over 8% of our carbon footprint, and thus we would have to eliminate all carbon emissions not involving eating and change our eating to less carbon intensive sources to reduce our footprint by 95%. And as I pointed out in the previous post, this does not take into account our pro-rata share of institutional use of fossil fuels such as military, etc.

If this is truly an accurate representation of our situation and only differs from others in the United States by degree but not basic nature, we aren't going to be able to meet such goals no matter how many conferences in Bali are flown to by worldwide climate diplomats. So what then?

After calculating our footprint, we're given the option of "offsetting" all or part of our carbon dioxide emissions. What would I have to do? I'm given three options: contributing $598 to a "Clean Energy Fund;" contributing $777 to Reforestation in Kenya; and contributing $1,304 to "UK Tree Planting." I get a certificate and everything. Keep in mind, however, that these amounts reflect the carbon dioxide calculated by the calculator at the site, not the ones I calculated from scratch. Those would require over double the expenditure. I guess this is how Al Gore flies around the world and lives in a mansion and yet has a positive effect on climate change. Somehow, I don't feel that everyone buying these offsets will solve our problems.

1 comment:

C-.World said...

That is great stuff. If the 95% reduction to meet the goal is truly essential, we're all screwed. Not to mention that nobody can drive as slow as you do.