Our carbon footprint
When talking about climate change, footprint is a metaphor for the total impact that something has. And carbon is a shorthand for all the different greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
The term carbon footprint, therefore, is a shorthand to describe the best estimate that we can get of the full climate change impact of something. That something could be anything – an activity, an item, a lifestyle, a company, a country or even the whole world.
What is a carbon footprint? | Greenhouse gas emissions | The Guardian
“That something could be anything … a lifestyle … ” We didn’t move here thirty-one years ago so that we could have a low carbon footprint lifestyle. We moved here because we thought we’d get enjoyment and satisfaction out of doing so: pleasure far outweighing the pain. Isn’t that the way humans go about things anyway? Whether they’re willing to admit it is another story!
In the months leading up to our move, I gave June a book called There’s a cow in my garden with a drawing of a house cow on the cover, and I obsessed over everything John Seymour had to say in The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. We gambled on Little Owl Gully being a gateway to what we imagined our lives would be like when we had created our own version of ‘the good life’. Luckily for us, the gamble paid off.
Only by indulging in hindsight can we say that, year-on year, our homesteading lifestyle has generated a much lower carbon footprint than that of the majority of New Zealanders. Let’s face it, it’s only in the last few years that the stark and inconvenient truth of human-induced climate change has become more than a barely registered blip (if acknowledged at all), on most people’s personal radars.
The idea of using one of the online calculators to estimate our carbon footprint had always seemed to me to have mere novelty value. After all, wouldn’t our small footprint be obvious to anyone?
Recently though, I was talking to sister Jane – after watching David Attenborough’s ‘Personal Testament’ documentary with her husband they had been speculating as to the size of their household’s carbon footprint. I blustered that all our trees must surely offset our carbon emissions and that we were probably carbon neutral.
In pursuit of more evidence and less bluster, I spent a morning looking at several of the carbon footprint calculators you can find online. Only to discover that I couldn’t find a single one designed to take into account the aspects of our lifestyle that differ considerably from 21st century developed nation norms. For example, one with good street creds, after taking into account our use of firewood to heat the house, then kept insisting (before I could continue), that I had to tick electricity or gas as the energy source for heating our domestic hot water. In our case, the woodstove’s high output boiler heats our water.
Another frustration, after completing three versions as best I could, was that they then provided links to schemes that enabled you to offset your emissions. A donation of X dollars per month could mean, for example, that a number of trees would be planted on your behalf.
I also found that goods and services tended to be glossed over. Professor Mike Berners-Lee, author of the introductory quote and a foremost authority on all things related to carbon footprints put it this way in his article for The Guardian newspaper:
Beware carbon toe-prints
The most common abuse of the phrase carbon footprint is to miss out some or even most of the emissions caused, whatever activity or item is being discussed. For example, many online carbon calculator websites will tell you that your carbon footprint is a certain size based purely on your home energy and personal travel habits, while ignoring all of the goods and services you purchase.
I did eventually settle on a calculator – one recommended by a company that specialises in advising businesses on how to reduce their carbon footprint. The carbonfootprint.com – Carbon Footprint Calculator coverage of goods and services seemed quite comprehensive to me.
Once I had my estimate, I tracked down research that gave me some ball park figures on how many trees would offset our emissions:
The CO2 balance of trees heavily depends on the type of tree, the location, the seasons and the periods with the same climate or weather. …
In summary, it can be concluded that … to compensate 1 tonne of CO2, 31 to 46 trees are needed.
Calculation of CO2 offsetting by trees | Encon
Then came the tedious business of walking back and forth across Little Owl Gully until I’d counted every tree on the property. Well, not every tree. Here’s what I did to avoid complicating the calculations: I didn’t count trees that we planted for firewood; I ignored the numerous bushes; for hedgerow trees trimmed to an approximate 3 metres height I tallied 5 hedgerow trees as the equivalent of one full grown tree; I only counted trees that we had planted ourselves. I also decided to go with the highest figure: ” … to compensate 1 tonne of CO2, … 46 trees are needed.”
By following the above criteria, you could say that we’ve planted the equivalent of 285 trees, which does indeed make us carbon neutral. Good job, because as I said in The place with all the trees: then and now we don’t intend to plant more trees!
|Total To Offset = 4.79 tonnes of CO2e|
- Your footprint is 4.79 tonnes per year
- The average footprint for people in New Zealand is 6.57 tonnes
- The average for the European Union is about 6.8 tonnes
- The average worldwide carbon footprint is about 4.79 tonnes
- The world target by 2050 is 0 tonnes
Your Household’s Carbon Footprint:
|House||0.90 tonnes of CO2e|
|Flights||0.00 tonnes of CO2e|
|Car||1.61 tonnes of CO2e|
|Motorbike||0.00 tonnes of CO2e|
|Bus & Rail||0.00 tonnes of CO2e|
|Secondary||2.28 tonnes of CO2e|
Total = 4.79 tonnes of CO2e
Note: I used the carbonfootprint.com calculator for individuals/households.