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Posts Tagged ‘carbon footprint’

This morning, ClimateBiz reports on a recent survey by a Seattle P-I journalist on carbon calculators. The reporter tried out ten different calculators, and here are the results:

Not surprising. Last year, I did my own exploration of carbon calculators, and came out equally confused. TerraPass had made it into my list of Top 3 Calculators, along with ZeroFootprint and Nature. Now comes Cool Climate, the new calculator from UC Berkeley, that promises to be better than all its predecessors.

Not only is it hard to figure out which calculator to use, but there is also the accountability problem of carbon offsets, carbon calculators’ close cousins. When I am sitting at home in California, how can I know for sure, that the money I am giving will indeed result in carbon credits? The alleged 20% rate of doubtful credits, as reported by the U.N. Clean Development Mechanism organization, spells out caution.

Last, I have my own reservations about the behavioral consequences of relying too much on carbon offsets. I have said it before, we cannot buy our way out of our predicament. Conservation, efficiency, smarter technology solutions, should always come first, with carbon offsets as the absolute last resort. Recognizing that there are indeed circumstances when one has to fly, as an example, and carbon offsets do have a very legitimate role.

I wonder, what is your experience with carbon calculators? Do you buy carbon offsets? If so, when? How would you improve the current system?

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Nothing like a two-feet wide shower to get you out quick! Prad and I are discovering the charms of Parisian living in our ‘rue du Bac‘ apartment. Likewise, our kitchen only allows for one person at a time comfortably. This is quite a change from our California sprawl, . . . And made me think of the power of small to restrain one’s behaviors. 

As much as we shape our environment, we are also very influenced by our environment. If we want to change, let us modify our living spaces. This way we won’t even have to think so hard about conserving. 

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Starting tomorrow, I will be off to Europe for a two-week visit to my family, followed by a tour of the Tuscan countryside. If I was 100% pure, I would stay home, and use Skype to stay in touch with my loved ones. After all, air travel is one the most CO2 intensive mode of transportation:

This is where the power of emotional ties collide with my green conscience. The tragedy of my 86-year old mother slowly falling to Alzheimer’s, and the adorable pictures of my new six-month old nephew Amadeo, are stronger than all the carbon calculations. I have to go.

To ease up my footprint, I will, of course, buy carbon offsets from Terrapass. And dream of a not so distant future, when air travelling may not be such a curse on the environment.

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I know, I know, the American people are suffering. 4$ a gallon, and rising. I should share our nation’s outrage, and feel sorry for my compatriots. At the risk of being perceived, once more, as a cold-hearted human being, I decided to take a look at these numbers – from here and here -

Makes me wish for $8 and up, a gallon . . .

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Until today, I resisted the urge to comment on Wired provocative article on Inconvenient Truths: Get Ready to Rethink What It Means to  Be Green.  Lynn Miller‘s comment on Goeff Livingston‘s post about Wired piece, gave me the push I needed. 

First, I agree with Lynn. Anything that can draw people into thinking about their carbon footprint, has my full endorsement. Second, I would also hope that the information that is being conveyed does not further confuse citizens. People need clarity, not controversies. Third, I agree with Goeff Livingston, that any respectable journalism medium, such as Wired magazine, ought to do its homework, and convey only accurate information, to the best of their knowledge.

About Wired‘s  ‘10 Green Heresies‘, here is what I think:

  1. Live in cities: YES and NO; I have written before about supporting research for YES. At the same time, there is something about living closer to nature that supports  greener behavioral changes. It may be that we have not found yet the way to optimize the way we live in non urban settings.
  2. A/C is OK: NO; The fact that A/C is less of a villain than heating, does not make it right.
  3. Organics are not the answer: YES and NO;  I do not agree with the whole setup for their argument. The bigger issue is of conservation and proper use of natural resources. Their point about the role of transportation in carbon footprint is also highly debated. I do support their point about limiting read meat and pushing a vegetarian diet.
  4. Farm the Forests: YES and NO; I am aware that trees are a complex issue; on the whole however, more trees is better than less, and deforestation in the Amazon is never good. 
  5. China is  the solution: YES and NO; it is hard to ignore the polluting of the rivers, and of the air, and the exponential growth of coal plants
  6. Accept genetic engineering: NO; I am no expert. Still that one does not feel right. I say, let us address the issue of growing population with family planning and education, and conservation strategies. Let us eliminate the food waste, let us eat less, and less processed food.
  7. Carbon trading doesn’t work: YES; Carbon trading is an easy way out, that does not solve the fundamental problems of needing to produce less greenhouse gases at each source. 
  8. Embrace nuclear power: YES (reluctantly); I know I will get a lot of grief for that one, from some of my antinukes friends. The issue here is, if not nuclear energy, so what? Can we say with confidence that renewable energies, and conservation measures will be set in place soon enough to win the race against greenhouse gas emissions?
  9. Used cars – not hybrids: YES and MORE; as in retrofitting old cars, biking or walking instead of driving, carpooling, and hopefully soon electric cars that will be recharged with renewable energies. I do own a Prius, but I agree with them, a little old car with good gas mileage would be just as good. 
  10. Prepare for the worst: YES.

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As of late, Gallup has been a great source of important climate related behavioral data. Here is the third survey in the series, this time taking a look at differences between top polluting nations:


These are global numbers. Equally relevant are per capita footprints – latest, 2006 data from Footprint Network:

United States 9.6

China 1.6 (and growing quickly)

Russia 4.4

Japan 4.4

India 0.8 (also growing)

Japan and the US have done a good job at educating the public. China, and even more so India have done a poor job. In both of these countries, one should consider helping with educational efforts, particularly as consumption, and the risk of associated environmental damage, are growing exponentially.

Differences in education, infrastructure, access to resources such as water, and wealth, have a direct impact on citizens’ behavior:

My main take away: people are a product of their environment. Change the environment, and you will get different behaviors. Make it hard for people to access resources as in India with water for instance, and they will use less. Give them the right infrastructure, as in recycling in Japan or the US, and they will follow.

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Michael Pollan‘s got it all right in ‘Why Bother?‘, his long and well worth reading article in today’s New York Times. And puts back the responsibility for climate change right where it belongs. On I, on you, on us. Here is the part that really struck a chord with me:

If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others – from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

All of this could, theoretically, happen. What I’m describing (imagining would probably be more accurate) is a process of viral social change, and change of this kind, which is nonlinear, is never something anyone can plan or predict or count on. Who knows, maybe the virus will reach all the way to Chongqing and infect my Chinese evil twin. Or not. Maybe going green will prove a passing fad and will lose steam after a few years, just as it did in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan took down Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the roof of the White House.

Now, I need to be honest with myself, and all of you, and face up to all the reasons why I have not made more changes yet in my still very carbon polluting lifestyle. The impatience I shared in ‘Lots of Talk About Sustainability, Little Action‘ was as much about my own behavior as about the persistent apathy in my fellow Americans. Sure I have made progress compared with one year ago when I started on this journey. I have cut down my shopping to the bare necessities, mainly food. I am biking, and walking, and taking the train, more and more. I remember to turn off the power strip for my computer most of the times. I am planning my groceries a lot more efficiently. I do laundry only once in a blue moon, and save the dryer only for the small items. etc . . . One could say I am doing better than most.

Better than most is still not good enough. I know it. I am still letting my seventeen year old daughter drive her SUV, because ‘if she wants a new car, she’s got to buy her own, and the SUV is the only old car we can spare’. I still have not resigned myself to condemning the pool. We don’t heat it, but the filter goes on year round. I am still quick sometimes to grab the car keys, when ‘I am in a hurry’, or ‘it is too cold out’, or ‘it is getting dark’. You get the picture. The reality still has not completely sunk in.

On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 not bothering at all to 10 being 100% committed, I see myself as a 6. How about you?

 

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A comment from Meryn Stol resurrected my interest in green working‘, a concept that came up in some of my earlier discussions with my friend Bruno de Beauregard, one of France’s pioneers in the field of online collaborative tools, and now involved with Netcipia, a wiki startup. Green working is a way of living that minimizes carbon costs associated with traditional work models. I have boiled it down to six principles:

  • Work from home
  • If not possible, find a place of work close to home
  • Either walk, bike or use public transportation to go to work
  • Limit number of days in outside office
  • Minimize business travel as much as possible
  • When in the office, become an environmental advocate, e.g, insist that all lights and equipment be turned off when not in use

This, folks is how I would answer Pamela Poole’s question, What Does the 21st-Century Workplace Look Like? The most exciting part about the green working concept, is the existence of emerging technologies, that will soon make it a reality for the majority of workers in the world. The following video features Cisco telepresence technology of remote collaboration, as demonstrated by John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, and Al Gore during their virtual meeting, at the recent VoiceCon 2008 Conference:

Pretty exciting! For more on Cisco‘s green working related initiatives, click here.

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Earth Day is approaching, and with it, waves of unease in the blogosphere. Echoing one of my earlier posts, ‘Green Festival or Celebration of Green Consumption?‘, an article in Ad Age this morning, raises the question of ‘Is Earth Day the New Christmas?‘.

Consumerism pervades our entire culture, we know that. And Earth Day is not exception. In the absence, still, of strict FTC guidelines, marketers are going to go wild with greenwashing on April 22nd. Newsweek, Target, Banana Republic, Macy’s, Toys’R’Us, Sweet Leaf Tea, Fairmont Hotels, Barbie dolls, Wal-Mart, Clorox, are amongst some of the companies that will ‘celebrate’ green, according to the Ad Age article.

I say, we go back to the original spirit of Earth Day, and we use the day as another ‘no shopping day‘ instead. Will you join me?

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I kind of knew, but did not expect I would get into so much controversy with my recent post about Danone Water. Bottled water still is a hot topic in the environmental blogosphere . . . As evidenced by this fresh email exchange with Meryn Stol, a frequent contributor to the discussions in this blog:

Meryn:

What’s your opinion on bottled water? I’m hoping for the day it will be gone, entirely. (well unless we happen to find a limitless green energy source…)

Marguerite:

My opinion on bottled water? I have stated it clearly in my answers to some of the comments to the Danone article. I think bottled water is used as a scapegoat for other things. I try to limit my use of it, as it is the only drink I consume, other than tea or coffee. No juices or soft drinks for me. But as a consumer, I do love a good mineral water. I can taste the difference between the different waters. I would never buy a purified water as what is sold in the US, since that is the same thing as tap water, only in a bottle. If you are going to ban bottled mineral water, then you should ban all bottled drink.

There are much bigger problems to tackle. Driving cars is on top, as are energy use in the home, eating read meat, and shopping.

Meryn:

Let me clarify that. I’m not into “banning” anything. I don’t see regulation as the solution to anything. It both assumes and suggests conflict of interest, which I don’t think is there. I’m hoping for the day that everyone leaves bottled water on the supermarket shelf, even it would be sitting there for free, even when people would earn money by drinking it.

You say: ” There are much bigger problems to tackle.” Have you researched that? Maybe driving cars and eating red meat do more for a typical person’s ecological footprint, but I also think they are much less obvious substitute ready. I think the difference between red meat and no red meat, or driving and no driving (substituting ONE drive for something else) is much bigger than drinking mineral water vs drinking tap water.

I think each change in different sorts of consumption could be said to have a personal cost / environmental benefit ratio. Do you know any data on this?

From your telling, I get the feeling that to you, car driving and eating red meat is much less sacred than drinking material water, but I don’t think that’s generalizable. I for instance, never drink mineral water, and have never missed it. Well-filtered tap water is lovely.

Because of the hardening economic times, we might get some data on what “indulgences” Americans would be willing to give up first.

Any more thoughts?

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