Far away in Bhutan, villagers in the Phobjikha Valley have chosen to become guardians of the endangered black-necked crane whose wintering grounds are close by. Like many villagers in the developing world, they obtain their evening light from kerosene, but in 2003, some families formed a partnership with the Solar Electric Light Fund and installed small solar photovoltaic (PV) lighting systems. Now, they monitor the crane’s movements on solar-powered computers as well.
My connection with Bhutan is linked to global climate change. I strive to live an environmentally sound lifestyle, but when I calculated my carbon emissions for 2005, as I do each year, I found that I still produced 15 tonnes of CO2, mostly generated by flying to speak at conferences on global climate change.
GCC is the greatest challenge we face. We must find a way to reduce our emissions. I do what I can, eating a vegetarian diet, cycling where possible and sharing in the use of our car, but at the end of the year, I’ve still got 15 tonnes hanging over me, like a colossus casting its shadow over future generations.
So I neutralize the CO2, by paying to help others reduce their emissions by that much. Here’s how I calculate my emissions. For our car, I take the year’s mileage, use its fuel efficiency to tell me how many litres of fuel we burned, and calculate the CO2 at 2.5 kg per litre. (For diesel, 2.85 kg). My share comes to two tonnes. If you use the bus, calculate your share at 186 kg per 1,000 km. For a daily commute of 10 km (50 km a week), that’s 465 kg of CO2 a year. Our home and businesses are fully electric, so I add up the kilowatt-hours we used in 2005.
BC Hydro’s power is 90 percent hydroelectric, but 10 percent comes from gas or coal in BC and Alberta. Each kWh of gas-fired power produces 0.19 kg of CO2, and each kWh of coal-fired power produces 0.97 kg, so assuming a 50/50 split (0.58 kg per kWh), my share comes to 410 kg. In gas-fired heating, each gigajoule produces 50 kg of CO2. The average household uses five GJ a month, producing three tonnes of CO2 a year. For oil, each litre produces 2.8 kg of CO2. I include a total for garbage, which produces methane and which is 23 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2.
Every kg of garbage produces one kg of CO2 equivalent. If a typical black bag weighs 2 kg, and you’re a one-bag-a-week household, that’s 104 kg of CO2 for the year. Then, there’s all that flying. There’s no easy way to calculate this, and there are very different estimates of how much CO2 flying produces, ranging from 0.11 to 0.38 kilograms of CO2 per kilometre. I use 0.30. I list my trips, and then go to www.carbonneutral.com, which tells me the flight distance. I tally up the totals and multiply by 0.30. In 2005, my flights produced 9.6 tonnes.
Finally, I add a chunk for my share of the industry and transport that was needed for the things I bought and ate. It’s hard to calculate this, so I assume 2.5 tonnes. A meat-based diet is responsible for 1.5 tonnes more CO2 per year than a vegan diet; so if you eat meat, add this to your emissions. (0.5 tonnes for a vegetarian diet, 0 for vegan.)
To neutralize my 15 tonnes, I send a cheque to the Solar Electric Light Fund, which helps villagers in places like Bhutan to install solar PV for lighting, reducing kerosene use. The price works out to $12 per tonne, so my donation for 2005 was $180. www.self.org There are other ways to neutralize your emissions. You could plant trees through Trees Canada (www.treecanada.ca); support wind energy in the US through Native Energy (www.nativeenergy.com); choose to give to one of a variety of renewable energy projects with Climate Care (www.climatecare.org; www.offsetters.ca in Canada); or support reforestation through the World Land Trust (www.carbonbalanced.org). It would be better if I reduced my emissions to zero, but until then, being carbon-neutral is a good second best.
Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association (www.bcsea.org), publisher of EcoNews, and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change. www.earthfuture.com
Guy Dauncey. Common Ground