Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What's in a Footprint?

Our Footprint

I talked about how 69% of all available fresh water gets used to irrigate plants, and how food travels 1300-1500 miles from farm to your plate.

You'd think these factors would make unwise food choices a big issue, when it comes to carbon footprint. I mean, all that water needs to be treated, and the vehicles transporting the food need fuel.

It turns out that if I just ate, with no thought to how far the food travels, whether it is in season or organic, and ate lots of red meat, my carbon footprint would be 1.6 metric tons per year.

It appears the maximum annual amount of carbon dioxide we can emit per individual without incurring climate change is 2.0 metric tons. So wasteful food practices consume 80% of our allowable emissions.

However, we have a much bigger issue than our food practices.

We in America emit 20.0 metric tons per individual per year.


A family with two cars each driving the average 12,000 miles per year emits about 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The carbonfootprint.com folks put in a 1.0 ton penalty per car to account for emissions that went into making the car, amortized over the life of the car. If your two cars are Hummers, that's a whopping 16.5 metric tons per year. If your two cars are Priuses, it comes down to 6.5 - still way too high.

If you pay $200 per month for electricity, add another 2.8 tons per year.

If you're a fashion-conscious consumer, add 2.3 tons.

If you take a single round trip plane ride across the country, add 1.0 ton.

Plan to overcome your excesses by recycling? If you composted and recycled everything you use, it would only "save" 0.1 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Here's what my family might look like (ahem...):

Here's the picture of what contributes to the 20 tons of emissions:

And here's what the emissions look like for someone who only uses public transit, cuts electricity use by 70%, and eats/shops in an eco-conscious manner (we assume they also recycle):

It can be done.

1 comment:

  1. I should mention that the carbonfootprint.org folks offer you, as an individual, the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets -

    If my concern is global warming, I can buy my way to mental peace.

    If my concern is oil consumption, I can't unconsume oil. But I could pay out for a low carbon vehicle (electric is getting better all the time) and alternative energy sources. Combine electric car with alternative energy and I can buy myself technology to lower my carbon footprint without giving up all "modern" convenience.