Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A good tool for calculating your emissions

If you're looking for a carbon calculator, try this one put together by the Berkeley Institute for the Environment (thanks to Atmoz for the tip). Unlike most of the calculators out there, it does more than multiply the # of miles your drive and fly by some factors and spit out in answer. It considers several forms of transport, home heating and electricity, the food you eat and even how you spend the rest of your money, then compares your results to the American and world average.

My estimated personal emissions in the past year were nothing to be proud of, thanks almost entirely to twice flying halfway around the planet and back. Coming back always gets you. I take little solace in the fact that my emissions total was still less than the average American, even in the transport category. Instead, I take two lessons: a) studying the effect of climate change on the environment often contributes to the problem, no surprise there, and b) transportation is so stunningly inefficient in this country that someone can circle the planet twice and still produce less greenhouse gas emissions than the average American.

As for the calculator, my only beef is the, er, beef. Emissions from consuming red meat and consuming dairy are similar (per $ spent), so a lacto-ovo vegetarian may end up with similar or higher food-related emissions than a regular at Mel's Char Palace. From all the research we've done, dairy is much more efficient, in terms of the grams of feed required to create a gram of food, for the simple reason that milking doesn't kill a cow. This point that seems to be missed a lot; the source of greenhouse gas emissions from meat is not the animal itself, but all the energy that went into growing the crops that are then fed to the animal.

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