Thursday, December 02, 2010

Carbon Calculators - but which one?

No one should ever be made to feel guilty about their relationship with the environment or their (in)actions towards climate change.  People are more likely to change if they have a chance to explore their ideas and feelings about climate change without fear of judgment as well as a creative and stimulating manner in which to do so.

One such way which is increasingly becoming popular is Carbon or Footprint Calculators. The majorities of these tend to be online with varying degrees of accuracy and designs.  It has to be said that most Carbon or Footprint Calculators tend to address a broad overview. Accounting for every individual variable would make them too lengthy with too many questions which might turn people off of them completely, therefore on the whole, you should regard your score as a general guideline rather than an accurate test result. With all calculators, the aim is not to guilt-trip people, but rather to get people thinking about their impact and to see which areas it generates from. Most calculators also will suggest ways to improve your footprint and reduce your impact.

I decided to test-drive some of the more popular calculators out there and here is a wee run down of what I came across. I'll also show all my cards and let you know my own scores (!). To give you a bit of an idea here are some average global CO2 emissions per individual per year (measured in tonnes):

USA 22 tonnes
UK 12 tonnes
India 1 tonne
Tanzania 0.1 tonne
World average 4 tonnes

WWF Footprint Calculator
My score: Footprint = 1.93 planets or Carbon footprint = 7.81 tonnes per year.

The WWF Calculator is different in that not only does it measure your carbon footprint but  also your ecological one in the form of how many planets would it take to sustain your way of life as it currently is. (According to this calculator the American average is 5.3 planets, the UK is 3.1, China 0.9 and Afghanistan 0.05). The calculator itself is well designed and visually interesting, easy to use, and the questions are easy to answer. They also break down the results into four different categories; Food, Home, Travel, Stuff, which helps you see where you impact the most (mine's located in Stuff at 34%!) The other benefit is that once you're calculated, they provide you with a list of 'Eco-Tip's', which are more in-depth and allow you to choose options to reduce your impact. 

Centre for Alternative Technology's Carbon Gym
My score: 14.28 tonnes of CO2 per year

The design is a little more straight forward and not as flashy as WWF's. The results are more scientific and precise as they are broken down further into indirect emissions (6.78 tonnes) and your share of the national infrastructure emissions (1.70 tonnes), but their 'Understanding your Results' section explains this breakdown quiet well. They also explain how and from where they source their data to create your result.  Interestingly enough, the calculator shows your results as you work through the questionnaire and it is interesting to see how emissions fluctuate depending on your answers. Whilst I found the travel questions more focused the questionnaire doesn't indicate a time frame, therefore I just assumed  the time frame was in the last year, especially for air travel.

Warning: You'll need one year's worth of fuel bills for this one! It is very detail-intensive and time-consuming but reputed for its accuracy and one of its benefits is being able to see the effects of even the smallest lifestyle changes. I haven't managed to calculate mine yet as all our fuel bills are electronic so don't have any to hand.

Living Witness Calculator
Careful with this one, it is a PDF where you have to do the sums yourself and for a dyslexic person like me it is not a pleasant experience and I'm doubtful of my results. I gave it a shot with the help of boyfriend Alex, but we're not sure we came to the correct answer with all the sums and percentages you have to calculate so I would perhaps recommend this for those who like math and would like a bit of a mental challenge along the way to their final result.

Carbon Conversations 
My score: 11.44 tonnes
If you prefer conversation and human contact as opposed to a cold screen, then try out the Carbon Conversations as I am currently doing. Your carbon footprint is calculated by your facilitator at the start of the series of conversations and then with the support and help of your group you learn about  carbon emissions and your impacts through discussions and interactive games.  I particularly like this approach because I like discussing these ideas with other people and hearing their thoughts and ideas on the subject. I also find the accompanying manual very  accessible and motivating to use to make a difference. Three down, three more to go (although don't really want to rush to the end because I am enjoying it so much!).

So from the three score I managed to obtain there is a big difference between them, but I think it is very safe to say that even I can do more to reduce my impact. I'll admit that living in a rented flat I did believe there was not much I could do, but thanks to the various Eco-tips I realized that I can take more control over the situation.  

In the end I think what is most important about Carbon Calculators is to try and find the one you find the most engaging and which will keep you motivated and interested in reducing your impact and help you change your lifestyle choices. As you can tell, there is a range of calculators from slick to scientific, from general to uber accurate. In the end I really don't think it matters which one you use, but perhaps that you do use one and that overtime you get results from it which you can feel proud about and that helps out the earth and all of us.

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