carbon emissions

The other day I was working on my Carbon emissions data. Unfortunately one member of my family is flying a long distance this year.  Looking at the data for our energy and transport use we as a family are putting out almost equitable emissions at just over a tonne each (1.2Tonnes), shown in the graph below.

However, this takes no account of what David MacKay calls “stuff” and others call the secondary footprint. That is food and consumer goods. All the things we buy take energy to make and transport and in doing so pumps CO2 into the atmosphere. Some of the figures are shocking- to manufacture an aluminium can takes 600W according to Professor MacKay (I think this is making it from scratch- not if its recycled). Its difficult to arrive at exact figures for these extra emissions for the obvious reason that everyone’s household purchases are slightly different.  Estimates I have come across vary widely from just over a tonne to many tonnes per person. In addition there are 5 of us in the household with very different shopping habits (for example as my wife would tell you I hardly ever buy clothes, one of my daughters goes clothes shopping several times a week).  I did an Internet search and found this site.  Entering the options and trying to make them for all five of us (which involved a degree of compromise) gives a figure of 3.98 tonnes.  If this is for 5 of us I’m reasonably happy, if its per person then its a real challenge.  The implication is that its per person since the pull down options are “I”, however the transport and household tabs are more explicitly per household.  Trying another calculator and adding up the food, health and lifestyle totals gives slightly lower figure of 3.29 and that is per person.  Adding 1.2 onto that for figure we get 4.49 per person – definitely too high and not equitable, albeit less than the UK and other countries average.

Bringing this secondary emissions figure down though is not easy since its only partially in my control.  Whilst I can turn the heating off (and do), grow as much as possible myself (and do), my options over stuff I buy is more limited.  I can try consume less and buy second hand goods (this I do).  I can try to purchase stuff made as locally as possible but its difficult to control the quantity of packaging for example, or whether this packaging can be recycled when I dispose of it. I also need to eat. The lesson of all this in peak oil terms (which is what our book is about), is most energy we use is not within our house but within the wider economy and our world (if its imported).  Bringing this energy use down in line with the downside of the peak will be a major challenge.

This is also a moral issue. Not just because our excessive consumption is damaging to other human beings in other parts of the world whose emissions are far lower, but also other species. We look at the theology in some detail in the book but what is found from the old testament prophets such as Micah and Hosea to the New testament such as James chapter 2 suggests God is concerned not just with mankind’s exploitation of each other, but also with the natural world.  Consider this passage which is Hosea looking forward to the new covenant.

And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground.” Hosea 2v18 ESV

Living in a house with teenagers makes cutting your energy use difficult.  Leaving aside the fact that as soon as they hit puberty they are incapable of switching a light off (or any other electrical device- although they don’t leave the hot tap running anymore since they never wash their hands) its difficult for me to stop them spending the money they earn on what they want.  As a start we need to buy more, local organic food (although I don’t accept the carbon emissions are zero for this).  There are still other areas where energy use can be cut back. Looking at the graphs above over half the emissions are from transport much of which has to be regarded as discretionary (although my wife is contracted to have a car for work).  The high train travel over these years is were for urgent family reasons which have changed.  So far in 2012 train emissions are an order of magnitude lower.  Our car use also looks like its going to be lower this year as well.  We have a new PV system so electricity emissions should be lower.  Gas emissions also look like being lower.  Now if it wasn’t for that flying…


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5 Responses to carbon emissions

  1. Byron Smith says:

    Well done for following your emissions so closely. Is there a calculator you recommend for this? I’ve been trying a few different ones.

    I don’t want to depress you, but there is another set of figures that we probably ought to be keeping in our heads while carbon accounting, namely, the indirect emissions from public services on which we all rely. That is, the military, road-building, police, NHS, garbage collection, government administration and so on that keeps “the system” running (more or less). If we’re going to aim for emissions that are closer to what is reasonable, given our present situation and global population (and, I would argue, some consideration of historical emissions – which leaves the UK in last place if we’re looking per person), then we need to include some way of distributing the carbon costs of these services across the population. I’ve seen different attempts to do this, reaching quite different conclusions, but at a minimum, it probably adds another tonne per annum per capita. Sorry.

  2. Byron Smith says:

    PS Do you get your non-PV electricity on a renewable package? (Like Good Energy or Ecotricity) If so, how did you calculate your footprint from this? If not, then signing up with Good Energy will give you and me a £25 discount if refer you (let me know if you’d like me to). They supply gas as well, though obviously, that’s not renewable. Their electricity prices have not risen since 2008 (I think – maybe it was 2009) and so they are now very competitive. I’ve also heard very good things about Ecotricity.

  3. Byron Smith says:

    Ah, I see that the second calculator you linked to includes a line about services and just gives a blanket 1.1 tonnes per capita in the UK.

    However, its national figures at the bottom of the page are woefully out of date. Global average is now almost 5t and China is above 7t (higher than some European countries).

  4. Byron Smith says:

    I’d also like to know what kind of aviation multiplier they are using, since the same flights I entered on that second calculator were double the usual figures (which I have calculated for myself using DEFRA’s recommendations (see pp. 44-55 here)).

    OK, I’ll stop spamming this thread now.

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for your comments Byron, yes one of the calculators takes into account public services such as health, the other doesn’t I think, but takes into account banking which apparently apart from its other problems they say has very high carbon emissions. This was partly what I was trying to get across in the blog entry. We are relying on other people to cut emissions (and from a peak oil perspective energy use) which makes it very difficult. Since the blog entry I’ve become more aware of the emissions due to stuff and I’m trying to buy more local food for example.

    As for my calculations I use a spreadsheet developed by zerocarbonbritain (Centre for Alternative technology-CAT). I was part of a project to see whether we could live within a notional carbon ration TEQs (for more detail-buy our book). For this we were provided with a spreadsheet. I’ve added to it but not altered the basic assumptions. These are per person per kilometre in Kgs. The airline ones are slightly different for the data given in the link you gave me, but it seems to depend on aircraft and whether there is freight on-board.

    Walk 0
    Cycle 0
    Bus/Coach 0.056
    Train 0.0725
    Plane – shorthaul 0.18
    Plane – longhaul 0.12
    Ferry 0.02254
    Tube 0.107
    Taxi 0.234

    The only omission was for ferry’s and I obtained a figure from DTI (somewhere) for that. Every week I have taken my energy readings and also enter travel (this latter one is a hassle). At the end of the year I emailed the data to CAT. After 3 years they stopped sending me a new sheet, but I’ve carried on. Of course it doesn’t include services/stuff but under a ration it wouldn’t need to.

    On the electricity I’m not with a renewable supplier mainly because I’m with the Christian energy company Ebico for social reasons. SSE provide the electricity (although of course the electrons don’t change with supplier) and they are one of the largest renewable energy generators going in the UK.

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