Observations and arguments.

Trying out the Carbon Calculator

So I went to the Carbon Calculator at the website of An Inconvenient Truth, to see an estimate of the tons of carbon dioxide my lifestyle outputs each year into the global atmosphere. Once calculated, there are links to buy carbon offsets, through a single affiliated company, NativeEnergy, which develops wind turbines and other renewable, clean energy projects on tribal reservation lands. “Buying offsets” means basically subsidizing NativeEnergy projects to create an equivalent amount of energy that someone somewhere can use, ostensibly decreasing enough of their carbon dioxide production to offset my own.

(I understand that politically, environmentally, and emotionally there is a difference between exploiting tribal lands for sustainable clean energy and exploiting tribal lands for their mineral and fossil fuel resources–or their exemption from state gaming regulations–but rationally and from a business perspective the distinction seems a bit meaningless. Although I suppose revenue and wage earning potential must precede home-grown business innovation, by a generation or two at least.)

My issue, however, is with the calculator form itself.
Sure, it’s clean-looking and AJAXy, with a dynamically updated total on top.

But while there is a question having to do with the number of people living in the household, there is only one place to input information about a car. Is it inappropriate to suggest that among the demographic of people most likely to visit the site in the first place, two cars would be commonplace? How hard would it have been to add a second car to the form input, in order to generate an estimation for the entire household’s output?

The rest of the form appears to be aimed at an aggregate household tally (number of residents, average monthly electric/gas/heating oil bills). But not the car info. The form designer is assuming that my wife will log into the calculator herself, and fill out only her car and air travel information, pretending that her house has no additional residents and no electric or gas usage. (I note that reducing the number of listed residents per household increases the total impact, rather than decreases it.)

That seems weak.

My total, minus my wife’s car: 18000 pounds/year. Nine metric tons.

Carbon offsets via NativeEnergy cost me a mere $12 per ton (that seems freakishly low to me), so that’s $108 that I’m asked to pay to expiate my carbon sins.

Substituting a 2006 Civic Hybrid for my 1997 Honda Civic while maintaining my yearly 25,000 miles of driving nets me savings of 2 tons/year. That still places me at an average consumption level. I can cut out my annual flight to Minnesota to visit the in-laws and conserve electricity, but neither of those moves the needle very much.

Looks like I need to move carpooling higher on the agenda.

Or get another job.


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