Eight years to halve your carbon footprint — and tools to help

Back in 2010, I had a cause: climate change. A big campaign was underway in the UK called 10:10 that set out to encourage Britons to reduce their individual carbon emissions by 10% (for anyone missing that, it became Possible). Though my partner and I worked hard on reviewing how we were emitting carbon, making sacrifices to reduce our footprint was relatively easy. With Europe and so much natural beauty in close proximity in the East Midlands, deciding not to fly was a simple decision. It held for a few years. Until a dear friend invited us to his wedding in Hong Kong. Until I had the opportunity to go to India. Until a job offer meant relocating to the U.S and we were either flying to see family or they were flying to see us. Though we continued some of the good habits — we didn’t regret selling the car for even a day — those big carbon offenders increased and our tally of emissions rose.

Big changes happened in our life. I separated from my partner. I was unable to stay in the US where I’d made such deep friendships. Under my own steam, my curiosity and appetite for seeing the world was unleashed. The worst thing about those changes was that I lost sight of my impact on the planet.

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed and swept away. The pandemic has proven that at large — the energy to care about the impact of a fast spreading virus on the global population and local health care infrastructure has called out to be balanced with the energy to stay well and sane in our own restricted enclaves. I know, for me, that energy balance is shifting again.

It’s been a while since I read anything about climate change that seemed realistic and optimistic. The Future We Choose is striking those notes. In a TED talk from last year, Tom Rivett-Carnac speaks about his experience being in an interminable UN meeting laying the groundwork for the Paris Agreement. His colleague and boss pass him a note that said:

Painful, but let’s approach with love

This is the message I think we all need to hear. What we’ve emitted so far, our part in the problem of global warming and climate emergency can’t be denied — the shame and guilt are real and painful. But we won’t get anywhere by beating ourselves up. If we can approach ourselves with love, we can act with integrity and determination. We have our own backs. At this most crucial moment, let’s not falter.

Are you ready to choose a future with us in it?

By 2030, we need to have at least halved our emissions. An insight mediation challenge about eco-anxiety impressively ended each sit with an action step. And so, here’s my own offer of an action step: work out your carbon footprint, so you can measure the impact you’re making to it.

A note on offsetting

Before you dive into the calculators, a word on offsetting. There has been a lot of research about whether offsetting is an effective means of lowering carbon emissions and the general consensus is that there is no substitute for reducing direct emissions. I like to think of it this way — mitigating efforts are finite and essentially fight for the same space that we utilise to make stuff, therefore reducing demand frees up competition for that space, effectively doubling the mitigation possible. But don’t take my muddy word for it. The Carbon Trust has a paper on carbon reduction strategies and Yale’s Climate Connections answer questions here. The short answer to whether you can reliably offset ishow far you trust your offsetting partner and how willing you are to stay diligent about those efforts as a long term carbon sink.

Carbon calculators

Here’s a round up of some of the carbon calculators avilable, with a few notes on use, and a suggestion about who they are suitable for.

For those focused on action who want some granularity: Carbon Footprint

Roughly 10 minutes, with lots of room for specifics. It’s not sexy, but it does have a neat feature that you can include the calculator on your own website. Link to tips for reduction, so not just a funnel for paying to offset your footprint.

For those who want to be motivated and part of something bigger: WWF

6 minutes to go through these questions. Not enough granularity for my liking, but it covers a good range of activities. Oddly, even though my calculation is bigger than on other calculators, the message here is different — it’s a well done for being below the target for personal consumption for the year. There’s an associated app… which isn’t available for my device :(

For those who are clear they want to offset and want a degree of granularity: Wren

7 minutes to go through the calculator. Allows you to estimate in general brackets (fast) or enter real data (will take longer, but is more accurate. You’ll need energy consumption, fuel consumption of your car, mileage and such).

For those who want to drill deep, and adopt early: Future Score

Top of ads for carbon calculator in google, but calculator in beta. US based. An email invites you to complete the survey. It was short (8 minutes, but that included reading T&Cs) and they promised to email me the results. What stands this beta service apart is that you can go deep on actual data — send in receipts (the transfer is encrypted) and they’ll calculate a pretty precise score. They have a robust seeming privacy policy and only use highly anonymised aggregated data and that could be a boon to the climate emergency. Do note, submitting receipts appears to be necessary to get a score, though they allow for you to select other options. It’s at the first 1000 members right now, so expect some changes to this write-up.

For those short on time: Treepoints

2 minutes to complete four questions that allowed some granularity (on hours of flight time) but were otherwise very broad brush. An unsophisticated tool, but it may be the carbon offset packages are good.

For energy planners: My2050

This is the daddy of carbon calculators, with a 15 factor calculator called My2050 and a full 45 factor calculator — both geared towards imagining and planning a decarbonised future in energy. So, it’s a niche application, but for all the energy planners reading this… well, you probably know about good ole MacKay.

For those who want to benchmark and retest: Warmd

An app that helps you understand your climate impact this month — it’s not especially fully featured, and simply allows you to complete the same survey repeatedly to see movement on your output. The calculation for me is way above others, but it is taking into account where my savings live. I didn’t know, at time of completion, if my banks were decarbonised, but now I do, and that reduces the calculation significantly — so a valuable perspective.

For those who want to track actions and become a climate superhero: Earth Hero

This app has an especially gamified aesthetic, and it is underpinned by a lot of research and suggestions for action (I haven’t yet seen mention of offsets). There’s a basic calculation that you can refine after first sweep, and as you take actions, the impact on your carbon footprint is visible. It’s nicely motivating, especially to see on the bar chart the target you set for yourself.

For those who want to offset: Klima

Turns out there are lots of apps available these days to calculate and offset your carbon footprint. I signed up for Klima when it was still in development and it launched earlier this year. It lacks the kind of granularity I’m after, but takes about 2 minutes to get a roughly calculation and provides three different kinds of offset that you can ‘blend’ for the mix that makes most sense to you.

Daughter of Yorkshire | Denizen of the New York Owls | Citizen of Words

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