Your Carbon Footprint

Words on Weather & Climate — March 11, 2010

March 11, 2010 // 0 Comments

Your Carbon Footprint by CRAIG JAMES There are many places you can go online to calculate what is called your “carbon footprint,” or how much carbon dioxide your daily activities release into the atmosphere. A Google search of “CO2 calculator” brought up over 700,000 hits in .36 seconds. I’ve even seen carbon dioxide emissions included on new automobile stickers lately. The goal of these calculators, of course, is to encourage you to cut back on CO2 emissions to “save the planet.” The numbers are usually presented in tons of CO2, so they sound quite impressive. If you really feel guilty about driving that SUV, you can send money to several companies (such as NativeEnergy), and they will take that money and invest in wind and methane power to offset the amount of CO2 you have produced, in case you actually don’t want to give up your SUV. However, wouldn’t it be helpful to know just how much impact our reduction of CO2 will actually have on the climate? How much human-induced climate change is being prevented by changing your light bulbs, from biking to work, or from slashing national carbon dioxide emissions in whatever ways possible? Isn’t this the number we really need to know? Unfortunately, this is the number the calculators don’t tell you. Since climate model projections of the future climate are what are being used to attempt to scare us into action, climate models should very well be used to tell us how much of the scary future we are going to avoid by taking the suggested/legislated/regulated actions. I’ve never seen that number published anywhere. But even though you and I don’t have access to the global climate models, there is a fairly simple way, with the use of a handheld calculator, we can determine how many tons of CO2 emissions are required to change the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by one part per million (ppm). Then we can figure out how many ppm of CO2 it takes to raise the global temperature one degree Celsius (1°C). There is a little math involved here, so if you don’t want to follow along, you can jump ahead to the answer, but it won’t be nearly as much fun that way. I will keep […]