Carbon Activism for Beginners
by Guy Dauncey
So – the news is not good. The world’s CO2 emissions
are still rising, and the global temperature is still rising.
The world’s oil companies are still hungry to drill more and sell
more. They haven’t got the message.
Nor have we, as consumers. We’re still flying,
driving, heating inefficient homes, eating beef, and buying all
the latest appliances as if the words "global climate change"
were the beginning of a pleasant Shakespearean sonnet, not a dire
warning about planetary chaos, death and disaster. There’s an
enormous disconnect between what we read in the papers about the
likely effects of climate change, and the way we live our lives.
The level of our collective Canadian commitment to reduce our
emissions, I fear, is around zero.
Canada’s plan to reach the Kyoto target asks each
of us to reduce our personal emissions of CO2 by 20% below today’s
level, by 2012. Recently, each time I have spoken to an environmental
audience, I have asked people to put up their hands: "How
many of you know how much CO2 emissions you produced last year?"
Not a single hand has gone up. Not one.
Yes, I agree: it’s the motor corporations, the
oil companies, the big industrial producers that have to make
the real changes. We’ll get to that. But how much credibility
do we have when we demand that they reduce their emissions, if
we’re not also reducing our own? In preparation for an explosion
of courageous, feisty, carbon activism, therefore, all around
the world, let’s clean up our own act first.
Step 1: How Much CO2 are You Producing?
Calculate your personal emissions for last year
(see Box). It may seem like an effort, but once you’ve done it,
you’ll feel good. Compared to doing your taxes, it’s a doddle.
A typical family of three with two cars, which flies to an annual
vacation, might produce 50 tonnes of CO2 a year. The same family,
living in a small, efficient house with no car, and no annual
flight, might produce 10 tonnes.
Step 2: To Drive, or Not to Drive?
The less you drive, and the more efficient your
vehicle, the fewer your emissions will be. A typical car produces
3 times its weight in CO2 emissions. A bicycle produces no CO2
at all; nor do your feet. Buses and trains are much more efficient
way of travelling; you might want to sell your car, and join a
car-share group instead. If you must drive a car, try to buy the
most efficient model. There’s a world of difference between a
Honda Insight (2.8 tonnes a year) and a Dodge Ram (11.5 tonnes).
And slow down - you’ll burn 25% less fuel at 90 than at 110 kph.
55 kph is the most fuel-efficient speed. And stop idling: if you’re
going to idle for more than 10 seconds, switch your engine off.
Step 3: Sleep Tight, Sweet Home
A typical house produces 8 - 10 tonnes of CO2
a year from the gas, oil or electricity that are used to heat
it. Arrange to have a home EnerGuide assessment, and act on the
advice. By caulking to stop drafts, increasing your insulation,
installing programmable thermostats, and a few other things, you
can reduce your emissions by up to 30%, while reducing your fuel
bills and making your home more cosy. A clunky old clothes washer
will use twice the energy of an efficient front-loader; the same
applies to fridges, dryers, dishwashers and water heaters. That
old fridge in the basement could be producing a tonne of CO2 a
year. If you switch to Energy Smart appliances and efficient lights,
and install programmable thermostats, you could save 4-5 tonnes
of CO2 a year.
Step 4: Welcome the Sun
A solar hot water heater on your roof could reduce
your emissions by 0.7 tonnes, depending on your source of electricity,
and how much hot water you use. A 2 kW solar PV system could save
you 2.5 tonnes a year if you live in a sunny area, if can afford
the $22,500 cost. Here’s hoping that the Canadian government follows
New York, California and Japan by introducing subsidies. The price
should begin to fall dramatically in 2005 when Japanese mass production
heralds in the solar revolution. Check out ground-source heating
too (also known as Earth energy), as another form of efficient
Step 5: Buy Green Energy
If you live in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario,
Nova Scotia or PEI, an additional $5 to $15 a month could buy
you green electricity from solar, wind or geothermal, instead
of coal, oil or gas, which will help you to reduce your emissions,
and help build the clean energy movement.
Step 6: Eat Less Beef; Buy or Grow More Local
This might surprise you, but cows produce copious
amounts of methane by burping from their famous three stomachs.
Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so the average beef-eater
is responsible for 0.35 tonnes of greenhouse gases (as CO2 equivalent)
a year. So eat less beef! Also, by eating more locally grown food,
you reduce the CO2 needed to ship food around the world. And by
eating more organic food, you increase the amount of carbon which
is stored in the soil.
Step 7: Don’t Fly Away
One day, airplanes may fly on hydrogen or biodiesel. Until then, airplanes are responsible for somewhere between 3 – 10% of all global warming; a 4,000 km flight will release 570 kg of CO2 per passenger. A return trip to the moon, if Air Canada flew that far, would generate 114 tons per passenger (400,000 kilometres each way). So pause before you fly, and ask if your flight is really necessary.
Check your CO2 before you flyusing one of these calculators:
Step 8: Tis a Gift to be Simple
Let’s be honest – we live in the world’s most
materialistic culture. Everything we buy needs energy to produce,
package and transport it, and it all produces CO2. Recycling helps
– every recycled bottle saves 0.5kg of CO2, compared to making
a new one; every recycled newspaper saves 100 grams of CO2. If
we buy less stuff, there’s less to be manufactured, less to worry
about, and less to dispose of when it’s dead.
Step 9: Tis a Gift to be Carbon Neutral
So, you’ve done everything you can, and you’re
still producing CO2 emissions. What can you do? You can buy carbon
offsets that will either absorb your emissions (by planting trees),
or prevent the release of a similar amount of CO2 by other means.
The going price is around $13.50 ($10 US) a tonne, so if you produced
20 tonnes of CO2 last year, you owe the Earth $270 in "One
World" carbon taxes, which can be used to neutralize your
emissions. The Solar Electric Light Fund, based in Washington
DC, will accept your carbon neutralizing contributions ($10 US
per tonne) and use it to help low income families in Bhutan, Brazil
or the Solomon Islands install solar PV systems, displacing the
use of kerosene or diesel. Or you can invest in a tree-planting
program: one tree will absorb 1 tonne of CO2 over 40 years, and
you should plant three to be sure that one survives. If you produce
20 tonnes of CO2 a year, you’d need to plant 60 trees.
Step 10: Turn on the World
Now you know what you produced last year, and
you can set a personal carbon budget for the coming year. Under
Kyoto, we’re being asked to reduce our emissions by 20% by 2012.
If you’re producing 30 tonnes a year, that’s a six tonne reduction.
Spread over 8 years, that’s just 750 kg a year. As activists,
however, we need to show the lead. Our goal should be a 50% reduction
by 2012, plus becoming carbon neutral every year by paying
into a carbon offset project.
Now you’re ready to move. Write to your local
paper, write to your MP, write to your mayor, write to whatever
big corporation you want to change, and challenge them to match
your personal targets. If you can do it, they can do it too.
Guy Dauncey is the author of Stormy Weather:
101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers,
2001), and other titles. He lives in Victoria, where he works
as an activist, author, and green building and sustainable communities
consultant. His website is www.earthfuture.com
HOW BIG IS YOUR CARBON
Here’s how you can calculate your yearly
CO2 emissions in a relatively easy manner. You could also
use a carbon calculator.
1. Your Electricity. Dig out last
year’s household electricity bills, and assume that all
your electricity came from natural gas. This is a fair assumption,
even if you live in B.C., where 92% of the power comes from
the big hydro dams, since almost all "new" energy
comes from natural gas, and if you reduce your demand, it’s
probably natural gas that you are reducing, not hydro, coal
or nuclear energy.
Natural gas: 400 grams of CO2 per kWh of
Eg: If you used 12,000 kWh, the natural
gas released 4.8 tonnes CO2.
My home: ______ kWh x 0.4kg = _____ kg CO2.
My personal share of this: _____ kg CO2.
2. Your Heating. Dig out last year’s
gas, oil or propane bills, and use these conversion data
to work out your CO2 emissions:
Gas (cooking, heating): 52 kg of
CO2 per GigaJoule
My home: ______ GJ x 52 = _____ kg CO2.
Oil (heating): 2.6 kg of CO2 per
My home: ______ litres x 2.6 = _____ kg
Propane (cooking, heating): 1.55
kg of CO2 per litre (7 kg per gallon)
My home: ______ litres x 1.55 = _____ kg
Wood (heating, cooking): While wood
smoke can create nasty health problems in some locations,
burning wood does not contribute to global climate change,
since the trees you use for firewood have already absorbed
the carbon they will release when you burn them as part
of the natural carbon cycle. It’s the ancient stored carbon
from fossil fuels that’s the problem, not the natural carbon.
My personal share of these totals from heating: _____ kg
3. Your Vehicle. If you own a vehicle, estimate
how many kilometres you drove last year, per vehicle:
Our mileage: _____ km (Car A)
Now estimate your car’s fuel efficiency (eg 6 litres/100
km) : _____ litres/100km
Divide your mileage by 100, and multiply by your fuel efficiency
: _____ litres
(Eg 12,000 km, at 6 litres/100km = 120 x 6 = 720 litres)
Each litre of gas releases 2.5 kg of CO2
Vehicle A: ____ litres x 2.5 = ____ kg of CO2
Vehicle B: ____ litres x 2.5 = ____ kg of CO2
My personal share of this: _____ kg CO2
4. Your Flying. Make a list of every flight you
took last year, and go to www.chooseclimate.org/flying to
obtain a read-out of your CO2 emissions for each flight.
My personal flights last year: _____ kg of CO2.
5. Your Buses, Transit and Trains. Try to estimate
how many kilometres you traveled by public transport last
year, and calculate your CO2 emissions at 0.14 kg per kilometre.
My typical public transport per week: _____ km
Multiply by 52, and then by 0.14.
My CO2 emissions from public transport: ___ kg of CO2
6. Your Beef. Since cows produce so much methane,
and methane is 23 times more powerful than CO2 over 100
years, eating beef makes you responsible for a lot of methane,
which can be expressed as a "CO2 equivalent".
The average beef-consumption in Canada is 31 kg per person
per year, and the cows from which that 31 kg of beef came
produced 15.5 kg of methane. When you multiply that by 23,
it comes to 356 kg of CO2 equivalent.
The average amount of beef I eat per week: ____ kg
Amount of beef I eat per year, x 15.5 x 23 = _____ kg of
7. Your Garbage. The energy needed to make the
stuff we throw away, plus the methane emissions that some
of it produces in the landfill, comes to around 20 kg of
CO2 per large trash bag.
Average number of large trash bags we throw out each week:
Multiply by 52, and then by 20
Our household’s CO2 emissions from trash last year: ____
kg of CO2
My personal share of this: _____ kg CO2.
8. Your Recycling. All the stuff we recycle had
first to be manufactured, so there’s still an impact. Calculate
it at 0.05 kg of CO2 per kg.
Our household’s recycling weighs ____ kg per wee.
Multiply by 52: our household’s recycling last year weighed
Divide by 20 for your CO2 emissions from recycling: ____
kg of CO2
My personal share of this: _____kg CO2
Your personal CO2 total:
Public transport: _____
TOTAL: _____ kg = _____ tonnes of CO2