Op-Ed: Calculating Your CO2 Footprint

JUL 11 2014 BY GEORGE BOWER 70

A Couple Good Ways To Minimize Your CO2 Footprint

A Couple Good Ways To Minimize Your CO2 Footprint

Calculating Your Consumption Is Step 1

Calculating Your Energy Consumption Is Step 1 In Determining Your CO2 Footprint

Owning a Volt and a Prius, I like to think that I am fairly responsible when it comes to my CO2 emissions.

But am I?

I never really calculated my CO2 footprint. I tried once using a website but the site was not that relevant to my energy usage so I left it alone until yesterday when I saw an article in the NYT that layed out a pathway to limiting global warming to 2 degrees C during this century. The article said that by 2050 worldwide per capita CO2 emissions should be 1.6 tons of CO2 per year.

Calculating ones CO2 footprint is actually fairly easy and I would encourage everyone to do so. I think that you will find that your CO2 footprint is much larger than you think.

The first step is to collect data on your energy consumption. For most people, this is: 1) gasoline consumption in vehicles, 2) electricity consumption from the grid, and 3) energy consumption for heating.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Once you know how many gallons of gasoline you are using and how many kwh you are using from the grid (from your electric bills), you can calculate your CO2 footprint from some conversion factors I have listed in figure 2.

Figure 2

Figure 2

The author’s profile is shown in figure 3.

Figure 3

Figure 3

George's Arizona Solar System

George’s Arizona Solar System

Figure 4 shows that the average US citizen emits 17 tons of CO2 per year

Figure 4

Figure 4

The article referenced in figure 5 claims we should get our per capita emissions down to 1.6 tons of CO2 per year by 2050 AD. This is a factor of 10 lower than where we are today.

Figure 5

Figure 5

So what is my footprint? It should be fairly low yes???……but wait……wrong George.

Figure 6

Figure 6

Low and behold me “mister green” has a CO2 footprint that is a factor of 2 higher than the 2050 goal.

The analysis showed that fully 44% of my emissions were from electric power plants. Arizona has power plant emissions on par with the national average (1.18 lb CO2/kwh).

Second highest source for the author was from gasoline burned in the Volt and the Prius. The Volt’s contribution was fairly negligible at 3%. The Volts electricity comes from our solar PV system on our house(3kw) and from the grid.

Third highest source was from the 300 gallons of propane I burn each winter to stay warm in our house in the “high desert” outside Phoenix, Az.

Figure 7

Figure 7

I am at 1⁄4 the national average but still a factor of 2 over where I need to be by 2050.

Figure 8

Figure 8

So how do I get to my goal of 1.6 tons of CO2??

I started working on this but it turns out to be a little harder than one might think. I will present the results in another article:

Figure 9

Figure 9

Anyone care to speculate on how to get there??

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70 Comments on "Op-Ed: Calculating Your CO2 Footprint"

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Mark Hovis
Great write up George! Calculating your CO2 footprint is kinda like improving your diet. Hard to get started but once you do, you look for ways to improve. EVs, PV solar and thermal solar for potable water are great places to start. For heating I have chose a programmable pellet stove. It has no wood smell, no wood mess tracking in the house. You only empty the ash pot monthly opposed to bi-weekly in a wood stove. Fully programmable to start and stop itself and maintain an even temperature. It does not require a chimney and is a renewable to lower your CO2 footprint. The next big one is going after your diet. Start by reducing your red meat and cheese intake. Too much are bad for your health and hard on your footprint. I have to admit it was my doctor who started this one not my CO2. He said I could start blood pressure medicine or improve my diet. I gave up red meat cheese, some night time beer and snacks and dropped my blood pressure 20 points in two weeks…. AND my CO2 footprint. While on food, start buying more local food and products in general. But… Read more »
Surya

I have a pellet burner for central heating and warm water. I can highly recommend it. It has low running costs and you only have to empty the ash about once a year (it’s an 8 kW system).
It can also be connected to a solar heater for even better performance, an upgrade we hope to do next year.
Going for an EV is quite a straight forward choice if you want to lower your CO2 emissions.
Going vegetarian is an option most people don’t want to conciser, but it will have a big impact on your carbon footprint, going vegan will double that impact again.
Go for a 100% green utility plan if possible, but also check how they achieve that 100% green. Do they actually produce the green electricity or do they greenwash it by buying green electricity certificates from elsewhere?
I still need the solar panels and a bit of extra insulation wouldn’t help, but otherwise I think I’ve most of these points covered.

Mark Hovis

Vegan is way too much even for me. Flexitarian is the term which says let up on the amount. It is good for your health and the environment.

Surya

I must say that I am not 100% vegan myself. At home I always eat vegan, but when eating out, we do sometimes allow for milk or cheese, but I’ve always been vegetarian, and if there are vegan options, I mostly go for those.

Alok

Yes, going vegetarian should be a pleasure (you cannot do it because you have to…).
For me it certainly is (since quite a few years)!
Nice to see I’m not alone, here!!

Spec9

Vegetarian is too much for me. But I’m trying to stop eating our brother mammals. Screw birds though . . . they are literally dinosaurs!

Lindsay Patten

Glad to hear that I’m not the only one that draws the line between birds and mammals! I’m a vegetarian wannabe, just can’t pull it off.

Max

Over the last year we’ve started phasing animal products out of our meals. Strange as it seems, the less you have the less you crave.

I don’t think most people realize the massive environmental footprint eating animal products has.

Surya

Oh yes, absolutely true. I used to like cheese a lot (most vegetarians eat quite a lot of it) but after a few weeks I didn’t miss it at all. And now I’m even annoyed when I eat something that has huge amounts of it.

Sam EV

Mark, thanks for pointing that out about meat. People seem to ignore it. It impacts climate every bit as much as the transportation sector does.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/27/vegetarian-carbon-footprint_n_5538914.html

“A new report published in the journal Climatic Change compared greenhouse gas emissions attributable to more than 55,000 meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the U.K. The researchers found that meat-eaters’ dietary greenhouse gas emissions were twice as high as vegans’.”

Personally I don’t eat meat, but I don’t expect everyone to follow me on this as I don’t expect everyone to drive an EV. I’d rather people look upon it as every time they eat a plant-based meal instead of choosing meat they are reducing their environmental impact.

Eric Cote

The reduction from 17 pounds to 1.6 tons for the 2C rise limit is insane. There are many ways to accomplish the reduction in CO2. You can Google climate wedges, where the various approaches were broken down into many options.

Is the reduction to 1.6 tons to achieve the temperature rise goal for the US only? For a true solution to work, we need a global plan.

It’s easy to forget China is building 2 coal plants every WEEK and has many more people than us. The US can’t do it alone.

Mark Hovis

China’s scale is more than most can deal with. Yes they are adding coal plants at what seems to be an alarming rate, but they also will lead renewables simply out of necessity to local health problems.

As for, let me paraphrase “I’m not going to until they do”,> In the words of Roger McGuin “I wasn’t born to follow”

kdawg

I just quickly calculated mine
Gasoline = 0.347
Electricity = 0.509
Nat Gas = 4.8

Total = 5.656 metric tons of CO2.

Basically my heating (in Michigan) is the biggest culprit. Maybe I can run the electric space heater more in the winter.

What about airline fuel for flights?
I can think of a bazillion other sources too.

Red HHR.

How many times do you go for a plane ride. Big co2 generation. Vacation or business, it can be the biggest generator.

kdawg

Some years, I bounce all over the globe. Other years, not so much.

What percentage of the CO2 is given to the passengers? The plane is also carrying cargo. And what if the plane is mostly empty because it needs to return to a larger city to pick more people up?

pjwood
RE: how to get there? Most of us probably already run timers on equipment, and are somewhat familiar with electric reductions, as an extension to PHEV ownership. Since I don’t think many will avail themselves of the per capita math, I have kept landing on policy changes, and treated “getting there” as a macro concept. The concensus is 2C will be locking in with 1,000 gigaton (Gt) more man-made release. The global start point is 25Gt per year (~2009). The US is annually 6Gt, of the 25Gt. US electricity is 2Gt, of the 6Gt. We have 35 years left, at the current rate. Then, solve. EPA is shooting for taking electric from 2.0Gt, to ~1.6Gt, by 2030. If the world were on board, across all electric, industrial, etc., the proportionate reduction would hardly buy us 10 years, to 50 instead of 40. This isn’t to depress, or say there aren’t ways, but to frame how frustrating it is to witness green loyalists behave as if we should be picky. The massive push to do it with “renewables and efficiencies” can only do it in theory. Add policy around the globe, and it becomes extremely short sighted. Too much anti-nuke crust… Read more »
kdawg

Maybe we can all move into tiny houses.
http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/

(Kidding aside, I actually think these things are pretty neat)

Dan Gallagher

Interesting write up. We’re not going to get a ten-fold decrease in carbon emissions by driving EVs. Home heating/cooling is the biggest source of CO2, so smaller, more efficient homes need to be addressed. And better than EVs is public transportation and human transportation (walk/bicycling). No, it’s not all easy or feasible at the moment, but George’s example is sobering for those of us who try to reduce our impacts. More localization is needed to reduce the “need” for transportation of products and ourselves. Most importantly a significant carbon fee/dividend must also be in place to provide financial incentives for these kinds of changes. Otherwise, there are just not enough virtuous soldiers like George who will step up to do the right thing based on the risks facing our climate currently.

DaveMart

Here’s how a massive renewables program and lots of solar, many times that in the US, has helped German’s to reduce their CO2 footprint:
http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/07/will-chinas-per-capita-energy-usage.html

See figure 2

Maybe 30% higher than the European average and perhaps 40% higher than nuclear France.

The fossil fuel industry loves renewables, as they build in heavy use for so many decades to come, plus give them options to make a lot of money building and installing heavily subsidised wind and solar.

Of course renewables resources are far better in the US than Germany.
That does not mean that they don’t still do a fine job of legitimising fossil fuel burn, for instance by people pretending that it is their solar array that powers their car when it is good old fossil fuel on the grid which actually provides the electrons.

Warren

We will get there by the overshoot, and collapse model discovered by Malthus. It works for all species.

kdawg

Or maybe the trees will fight back 🙂

Jay Cole

…this is all I can hear

kdawg

LOL.. good impression.

I wonder how he did in Transformers. I refuse to watch those movies.

I still call him Marky Mark from his rapper days.

Jay Cole

Supersize the array, buy 40 kWh of back-up storage, move off the grid, import some V2B charging units from Japan to smooth out the bumps, utilize 2 BEVs in daily life & don’t eat meat…

/easy – if cost, space and personal happiness aren’t issues for you, (=

Jay Cole

Or you could just move to a location where the power generation is 100% renewable – that seems easier.

I’d suggest Quebec…do you speak French?
http://www.hydroquebec.com/generation/

kdawg

George, you only drive your Volt 5000 miles/year? And I thought my mileage was low 🙂

Assaf

We are returning our Leaf tomorrow after 23 months with 8.4k miles on it.

The next buyers should consider themselves lucky… well that’s part of the plan.

Speaking of which: seems like that calculator might omit the *production* footprint of all that CO2-saving tech. In particular, EVs have a production footprint of up to ~10 tons CO2 (BMW claims their i3 to be essentially CO2 neutral in production).

This – to second Dan G. up above – means that the most effective, fastest way to reduce footprint, is not cleaner tech but direct reduction in consumption: drive less, fly less, heat/cool less, eat less meat and other energy-intensive products, buy less trinkets.

IOW, the old-fashioned way. Clean tech sure has its role, an important one. But nothing can sustain the bloated consumption patterns the Western world and the US in particular has eased into since the late 20th Century.

Thanks for the op-ed George! You are reminding me I should stop slacking on my global warming and EVs part III (it’s really almost ready, I’ve been just a bit demoralized as of late – unrelated to topic).

Nick M

I often hear the argument that “you’re better off just continuing to drive your existing car”, but this assumes you’re not going to sell or give your existing car to someone else who can continue to use it. Buying an EV and trashing your ICE might be a bad move, but buying an EV and selling your ICE is still going to be a net win.

Assaf

With EVs there’s actually the bigger picture, of building a viable alternative to oil and making oil exploration/drilling less economically attractive – hence increasing the chance of leaving it in the ground.

In that sense, yes you should down or donate your old ICE rather than sell it.

More on that, in a week or so…

kdawg

8.4k is low, but I assume you have at least one other car at your residence. I am a 1-car household, and put on about 8.4k/year.

Assaf

Our other car barely moves. That was the whole point (practically, it stopped being feasible as a main family car; and environmentally, we wanted to stop that gas-guzzler).

The biggest chunk of ICE emissions for our household, is when we go on trips somewhere else and rent an ICE. Happens about once a year for a couple of weeks. I don’t remember the stats on the last one right now; I believe it was under 2k miles.

Assaf

All in all, we’ve been averaging 6-7k miles/year for the past decade or so. Despite being 5 people in the household.

The secret is we live in the city and commute mostly by transit and walking.

kdawg

I used to live 0.7 miles from my work. Then the engineering office got moved 15 miles, so I have to commute now. Still not too bad.

Leptoquark

Well, you do have until 2050, what’s the rush?….

Joking aside, you determining that your carbon footprint is mostly from electricity generation is just another argument for eliminating coal, replacing it with gas, but only as an emergency back-up for renewable solar and wind, made into baseload power by large-scale energy storage. All of these parts are being worked on now, with large-scale energy storage needing the most effort.

A wise country, knowing that a renewable grid is not just inevitable but necessary for survival, would be rushing to transform their energy system, to create the jobs and products that they can sell to other countries. Can that country be the US? TBD.

Nick M

I am really curious about airplane emissions. I drive a pure EV in a place with an unusually clean electrical grid, so my emissions are pretty low for the most part, but I do a lot of flying and I’m afraid that might be negating my other gains 🙁

EV

Considering airplanes use hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of gallons of gasoline i’d say that it is no doubt negating you driving an EV lol

Warren

A guy with two cars and two houses, all of which are climate controlled, wonders how we can reach the the EPA CO2 goal. And others respond with silly video clips. Ah, the internet.

kdawg

George said his place was not climate controlled, thus the two houses.

Regarding the levity, if we didn’t laugh we’d be crying.

Jay Cole
Well if you want to get ‘serious’ I can do that too. But generally people don’t like that because reality is a downer. Here is the answer to solve “per capita emissions and limit global warming” — Stop having kids! Part (not all) of my reasoning to only have 1 child (I have an 8 year old) was that there are too many darn people in this world and we make too much garbage, pollute too much. Now to be fair, the other reason I chose to only have 1 child was the declining standard of living. I’d like to say I live fairly well off, but since the 50s each generation of people has had less, and as the population has grown each generation works more than their parents as a rule (I do believe the perception of better/more material things has been brought around by the tech revolution). As you can’t rely on society as a whole to expand your offspring’s standard of living – but rather diminish it…it is up to the family unit (or the child) to extraordinarily rise above the trend in a stable to growing population. Obviously on the norm this isn’t going to… Read more »
pjwood

Pretty pathetic, actually. I’m not sure there’s a fix for energy density and flying, but on the ground fossil fuels can be replaced.

There’s lots of dire sh!t out there, usually spoken by the same types that want to limit the solutions, for sanctimonious reasons. I tune that out.

Jay Cole

I honestly don’t expect most to be accommodative of it, which is why I haven’t (up till this moment) spoken of it.

Also why I don’t pen any climate change, emissions, global warming articles, personal opinion diatribes, etc at IEV. As the site as editor-in-chief, I take a non-existent stance to maintain the neutrality of the news content.

But this is the comments, I have a way I choose to live my life, a way I demonstrate those values to my family and the people I come in contact with, rightly or wrongly. I don’t propose any ‘sanctions’ on how others live their life and I’m not trying to be sanctimonious.

On a personal level, I’m willing to listen and adopt other suggestions on how to drop usage/consumption/emissions by atleast 87.5% in 50-60 years, and 97% in 100 years while also raising the standard of living for future generations.

Quite truthfully, I expect few to have the same opinions as myself at this point in time…and I don’t expect the world’s problems to be solved in a controlled and orderly fashion, although it would be my wish that they would be.

Assaf
Wow Jay, that’s a very brave statement of principle! How many kids one has is a very intimate decision, and *very* culturally influenced. The US mainstream culture, on average (whatever that means) is fairly pro-natalist. I assume if you go to Europe or extensive parts of East Asia, including even some Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, your stance will be very warmly greeted and in fact is probably the current prevailing norm. I come from Israel, certainly the most pro-natalist of Western-style nations right now. Overall the Middle East is staunchly pro-natalist, but except in Israel-Palestine the cultural norms are changing and average Middle Eastern families are shrinking in size. Alas, Israelis and Palestinians are now battling each other not just with fire, but with wombs. Both my wife and I grew up in 4-child families. As we came of age, in the 80s and 90s it became acceptable and even popular to have smaller families of 2-3 kids (1 would still be considered The Horrors, of course there are families like that but they are seen as outliers). Then since the conflict re-erupted in 2000-2001, the norm even for the Israeli middle class has reverted back to about… Read more »
Jay Cole
Hey Assaf, thanks for the measured comment, (= I’d just like to mention I fully understand your point, and really any persons with (and from) a big family, and the reasons (how/why) behind it. I realize that it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) in many situations for people to magically adopt a wider worldview, or even a future view of one’s own path…especially if that option has never been presented to them. I don’t go around saying/thinking ‘hmmpfh look at those people with 4 kids’ Again as I mentioned before, the environment was not my main focus in deciding to continue the trend of a shrinking family tree…it was my (and future generations) standard of living. The care of the environment, CO2 footprint/pollution/waste and utiliting electric cars came later…and just happen to dovetail nicely with my earlier planning. It would be nice if I could claim to have been eco-friendly when I was young..but no so. As for the having the family later, this is also a good point. Early 30s for myself, but again, not being eco-smart…just working on that future standard of living thing again. Even today, while I hope for the best, logically it seems like… Read more »
Assaf

Thanks Jay.

To correct my mistake: 3 kids at 30 years old is still a bit faster population growth than 2 at 20. But it’s slower than 2 kids at 18 years old (on average).
2 kids at 20, is roughly equivalent to 3 kids at 32. Which is more or less the average age at which my wife had our kids.

Jim M

Great thoughts, Jay!

Right now it looks like a lot of folks are migrating to the “reduce the carbon footprint” of their lifestyle, which includes replacement of ICE vehicles with EVs along with PV power production. The end goal of the OP/ED article is how do thinking and caring people get to “carbon neutral?” But the end state needs to ultimately be to get to “carbon negative.” Not only how do you minimize your carbon impact without going to a hair shirt/sod house type of lifestyle, but how can one actually reverse the previous carbon impact? Plant trees? Donate to planting trees and rainforest preservation causes? How? That is the issue I’d like to learn more about.

Thanks again for moving us in the right direction!

Assaf

Haha, hair shirt, this joke made my day:)

Seriously: the atmosphere-ocean-soil system has plenty of carbon sinks, first and foremost plants. Therefore in a sense it’s enough to “only” drastically reduce our footprint, and likely plants – which I think now use up CO2 at higher rates (on a per-kg basis) than when concentrations were lower – will eventually revert us back.

Reforesting de-forested areas, and generally speaking returning areas back to nature, will help a lot, of course.

Mark Hovis

“returning back” to some degree means taking Jay’s point serious. I hope it gets serious time in your next article. There is no getting around the math. What is done is done for today, but culture changes with education for tomorrow. Looking forward to your next installation.

Mark Hovis

BOLD and TRUE Mr. Cole. I had hoped China would not give in on their one child mandate. Methane is much worse than carbon. People make it and so do the mammals they consume. To that, we also have committed to the one child family.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu7XWgczC7o

Jay Cole

Side topic to your point on China.

It is the “crash and burn” of almost unliveable pollution at certain times of year in Beijing and Shanghai that has moved China to now endorse, put incentives on, and just flat out demand drivers use ‘green’ zero emission vehicles if they want to drive.

Unfortunately, more often than not in history, big course corrections arrive only at breaking points.

Mark Hovis

I agree, I have spent time in Beijing and Chengdu and have commented often that they will convert out of necessity. Climate change is often too large to wrap you head around but cutting your life span short by 10-20 years due to the environment you created is a lot easier to grasp. I look for the Chinese to make huge swings in EV adoption in the years to come. Looky there, we are full circle back to EVs!

Warren

I missed that. But there are much lower impact ways to maintain your ideal temperature than building a second house in a different microclimate, and driving between them.

We got a one time gift of fossilized sunshine. We haven’t used it wisely. Exploding population, living like pharaohs, and industrial scale mechanized warfare directed at each other, and the environment.

Charbar

Nobody has mentioned e-bikes yet? Certainly has to be the most efficient form of transportation considering range and speed per CO2 emission. E-motorbikes would be right there too.

Warren

OK, done.

http://www.evalbum.com/4525

I got into a conversation at an ice cream stop, the other day, with a fellow in a big Mercedes. He seemed genuinely interested. I told him I can go 100 miles at 20 mph for 13 cents worth of electricity. He was shocked to hear the 1.1 kWh battery cost $800. I told him it should last me 8-10 years as I use it. He said he would rather walk. I told him he may be, by the time my battery dies, and suggested he start practicing now.

Dan Gallagher
I did mention walking and cycling … since of course the best way to avoid an impact is to eliminate the “need” from the equation – or recognize it as a “want” instead. We should be clear on what we need: Clean Air Clean Water Stable Weather/Climate Shelter Healthy Food Companionship The rest is a want and is subject to the whims and opinions of our highly consumer focused society. One that prides itself on what William Kemp in the Zero Carbon Car has called “The Myth of Infinite Freedom.” If pursuing our wants creates impacts that affect our needs, we’re engaging in a self destructive activity. We like our wants and our consumption, though mostly we’ve just become accustomed to the habits (there’s no evidence that wealth/consumption correlates with happiness), so it’s hard to change. Not to mention there is no personal incentive to protect the commons – only exploit them. So, who knows where we’re headed from a society standpoint, I actually hope we can reduce growth slowly to 0 with a combination of less economic activity/development and new technologies … with a heavy bias to the former. But I fear we may be headed, as Warren points… Read more »
kdawg

Why don’t we just build giant CO2 collectors?

http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/proceedings/01/carbon_seq/7b1.pdf

Mark Hovis

What about the methane? Bigger problem than CO2

GRA
Well, let’s see how I do in the ‘my CO2 footprint is smaller than yours’ competition. I moved 14 years ago to a 325 foot studio close to downtown so I could walk to all my regular errands, use my bike for commuting, and have a BART rapid transit stop 6 blocks from me for regional use, combined with my bike. My 11.5 year old Forester gets used for out-of town trips, but I’ve cut my driving down to under 5k miles a year (less than 3k each of the past two years). I won’t fly, except maybe for bucket list items. I’m no vegetarian let alone vegan, but I have switched to eating less beef than pork, more poultry than either, and a higher proportion of my diet is vegetable now. 20 years ago I sold AE equipment and systems, and the necessity of energy saving and efficiency habits I learned then (which built on habits learned from Depression-era parents who never wasted _anything_) have stayed with me: I’ve got all plug in appliances with vampire loads on switched powerstrips and anything not in use gets turned off immediately, my lights have all been compact fluorescents for the past… Read more »
GRA

Brain Fart. David Mackay.

KUD

George, thanks for busting my bubble.

I own a Volt, Altima Hybrid, Ford Freestyle. The Freestyle is our Travel Car so it can’t be that bad ….. wrong.

My Electricity is mainly solar and what I use from the Grid is 100% Wind CO2 of 0 … great

Natural gas to heat the House is supposed to be clean … Hmmmm

Here are my numbers for 2013 10 Tons (US)

Volt = .213
Altima H = 4.108
Freestyle = 2.456
Saturn before Volt = 1.514

Transportation = 8.291 Ouch
Electricity = 0
Nat Gas = 4.525

Total 12.816 and I thought I was doing OK.
12.816 / 4 = 3.272 per person in my Household.

Back to the drawing board

KUD

Here are my numbers for 2013 10 Tons (US)

Not 10 but in

Mark Hovis

Hey George,
You need to make a follow up article discussing secondary offsets such as those found in this link and those discussed in this InsideEVs response to your article.
http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx
According to this, I am inside 10 tons with nearly 5 tons coming from secondary though I know I am higher.