Saturday, 12 December 2009

My carbon jackboot

I took another of these "carbon footprint" quizes. I didn't come out so badly (see here), but I suspect I've lied a bit about assorted aspects of my Earth-screwing lifestyle. Apparently, if everyone lived like me, we'd only need a little over one extra Earth-like planet to get by on. Seems a tad unlikely.

Not, of course, that I entirely trust the calculations underlying these rather rarefied quizes. Ecology has only gotten into assessing and enumerating ecosystem services in a big way in the past decade or so, so I'm a little skeptical that the assorted factors that go towards this number-of-Earths estimate are well-constrained.

Still, it's faintly informative, and probably captures something about our lifestyles. That said, my ecologically-minded friend AMG managed to rack up 5 Earths! I seriously doubt that I'm 3 Earths more virtuous.

Carbon footprint


Anne Gearhart said...

Hey there! I'm completely convinced that it isn't how you and I filled out the quiz that makes the difference, but where we live. Let's test it. Do the same quiz but choose USA for your location and Mediterranian as your climate. I'll do the UK with Temperate. I think we'll get greatly different results simply because of what assumptions the program makes about people living in different places. Also, compare the country averages between the US and the UK. The US has averages like 4 times greater than the UK. Anyway, run my little experiment and let me know. also let me know if you come across any other tools that let us put in things like the volume or BTUS of gas/electricity/petrol we are using... Oh, I bet it also estimates shipping cost of goods, and it doesn't ask how much foreign vs domestic purchases you make. Lots of ways to improve the model, of course!!!

Plumbago said...

Much as you suspected, this seems to be the main source of your extra Earths. I repeated my form-filling, but claimed that I lived in the US this time (which is almost true for about 9 months of my life so far!). This resulted in my footprint rising to 3.99 Earths. Anyway, the upshot is that you should clearly be living in the UK. ;-)

I presume that it's things like the average emissions from transport and housing that shift a UK bootprint into a US jackbootprint. Our houses and vehicles are typically smaller, and so averaging things out drops the emissions rate.

While the website is still pretty helpful in showing you how your emissions could be tamed, it's somewhat opaque on the significance of where you live. Still, it might be a good exercise for your kids showing how ostensibly similar countries can be quite different in their impact on the Earth.

Are you going to assign each of your students a different country to test this? You could get them to do the exercise twice like I have (and, presumably, you have now). That'd make for a nice graph.

Anne Gearhart said...

I would like to assign it to my students, but I need to educate myself more on what assumptions it makes for living in different countries. I don't think assigning different countries would be very valuable for the students unless they are directly familiar with how people in that country live. Also, the students live here, so it is valuable for them to understand their impact here.

BTW, 9 months in the US? How do you figure? Have you really spent 5 months traveling in the US outside of your time at Oxy?

Plumbago said...

Yeah, getting some idea about the assumptions would be good. The site looks set up for educational use though, so I'm guessing the information is either there, or could be get at via an e-mail to them.

I guessed the 9 months, but I think it's about right. Let's see ...

- 1 week in 1983 (FL)
- 8 weeks in 1992 (CA)
- 10 weeks in 1993 (CA)
- 2 weeks in 1995 (DC, CA)
- 3 weeks in 2000 (NY, NV, CA)
- 3 weeks in 2002 (WA, OR)
- 3 weeks in 2003 (CO, NE, SD, WY, MT, ID)
- 3 weeks in 2008 (FL)
- 1 week in 2009 (KY)

I make that 34 weeks, so about 8.5 months. And some of my trips have gone a day or so over the week mark. By far my next lived-in country after the UK. I think France might be a distant third.

Anne Gearhart said...

For me, it's:
Costa Rica 3.25 month
Germany 2 months
The UK 4 weeks

So maybe I should try Costa Rica and see how I do!

Anne Gearhart said...

Transplanted to Costa Rica, my lifestyle would need 1.2 Earths to support it. If I lived as I observed my Tico hosts did, it would drop to 0.4 Earths.

Plumbago said...

I'll try to visit your low-carbon living in Costa Rica next time I'm in the western hemisphere! :-)

Although the webpage might be a bit opaque about where it gets its inter-country differences from, I don't doubt that they capture something about the "Earth-requirements" of different nations. As such, it's a handy (if alarming) reminder of geographical disparities.

Anyway, I'd be interested to hear if you make use of the site for your classes.

P.S. For all his faults, I noticed that your governator was on-message at Copenhagen earlier this week.