Carbon footprint conundrum
Carbon footprint conundrum would be my title. Personal involvement is important (macro is too but not the point here), but this list points to involvements well beyond many our imaginations to implement as individuals. Personal decisions are much harder for the top activities mentioned, and from personal contacts not much on the radar of people’s decision making. How do you go about connecting to the things “in our own control” on these points?
According to a recent study in the journal ”Environmental Research Letters,” the four steps that most substantially shrink a person’s carbon footprint are: eating a plant-based diet, living without a car, avoiding air travel and having a smaller family.
Go car-free. Short of having one less child (which cuts the climate change impact by 120 tons of CO2 emissions per year, if you include carbon that the child’s children would emit), living without a car is the biggest step you can take. According to the EPA, the typical passenger vehicle emits around 4.7 metric tons of CO2 each year.
Take a staycation. One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or New York to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to an average year’s worth of driving.
Eat less meat. People who eat more than 3.5 ounces of meat per day – a serving about the size of a deck of cards – generate 15.8 pounds of CO2 each day, vegetarians just 8.4 pounds and vegans only 6.4 pounds.
Having a smaller family.
Personal attachment to feeling like you are doing something:
Inflate your tires. Recycle. Adjust your thermostat. Wash in cold water. Dry on a clothesline. Buy an Energy Star fridge. Tune up your water heater.
Of course on a commercial scale, I saw this post from VOX….
I realize that people care about their carbon footprints because they want to do something useful while government policy is at a standstill, but the reality is that (1) the consequences of our day-to-day personal decisions for greenhouse gas accumulation are essentially incalculable, and (2) the kinds of changes we need in our production and consumption structure will require the sort of coordinated transformation that is only feasible at much larger scale. Example of (1): even something as basic as whether to drive an internal combustion or electric vehicle has uncertain impacts on atmospheric carbon. Example of (2): my choice of how much to drive or what kind of car to buy will not scale up to an adequate response to climate change; we need substantial investments in mass transit and very large increases in urban density. We need new options, not just more people taking one or the other currently on offer.
Obviously, it would take a lot to justify these claims, and I can’t do that here. You’ll have to wait for my book on climate change, which should be out sometime next year. It has a substantial section critiquing carbon accounting, with several closely analyzed examples.
But for example when buying a car look for the highest mileage you can get if gasoline get a hybrid for example, (up to 50 mpg in some cases).
Other things, include removing the old fridge in the basement as old fridges consume vastly more than newer ones. In general anything that reduces the consumption of energy where at least a part of that energy comes from fossil fuels is good. Note that the phase out of incandesent lights has been a help in the movement of residential electric demand to a minus 1% per year growth rate. Which has never happened before.
I agree that energy conservation, to the extent it is “pure” (changing nothing else but how much energy is consumed), reduces carbon emissions, so yes: get a higher mpg car, insulate your house, switch away from incandescent bulbs, etc. The problems arise when you look at more complex choices, such as different drive trains for cars, different home and work choices, etc. This is partly because of the enormous complexity of the technical matrix of direct and indirect inputs (where very specific qualities, location and time incidence of materials and their use can be important) and especially the effects that one person’s activities have on others — the social matrix. This, of course, is just the bottom line of the socialist calculation debate applied to carbon.