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Thread: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

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    Default Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Please indulge me, and even join me, while getting my geek on. Is dorksplaining a thing?

    There are several tools out there for calculating your annual carbon emissions. By doing that you establish your baseline, and can compare them to others’, and it establishes a benchmark that you can start reducing from.

    But the basic concept that I adhere to, is to divide your emissions into three categories:

    Scope 1 — these are emissions that you make directly, by burning oil, natural gas, or gasoline. Think tailpipes and stacks, that are on your property. You buy the fuel.

    Scope 2 — these are indirect emissions created by plants that you purchase energy from, for most of us this is electricity. This can vary wildly around the US, see Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) | Energy and the Environment | US EPA if you want to know your emissions factor.

    Most methods for determining your emissions focus on Scope 1 and 2, because from here it gets a little fuzzy. Because you are responsible for your Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and your Scope 3 emissions are almost certainly someone else’s Scope 1 or 2.

    Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions, like from the things that you purchase and the crap you throw away. Whether your jersey is polyester or wool, and if your bag is made of recycled or recyclable material. Some next-level shit (imho/atmo/ipso facto).
    Tee Aitch

    Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring. -- Desmond Tutu

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    One Scope 3 example is air miles. Technically those emissions are the responsibility of the airline you paid the ticket for. But by not buying the ticket you can very easily eliminate those emissions, electing not to travel or selecting a more efficient way to get there. Or you can decide not to wait for the airlines to figure out how to reduce their Scope 1 emissions (the jet fuel they buy) and purchase offsets. Or just blame your employer because they bought the ticket.

    Another Scope 3 example is food. Our calories can have widely varying emissions rates. Beef is singled out as casting a large climate shadow. Technically that’s on the place that sold you your meat. Or maybe the place that raised the animal. Yes you can certainly affect the process but you’re already a tad . . . further down the food chain . . . so to speak.

    You picking up what I’m putting down?

    Scope 1 emissions are on you. Insulate your damn house, switch from oil to wood, buy a heat pump, adjust the thermostat, wear a sweater, stop driving a vehicle capable of towing a fucking tugboat to carry your skinny ass to work every day.

    Scope 2 emissions are very similar, only that your local utility and you have some choice in the matter. Many of us live in regions that allow us to choose generation providers. Some of us live where hydropower is available. Some of us can buy solar panels and put them in the yard or on the roof. And anybody can buy Renewable Energy Certificates, even if you live where the sun doesn’t shine.

    Scope 3 is complicated. There are plenty of ways to carry that stone. But maybe we should get to work on those other Scopes before we wring our hands too much about air miles and hamburgers.
    Tee Aitch

    Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring. -- Desmond Tutu

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    This is great. Really clear explanations and concrete examples of solutions.

    I'll add that anyone who has money invested should take a close look at the companies their money supports. ESG scoring is an easy way to do this and divesting from companies that don't fall in line with your environmental ethos is a very straightfoward way of voting with your dollar.
    "Do you want ants? Because that's how you get ants."


    AU DELÀ - curated bike adventures in Southern France

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    I'm waiting for the formula...
     

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Quote Originally Posted by bking View Post
    I'm waiting for the formula...
    I don't think it encompasses everything Todd mentions above (and I think curving it on household size is basically missing the boat on purpose), but here's the EPA calculator: Carbon Footprint Calculator | Climate Change | US EPA
     

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Quote Originally Posted by caleb View Post
    I don't think it encompasses everything Todd mentions above (and I think curving it on household size is basically missing the boat on purpose), but here's the EPA calculator: Carbon Footprint Calculator | Climate Change | US EPA
    That calculator appears to be using the size of your household only to estimate solid waste emissions.

    But holy crap the fuel oil emissions are way out of whack. The GHG emissions for #2 fuel oil should be around 22 lb. per gallon, but that calculator is using 271 lb. The natural gas number for therms is out by an order of magnitude too. Same with kWh.

    Heating fuel emissions rates: - FAQ - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)
    #2 fuel oil = 138,000 Btu/gal, so 161.3 lb per million Btu = 22.2 lb per gal.

    Natural gas: 1 therm = 100,000 Btu, so 117 lb per million Btu = 11.7 lb per therm. Not 141 like that calculator says.

    WTF? I’ve never found an EPA website to be so far off and I’ve been using them for decades. I gotta go put on my tinfoil hat.
    Last edited by thollandpe; 10-05-2019 at 10:14 AM.
    Tee Aitch

    Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring. -- Desmond Tutu

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    That calculator was showing my electric emissions at 9 lb per kWh, but for New England it’s about 0.6 lb per kWh.
    See https://www.epa.gov/sites/production...marytables.pdf

    Table 1, find your region and the column for CO2e. Divide by 1000 to get lb per kWh.
    Tee Aitch

    Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring. -- Desmond Tutu

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Quote Originally Posted by thollandpe View Post
    WTF? I’ve never found an EPA website to be so far off and I’ve been using them for decades. I gotta go put on my tinfoil hat.
    Maybe try filing a complaint in a comment box somewhere (in the "contact us" pulldown)? I expect that the current administration will get it fixed pronto.
     

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    You say math and I say skip that post. But seriously is there any reasonable way to figure out if doing something "pro-environment" is actually a good thing? Insulation for example. I could really use it in this drafty old place but how do I figure out if it is better to burn more natural gas vs buy all the insulation and everything else (drywall to patch holes and I'm sure other things don't know about)? Which has the greater impact long term? Is there any practical way to figure it out? I'll probably insulate at some point regardless just for the comfort but I would probably do it sooner if it is really the right thing to do.
     

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Quote Originally Posted by rec head View Post
    You say math and I say skip that post. But seriously is there any reasonable way to figure out if doing something "pro-environment" is actually a good thing? Insulation for example. I could really use it in this drafty old place but how do I figure out if it is better to burn more natural gas vs buy all the insulation and everything else (drywall to patch holes and I'm sure other things don't know about)? Which has the greater impact long term? Is there any practical way to figure it out? I'll probably insulate at some point regardless just for the comfort but I would probably do it sooner if it is really the right thing to do.
    Insulation math can be done with your checkbook. It's simply one of the smartest things you can do. I've insulated and air-sealed a bunch of buildings in my career, and those projects had paybacks between a few months and few years. And that is just the energy cost payback, putting zero value on the carbon savings. If you were to put a price on the carbon, the payback would be much quicker and/or more complex projects would be financially viable for more people.

    Environmentally, it's an easy choice between spending your money on fuel, and creating those emissions, or buying caulk and insulation (and joint compound). Since those materials have a fairly low amount of embodied carbon, they also pay back their carbon footprint quickly.

    When people talk about "low-hanging fruit", measures like insulating are it. That ripe, juicy peach is laying on the ground. Rec head, pick it up!
    Tee Aitch

    Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring. -- Desmond Tutu

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Our local utility provider will do a free home energy audit where they inspect your house visually and with thermal imaging, then provide you with a list of fixes from the little stuff to the big stuff. For lots of the little stuff, like caulk and weather stripping, they'll provide the materials for free, too.
     

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    i missed friday, but i have some homework to do in order to figure out a few things, so if i start on monday, i may have more informed input here by friday.

    for me, the calculation would be quite complicated. i drive my personal car about 3k miles a year. i either take the train to work, or more often fly somewhere and drive a rental car. i'm pretty often using hotel electricity and HVAC demand. my personal footprint varies a lot month/month.

    i still believe the biggest impact any person can have is at the polls. we need to keep our foot on the pedal of ratcheting down emissions on a macro scale and not ease up for short term economic gains.

    anyway, with regard to this:


    Quote Originally Posted by thollandpe View Post
    stop driving a vehicle capable of towing a fucking tugboat to carry your skinny ass to work every day.

    i have searched and would still like to know if there is a resource to easily calculate the environmental impact of keeping a good condition, well maintained car on the road that gets poor fuel economy vs the life cycle cost of buying a new, more efficient car.

    i have a hard time believing i'm a better environmental steward by scrapping my truck that gets about 19mpg and buying a brand new hybrid of some sort (example). there are certainly carbon costs to get rid of my old car, recycling takes energy, etc. metals for batteries need to be mined, car factories produce emissions, etc.

    final thought:

    you can't ignore the "long game" when thinking about personal environmental impact.

    point 1 here: probably the biggest single impact decision a person can make is the number of kids you have. global overpopulation is a huge problem and no one likes to think about it this way, but having more kids is a contribution to the problem. my family is where is it and what's done is done, but if one is serious about making an impact - it's a decision to bring more souls into the world.

    point 2: still on the topic of the long game. most folks will have a much bigger [negative] environmental impact when they are in the working phase of their lives. business travel, commuting and all the stuff associated with that. taking into consideration that everyone needs to work and make money and plan for retirement, it may change the equation if we make some environmental compromises now to get to those golden retirement years quicker where we will all live on a farm, ride bicycles to get local bread every day.

    just some thoughts.

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Quote Originally Posted by AngryScientist View Post
    i have searched and would still like to know if there is a resource to easily calculate the environmental impact of keeping a good condition, well maintained car on the road that gets poor fuel economy vs the life cycle cost of buying a new, more efficient car.

    i have a hard time believing i'm a better environmental steward by scrapping my truck that gets about 19mpg and buying a brand new hybrid of some sort (example). there are certainly carbon costs to get rid of my old car, recycling takes energy, etc. metals for batteries need to be mined, car factories produce emissions, etc.
    Depending on what research you read, between 12 and 28% of the total carbon footprint of a vehicle is manufacturing and transport to the dealership. That latter number comes from Toyota itself, who obviously has a vested interest in selling more cars, so I'm impressed that they give such an honest appraisal of the downside to buying a new one. Then you get into the woes of recycling those batteries from new EVs and you've got a whole tangle of a mess.

    A few other points:

    Hybrids themselves are actually not significantly different than their gas counterparts from efficiency or emissions (Prius vs Corolla as a cost-efficiency analysis): An environmental-economic evaluation of hybrid electric vehicles: Toyota's Prius vs. its conventional internal combustion engine Corolla - ScienceDirect

    Electric cars, of course, produce less immediate emissions, but that is all dependent on where your electricity comes from. At the moment, the analysis suggests that they actually make the midwest US dirtier..
    "Do you want ants? Because that's how you get ants."


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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Quote Originally Posted by AngryScientist View Post
    i have a hard time believing i'm a better environmental steward by scrapping my truck that gets about 19mpg and buying a brand new hybrid of some sort (example). there are certainly carbon costs to get rid of my old car, recycling takes energy, etc. metals for batteries need to be mined, car factories produce emissions, etc.
    Once the truck is built, it's almost certainly going to be driven for its useful life, regardless of whether you drive it or someone else drives it. The decision to manufacture the truck in the first place is the one that matters most, which is why fuel efficiency standards matter more than our individual decisions. The manufacturers will make a fleet that gets mileage that's as bad as legally allowed. Me buying a Prius is effectively an efficiency subsidy for Toyota to sell Tundras and Land Cruisers: the efficiency I buy provides an allowance for some other vehicle to be inefficient. It's a good example of the limits of individual behavior to address collective problems.

    On the bigger, longterm outlook, there's really only one solution, and that's to use less, make less, and do less of some activities. Drive less. Buy less. Fly less. Eat less beef. Live in fewer square feet. That seems to be a totally unpalatable solution to many/most people, though.
     

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Quote Originally Posted by AngryScientist View Post
    i have searched and would still like to know if there is a resource to easily calculate the environmental impact of keeping a good condition, well maintained car on the road that gets poor fuel economy vs the life cycle cost of buying a new, more efficient car.

    i have a hard time believing i'm a better environmental steward by scrapping my truck that gets about 19mpg and buying a brand new hybrid of some sort (example). there are certainly carbon costs to get rid of my old car, recycling takes energy, etc. metals for batteries need to be mined, car factories produce emissions, etc.
    Well your truck that gets 19 mpg for 3000 miles a year will generate 1.4 to 2.0 metric tons a year of greenhouse gas, depending on the emissions rate. The average per capita US emissions rate is 15 metric tons, so if you're average then there's probably another place where you should apply your attention.

    Quote Originally Posted by AngryScientist View Post
    you can't ignore the "long game" when thinking about personal environmental impact.

    point 1 here: probably the biggest single impact decision a person can make is the number of kids you have. global overpopulation is a huge problem and no one likes to think about it this way, but having more kids is a contribution to the problem. my family is where is it and what's done is done, but if one is serious about making an impact - it's a decision to bring more souls into the world.
    Well that depends a lot on what kind of person your children grow up to be. If they live like average Australians (16.2 metric tons a year) or Americans (15.0) then yes, those kids are going to have a big effect on climate change. But if you raise them to be French (4.5) or Mexican (3.6) or Indian (1.6) then it's a totally different problem. And that's why that's such a loaded question, because it could justify why India can have 10 times as many babies as Australia. That's as far as I'm willing to wade into Malthusian waters.

    Quote Originally Posted by AngryScientist View Post
    point 2: still on the topic of the long game. most folks will have a much bigger [negative] environmental impact when they are in the working phase of their lives. business travel, commuting and all the stuff associated with that. taking into consideration that everyone needs to work and make money and plan for retirement, it may change the equation if we make some environmental compromises now to get to those golden retirement years quicker where we will all live on a farm, ride bicycles to get local bread every day.
    And that's exactly why we can't simply point to China and India and say they need to do something about greenhouse gas emissions, because their emissions rate per-year might now be greater than ours. It's not just rate. It's per capita emissions as above, but also how much we've put out over a lifetime. It's the total volume of greenhouse gas that's been emitted over time. It's a balance. More correctly, an imbalance. And the US has put out more over time, on the wrong side of that scale, than any other country.

    I'm banking on the theory that it's never to late to make a deposit into an account we've overdrawn.
    Last edited by thollandpe; 10-07-2019 at 09:22 PM.
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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Quote Originally Posted by AngryScientist View Post
    i have searched and would still like to know if there is a resource to easily calculate the environmental impact of keeping a good condition, well maintained car on the road that gets poor fuel economy vs the life cycle cost of buying a new, more efficient car.

    i have a hard time believing i'm a better environmental steward by scrapping my truck that gets about 19mpg and buying a brand new hybrid of some sort (example). there are certainly carbon costs to get rid of my old car, recycling takes energy, etc. metals for batteries need to be mined, car factories produce emissions, etc.

    Those are the kinds of questions that bog me down. Things like installing smart outlets to reduce vampire drain. How much electricity do they have to save to justify their manufacture and transport to replace a switch?


    As for insulation. My building is 100+ y/o 3 1/2 story brick. 41 windows were replaced after our first winter here. The draft coming though would blow the insulating plastic off the windows. That was an uncomfortable winter. We still have drafts in the floors and what the previous owner did in the attic is a joke. Is blow-in insulation what I should be looking at for the floors?
     

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Quote Originally Posted by rec head View Post
    Those are the kinds of questions that bog me down... Is blow-in insulation what I should be looking at for the floors?
    Sound like you should hire a professional. This might be a place to start, Facility Assessments

    | ComEd - An Exelon Company
    Tee Aitch

    Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring. -- Desmond Tutu

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    Default Re: Climate Fridays: calculating your carbon footprint

    Tee, along the same lines of things people say about the climate that don't add up, did you see the New Yorker article about the Impossible Burger?

    Can a Burger Help Solve Climate Change? | The New Yorker

    "Every four pounds of beef you eat contributes to as much global warming as flying from New York to London—and the average American eats that much each month."

    That strikes me as almost impossible. A flight to Europe is 2-3 tons of CO2 round trip per person (no cite, internet number), so split the difference and call it 3000 pounds one way.

    The average American's footprint is 19 tons per year (uncorroborated internet figure again). But if the New Yorker's figure were true eating beef accounts for 18 tons of that. This seems . . . unlikely.
     

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