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Posts Tagged ‘carbon calculators’

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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Today marks the first day of the first phase in my Carbon Conscious Project. Every day of this week, I will record all of my direct carbon producing activities. The following week, I will look at the data, and try to quantify it with all the tools currently at my disposal. The rest will depend on what I find.

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As I am gearing up for the Carbon Conscious Project, I have had the opportunity to test a number of carbon calculators. Some are easier than others to use. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, and could all use some improvements. Here are my top 3 favorites:

  1. Terrapass : I like that it is very easy to use, allows be to input detailed flight routes, and provides for immediate remedial action in the form of purchase of Terrapass carbon offsets for each category, car, flights, and home. I don’t like that it is not clear whether the data is individual or household, and that it does not include other categories such as water usage, food, recycling, etc.
  2. Zero Footprint : I like that it is the most detailed of all calculators, it really gets down to great level of details. There is an option to buy carbon offsets. There is also a community aspect to their site that gives more relevance to the calculator. I will be curious to see how their citywide initiative with the city of Toronto pans out. I did not like that they don’t allow for the input of exact flight mileage, like Terrapass. Also I was not sure if they meant round trips or one way.
  3. Nature: I like that it sticks to basics and is fast and easy to do. They also include food and recycling, and car use data such as air filter and tire maintenance, in their calculation. I do not like that the calculations are very rough, eg, home footprint is based on size of house to 5 bedroom +, and does not take into account actual energy consumption. Also, the flying part is not done according actual mileage.

All three calculators agreed that my footprint is way above US average. Big culprits: all my trips to Hawaii and France, still driving too much, our big house, and the pool. Terrapass provides immediate opportunities to redeem myself with its various offset passes. It will cost me $170 for one year. This is not taking into account, all my trips to Target. None of the calculators include the impact of non food purchases.

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Darmok, thanks for pointing me to the Nobel Prize website. There, I found a real gem.  A transcript of the telephone interview of Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), following the announcement of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, 12 October 2007. The interviewer was Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Nobelprize.org. Here is the part that caught my attention:

(AS) – If individuals were to ask you what they should do to help . . .

(RP) – Yes, yes. (I can so well see it, the Indian head shake . . . Prad being from India, this is an ongoing joke between us, Yes, yes, I am telling you . . .)

(AS) – . . . What would your message be to them? 

(RP) – Well I would say two things. Firstly I think we should ponder and consider, ponder over and consider, the carbon footprint that each of our actions is producing. And I think if we create a consciousness that this world has to move towards a low carbon future, then I think it would certainly set us in a somewhat different direction from what we’ve been following. And secondly I think there is need for major behavioural changes, and changes in lifestyles, and I think if the public puts adequate pressure on governments then governments will frame policies, including putting a price on carbon, that will provide the right signals to the market as well for developing new technologies and being able to disseminate them on a large scale.

So, you mean I am not crazy.  We need to figure out a better, more user friendly system of measuring the impact of each one of our daily actions. Carbon calculators don’t work because they are too rough in the way they operate. The measurements need to get down to the minute level of each ones of our actions, so that we become conscious on a much more refined level. This is an idea that has been dancing in my head for some time now, and Rajendra Pachauri’s words are just what I needed to get going with this project. I want to itemize all the actions that make my days, and start calculating the carbon impact for each one. I will spend the next few days getting set up, and, just to make it clean, I will start next Monday. I will call it the Carbon Conscious Project. I will make it the focus of this blog for the next weeks to come, and see where that takes me.

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