Capn's Blog

Monday, March 06, 2006

Your carbon footprint

The first world is addicted to energy. From our cars, our houses, the food we eat and the things we buy, nothing happens without energy.

Most of the energy is produced from fossil fuels. Such fuels are a convenient and high density source of energy, but they are non-renewable and result in the production of carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming.

While the impending shortage of oil may force a global rethink of the way we use energy, I've been thinking of the maxim "Think globally, act locally", first used at the June 1972 UN Conference on Human Environment.

How can we best act locally? And which areas should we concentrate on?

This calculator lets you assess your lifestyle and find out how the things you do and use contribute to carbon emissions. - carbon footprint calculator

Once you've answered the questions, you can go back over each page and alter your choices (clicking on numbers 1-6 for each page), which lets you see the impact of each carbon-producing area of your life.

For me, things were looking pretty good until I added the car. Oh my! Carbon output nearly doubled to 11 tonnes per year.

I've recently been thinking about hybrid cars. That is, cars with both a petrol engine and a motor/generator/battery system. My understanding is that the petrol engine is there to charge the batteries, for distance, and to provide peak performance when accelerating.

But I don't need peak performance. I have no need to scorch rubber at the traffic lights. And we rarely need to travel more than 50km. So why do I have to buy a car with a petrol engine I don't really need?

Here's my ideal solution: To buy a hybrid-car-without-petrol-engine (should be lighter and cheaper than existing hybrids), and charge it at home from the mains. Although most of Australia's energy is generated from coal (our major source of CO2), it's still more efficient and less polluting than the petrol engine in a car.

Even better, get a solar array and use that to charge up the car during the day. That way, the only carbon emitted is due to the manufacture of the car and the solar panel, and every kilometre is, more or less, completely carbon-free.

According to the calculator, doing so would reduce our carbon output from 11 tonnes/year to 7 tonnes/year, which is less than half Australia's average.

How much carbon does your household produce per year? I'm very interested to find out. Use the calculator then make a comment below or email me, along with where you live. I think comparing different countries would be very interesting.



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