Living On A Carbon Budget

Living Happy on a carbon budget of 1 tonne CO2-e

These are my speech notes I used for a talk at the Signs of Change e-Conference held around New Zealand on 15-16 November 2010.

See also:

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Good afternoon – thank you.

My talk is going to be a little bit gheeky and a little bit earnest.

Last October I, not that long ago, started using the CarbonZero online carbon calculator to measure my carbon footprint – that is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that I am personally responsible for.

I should note that the CarbonZero calculator does not measure the emissions associated with food consumption and buying stuff. In my case my family doesn't buy a lot of new stuff, but we do eat...

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And here’s the results of that process since then - for my household - which consists of my wife, myself, and our 3-year-old son.

Blue is home power – which could be electricity, gas, heating oil or coal

In our case it’s just electricity – we have no gas or fireplace – and you can see it goes up in winter and down in summer.

Red is for private transport – which would be cars and motorbikes

In our case we haven’t owned a car. But we do borrow a car once or twice a week. And we do sometimes to drive to relatives Tauranga and Auckland.

Orange is public transport – which is buses and trains

In my case I ride my bike 10km in to work on sunny days. If it’s wet I’ll catch the bus. And if I’m feeling tired catch the train home with my bike.

Green is for other transport – planes and long distance coaches

We’re trying not to fly these days so there’s no green.

Grey is “waste” and recycling

We put out 2 rubbish bags a month and compost or recycle all paper and food scraps and garden “waste” gets composted too

That all averages out to be 193 kg greenhouse gas emission per month - or 2 tonnes for the last 12 months, for the whole household.

Or 1 tonne per adult.

Now – it just so happens that I have a bit more electricity data.

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Every night since January 2004 I’ve been reading our electric power meter before going to bed.

The red line is 2004 when I did a bunch of insulation projects which dropped our electricity consumption by about 20% in the following years.

Later in early 2006 I insulated the exterior walls with recycled polystyrene beads using a hair dryer and vacuum cleaner – which is extremely cheap, but very time consuming – but that’s a whole ‘nother talk.

Then in October 2007 our son was born at home – and you can see in the light blue line - the jump when I ran the heaters 24/7 for a while. Then I calmed down a bit.

And the lines up the top are 2008, 2009 and this year is the thick purple line – up to last week.

One of the things that suggests to me is that population has an effect on consumption and therefore emissions.

Anyway – using all this data I was able to back-feed into the CarbonZero calculator – all the way back to 2004…

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To get this…

I’ve added in all the driving holidays we took (those big spikes), and an estimate of the other driving we do.

There’s an average public transport amount added in.

In April 2009 my wife flew back from her parents in Tauranga.

In January 2009 my business suffered a terrible case flow crises – so we didn’t go on any driving holidays – just some short cycle tours from home - and we didn’t borrow a car.

Funnily enough we enjoyed those trips just as much as driving to visit relatives.

Then in April the money flow returned and a friend lent us their car for four months.

It looks like there is a correlation between carbon emissions and disposable income.

If we take the monthly totals from this graph and turn it into cumulative emissions, each year, we get this:

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This is for the whole household.

We were around 2 tonnes per year till our son was born, when we drifted up closer to 3 tonnes, and this year we’re tracking back towards 2 tonnes for the whole family.

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Here’s the household data divided per person – including our son.

From this perspective it’s clear that this year is a real outlier. This happens to be the first year we’ve been focusing on reducing carbon emissions.

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And this is the household data divided per adult – which is bit fairer because my wife and I will probably be responsible for our son’s carbon emissions till he’s about 18 I guess. Which seems a long way away.

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And here’s some of our carbon reduction tactics:

Thank you.

Extra stuff not in the 10 minute talk

To give you some perspective:

  • Michael Cambell, the golfer, emitted 20 tonnes last year.
  • All Black Conrad Smith, emitted 4 tonnes last year.
  • And the New Zealand average (using the CarbonZero tool) is around 10 tonnes CO2-e per person.

It's clear from the data that we've had a pretty low carbon footprint since 2004. And that's mostly because I like to ride a bike.

My next step is to invest in a local forest carbon sink project to help offset my current and future emissions.

See also:

Page last modified on December 21, 2010, at 12:39 am
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