Carbon tracking: goals

I have been considering the matter of personal carbon footprint: what mine is, and what I should be aiming for. The many and varied online carbon calculators are a useful starting point, but they’re really a little vague. I want to make the effort to track and calculate my carbon emissions more accurately.

First question: what should I be aiming for? The Institute for Public Policy Research have been talking about personal carbon trading/rationing, but unfortunately their review is pay-to-read so I don’t know if they’ve talked about specific levels, and if they have, what those levels are.  The Carbon Rationing Action Groups network have a bit more information. Their figures give 5.4 tonnes of carbon per person as the UK emissions average, and 0.5 tonnes as a globally sustainable level.

Looking at their footprinting basic info, I’m a bit unclear on whether those figures are purely personal, or whether they include the societal per-capita output. But let’s assume that it’s the personal, and treat that 0.5 tonnes as what I should be aiming for.

0.5 tonnes is very, very low. I’m very aware that, living the developed-world lifestyle that I do, cutting down that far would be incredibly tough, and I don’t expect, being honest, to get anywhere close. However.   It is good to quantify, and to have that figure in mind.

Second question: where, approximately, am I at at the moment? The government calculator is again fairly vague, but estimates my current usage* as follows:

  • 1.85 tonnes for heating and lighting.
  • 0.33 tonnes for electrical appliances.
  • 0.3 tonnes for travel (I put in an estimate of 2 x 600mi return trips and 6 x 160 mi return trips by train per year; all other travel by bike).

Total: 2.48 tonnes.

The two major omissions from this are food consumption, and general consumption; and indeed, that site gives the UK national average as 4.46 tonnes, so they’re obviously missing that bit out. (I also think the travel is probably an under-estimate on my part.) The heating/lighting may be per-house rather than per-person.  It’ll do as a rough starting point.

So my aim now is to track things a bit more accurately than those estimates do, and to make reductions. I’ll be posting more shortly about the various sections of footprint and my thoughts on accuracy, problems, tracking, and potential cuts. You will note that although on that basis I’m well below the UK average, I’m still way above that sustainable 0.5 tonne level.

In the “change is possible” spirit of this blog: it’s important to remember that the difficulty of cutting down to 0.5 tonnes doesn’t mean that it is in any way pointless to make reductions. However, it’s also important to bear in mind that personal reductions are only part of this: we need to be looking at and campaigning for societal and structural change as well.

* I didn’t put in figures for my actual activities over the last year, because I am already fully aware that travelling as much as I have done this year, even low-carbon travelling, is outrageously carbon-costly. I’m interested in an estimate for what I’m consuming whilst back in the UK, so that I can move on from here.