The first one I went to, Carbon Footprint, first asked me what country I was in and then a series of questions about my various forms of consumption relating to electricity/energy, transport, travel and lifestyle. At the end it told me that my carbon footprint is currently 5.48 tonnes a year, including 0.03 tonnes for my power, 0.45 tonnes for travel (Aussie trip), 1.2 tonnes for my car, and 3.8 tonnes for my lifestyle. Apparently the average for New Zealand is 7.8, which makes me feel better, but I'm still a shitload of pollution above the 2 tonnes required to go anywhere near helping mitigate climate change. I'll come back to that later.
So anyway, I've heard these things can be somewhat inaccurate so I thought I'd try a few. Next up was The Global Footprint Network. Turns out this one doesn't measure carbon but instead tells you how many planets we'd need to support everyone in the world if they lived your particular lifestyle. Sadly it doesn't cover New Zealand so I told it I live in Victoria, Australia which is at a similar latitude to us (and it did allow me to say how much of my power was from renewable sources). According to that, it would take 1.9 planets to support everyone in my lifestyle. Hmm.
Then I tried The Nature Conservancy. Unfortunately for me, it's US-centric and since US power is generated differently from here, I didn't think just picking a state with a (imagined) similar climate would work.
Next, I tried Trees, Water and People, but that was also US-centric with all the measurements in imperial. I persisted, but when it told me my electricity usage would give me 2.5 tons (not tonnes) of carbon where the NZ-focused one had given me 0.03 tonnes*, I knew I wasn't going to get an accurate figure from them, but it might be OK for those in the US.
Same deal with the Marion Institute calculator. "Please enter your US state" it said. "Nope," I said.
Then I thought I'd be clever and focus on NZ sites through Google. That's how I found Carbon Conscious. "But Tats, that's an Australian url!" Well, yes. Turns out this is an Australian company that has recently branched into NZ but hasn't got around to updating their calculator to include us. For this one, I said I was in Tasmania, which seems to have similar levels of power generation to us. This site told me my power was worth 0.13 tonnes, my travel 0.91 tonnes, and my car 1.12 tonnes for a total of 2.16. It had no lifestyle questions.
Finally I went to CarboNZero. They asked about my household rubbish as well as the other things, and I got 0.47 tonnes for electricity, 0.5 tonnes for travel and 1.17 tonnes for my car for a total of 2.18 tonnes.
It seems pretty clear that the first one I went to is the best, simply because it does actually take into account data from whatever country you're in, and also asks about lifestyle - things like how you buy appliances, what your shopping and entertainment habits are, what you eat etc. Given that my lifestyle accounts for the larger part of the emissions I'm responsible for, I want an accurate picture, not one that makes me feel good.
So to be truly green, I need to reduce my emissions from 5.48 tonnes to 2 tonnes. How on earth will I do that? Well first I looked at my car. These calculations were done based on the idea that I have a car all to myself, but in reality I share my car with several other people and that makes it more complex. I figured that by doing this my car-related emissions are actually closer to 3.84 tonnes based on how much mileage I expect to do this year**.
However, if I got rid of the car completely, that'd save a bunch, as would not travelling overseas. Those two combined would save me a tonne (literally), bringing it to 2.84. After that it gets harder. It says I could save a tonne by not going to movies or restaurants but I'm not convinced my half dozen evenings out a year would do a tonne. If I stopped eating meat altogether I could save 0.76 tonnes. After that, small savings (~0.1 tonnes each) could be made by buying all appliances and furniture off TradeMe, buying only local produce, and going completely organic. So if I did all those things, according to the calculator I'd save 2.06 tonnes and be down to 0.78.
I'm not sure I can do all of these things all the time, but I know I can do most of them some of the time and some of them most of the time, so if I sold my car, avoided unnecessary air travel, ate mostly vegies and mostly did those last three things I'd be sticking pretty close to the 2 tonnes. Neato!
* 75% of NZ's power comes from renewable sources and my power company is 100% renewable.
** This is actually really hard to calculate accurately because this arrangement only started 4 months ago so it hasn't generated usable data yet.
I've no doubt there are issues with the calculators that make them less useful than they could be - even my small foray into their world shows that. But based on the best one I could find, it's actually nice to know that I can reduce my carbon footprint to the required level with a few changes.
How about you?
PS On a completely different note, we have a marae visit tomorrow to get a Maori perspective on climate change issues. As part of the powhiri (welcome), we have to perform waiata (sing). Our group will be singing Tutira Mai Nga Iwi, which is a lovely song about togetherness, and kind of rousing (also a bloody earworm). The problem is, every kiwi learns this song in primary school, and to me it feels like the equivalent of singing "Baa Baa Black Sheep" - which in my opinion feels inappropriate for powhiri and kind of weird. ;-/ Our second option is E Tu Kahikatea, which is a beautiful song - also about standing strong together - but quite hard to sing (if you're me). I'd still rather do it though, for the sake of not feeling like I'm in Primer 3 (and also, they must get so sick of group after group only knowing that one song, eh?)