Need a New Year’s Resolution or Two? Carbon Calculators to the Rescue!

CF_summaryI tried four carbon footprint calculators and even though they used varying methodologies the basic message was: while I’m not as swash-buckling as most extreme users of our natural resources, I have a long, long way to go to get down to 2 metric tons or less of CO2 emissions a year (yes, that’s the per-person goal to reduce the upward spiral of CO2 in our atmosphere). To get there I’m going to have to make some potentially radical changes in my life.

These are the calculators I tried:

•    The Nature Conservancy
•    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
•    CoolClimate Network
•    CarbonFootprint

Let’s look over the edge of the cliff and take a gander at’s assessment:

•    House: 2.4 tonnes. Ok, so I’m just out of the gate and I’m already over my limit. The calculator looked at electricity, natural gas, heating oil, coal, LPG, propane, wooden pellets. We use electricity and propane – and apparently just a little too much of it!
•    Flights: 1.32 tonnes. I only took one flight this year, normally, for work and pleasure I’d fly from coast to coast 5-6 times a year. So, this year was better than the 7.92 tonnes of the previous three years. If I wasn’t going to fly my options are to drive (far from carbon neutral), move closer to my family on the East Coast and bid my West Coast friends good bye with a promise to video conference occasionally, or stay on the West Coast and not travel to see family/friends on the East Coast. Hmmm! There must be some other options as well.
•    Car: 5.86 tonnes. I don’t commute to work (haven’t in 20 years of working for myself and telecommuting for other companies) so you would think my car use would be puny, and it was in previous years, but this year, we used the car to drive across country. See a pattern? The message I’m getting is that I can’t have a bi-coastal life and be low carbon too. That’s a little sad. So, to reduce car use I could eschew family/friends on the East Coast (see Flights above), buy a house that has a few fenced in, preferably treed, acres for the dogs to run so we don’t have to drive them somewhere every day, which we do; and bike everywhere else. Right now, I’m waiting for a knee injury to heal before I take to my bike, so staying physically fit needs to be added to the low-carbon regimen as well.
•    Motorbike: 0 tonnes. Woohoo! No motorcycles here.
•    Bus & Rail: .01 tonnes. I rarely need to take a bus or train.
•    Secondary: 4.43 tonnes. This section looked at food preferences, fashion, packaging, furniture, recycling, recreation, car manufacture, finance and other services. To come out carbon neutral my answers would have had to have been:

o    I’m a vegan
o    I grow my own food or buy organic
o    I only buy food in season
o    I only buy second-hand clothes
o    I don’t buy anything with packaging – that’s a neat trick!!
o    I only buy second-hand furniture and appliances
o    Everything I use gets recycled or composed
o    I only do zero-carbon recreational activities (e.g., walking, cycling)
o    I don’t own a car (easier to do in a town or city, of course)
o    I don’t even have a bank account (not sure I can go here, but interesting they thought this was a large enough source of carbon to be mentioned).

EPA’s calculator stressed these lifestyle changes:
•    Turn down household’s heating thermostat on winter nights (we do that by 13 degrees). Chris Goodall’s book recommends keeping the thermostat at 65 degrees during the day – Brrr! 68 degrees has us in sweaters.
•    Turn up household’s air conditioner thermostat in the summer
•    Enable power management features on your computer and monitor
•    Wash your clothes in cold water instead of hot (I was washing in warm water, but now I’ve switched to cold).
•    Use a clothesline or drying rack for 50% of your laundry instead of your dryer (done!)
•    Substitute your household’s current electricity use with Green Power.
•    Replace 60-watt incandescent light bulbs with 13-watt Energy Star lights
•    Replace old refrigerator with Energy Star model
•    Replace single-pane windows with Energy Star windows.


Nature Conservancy’s carbon calculator. Ability to buy carbon offsets at end of calculator.

Nice thing is that EPA’s site shows you what your dollar and CO2 savings would be for any of the changes noted above.

Nature Conservancy offers to relieve us of our carbon-guilt by giving us an opportunity to buy carbon offsets at the end of the calculator.

Coolclimate calculator lists actions to take and their yearly CO2 reduction and money savings. Actions to take include:

•    Diet change. Yup, you guessed it. Less meat and dairy.
•    Upgrading vehicle efficiency
•    Telecommuting to work.
•    Carpooling to work
•    Riding your bike
•    Taking public transportation
•    Line-drying clothes
•    Adjust thermostat summer and winter
•    Switch to CFL light bulbs
•    Reduce air travel
•    Buy an Energy Star fridge (there it is again – Energy Star)
•    Offset shopping (or buy used!)
•    Purchase green electricity
•    Offset housing (if there’s nothing to be done about electricity and heating/cooling use)
•    Offset transportation
•    Go Organic

The items that are listed above as having the biggest reduction in carbon emissions are: change diet (1.38 metric tons saved), upgrade vehicle efficiency (2.06 metric tons saved), and purchasing green electricity (8.2 metric tons saved).

Although each calculator stressed different ways to reduce our carbon footprint, there was a lot of overlap: transportation, housing and food being three areas individuals can make substantial changes.

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