Paul Tullis's Grim Tidings

Bitter musings on politics and policy

The best carbon calculator

with 2 comments

There are many, many carbon calculators on the web, but the best one is from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (the folks who brought you the cyclotron!). Click to it here. It’s not for the faint of heart, as it takes awhile to complete, but to act thinking you’re making a difference when you’re not can be worse than not acting at all.

The bad news is that you’re going to need a fair amount of information about your home, including where its insulation is and isn’t, how many bulbs your light fixtures have and their wattage, how big your refrigerator is and when it was first purchased, what you pay for electricity, and a whole lot more.

The good news is that once you get through LBNL’s rather laborious process (you can save your work and return to it later), you’ll have more than an abstract number to represent your carbon footprint (what does it really mean to generate 7.3 tons of CO2 annually?) — you’ll have a whole-home energy-usage audit.

Knowing where your energy use is going is the first step in reducing it. I rent, so I’m not going to be replacing my water heater any time soon, but I can lower the temperature setting on it — do I really need water that’s too hot to touch? And I was surprised to find how much of my electric bill goes to power small appliances like my blender and coffee maker. I’m now going to unplug the coffee after the pot is brewed and nuke my beverage if need be; microwave ovens are remarkably efficient, according to the site. I can also save it for later as iced coffee —  cooling liquid is less work for a refrigerator than cooling air. And did you know that one of the best things you can do to minimize your power needs is to paint your roof white? Don’t take it from me, take it from a Nobel laureate, the Secretary of Energy.

The great thing about this is that unlike converting the grid to renewables, which have higher rates than dirty fuels, reducing your individual carbon footprint is going to lower your energy bills significantly — 15 percent or more, the site would have it.

What the LNBL site lacks is a whole-household perspective. Other carbon calculators purport to factor in the greenhouse effect of your driving and flying (often on the way to selling you an offset for such activity). Life being as it is for the time being, much greenhouse-gas emission can’t be eliminated, it can only be diminished. But some utility companies offer green power options, and it’s better to minimize and avoid boggy debates about offsetting’s efficacy. Nonetheless, next time I’ll look at offsetting programs.


Written by ptullis

June 11, 2009 at 9:08 am

Posted in environment

2 Responses

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  1. Calculating carbon use is really, really hard, because of all the different ways that carbon can be used. Almost everything uses carbon in some way. Clothes, food, furniture, transportation, everything.

    The best way understand carbon footprints are to look at them as an unlimited source of carbon, which can continually be lowered. This mindset removes the urge to do our bit and be done with the issue. Everyone can do something more to cut their carbon emissions.


    June 11, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    • No doubt there are a thousand little things we can each do, and that this adds up. But I’m increasingly of the mindset that the most important thing we do is insist our government implement a strong cap-and-trade scheme or carbon tax; support and adhere to whatever happens with the Copenhagen negotiations; and eliminate deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia. The numbers are just so much greater in these areas. I’ll be covering this in more detail in a future post.

      Paul Tullis

      June 12, 2009 at 1:42 pm

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