Monthly Archives: September 2014

Compare the Carbon

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes on carbon dioxide emissions and the “feel” for equivalence in emissions.

I came across a cool tool/website that tries to help us ordinary humans understand what kilograms of Carbon ‘feels’ like. www.carbon.to

I randomly met the creator who told me that it is the result of a ‘hackathon’, a new type of workshop where people (often technically competent students – geeks) come together, think about a problem, and try to come up with a solution to a small part of that problem straight away, within a one or two day workshop.  The problem they discussed was that most people have no ‘feel’ for what generates a kilo of carbon and how many kilos of carbon each action (such as air travel) or device (such as televisions) generates.

For instance, when we travel one kilometre by car, how much carbon dioxide does that generate?  And perhaps more interestingly how does that compare with say watching television – how many hours of watching television is the equivalent of a travelling a km by car?

Of course the answer depends on how the electricity is generated and whether the car is efficient, or even a hybrid.  However, this little tool found here at www.carbon.to helps us understand in general terms.  Given that it was made by students it has some interesting options – comparing cars with beer, or air travel with tomatoes.

So to end, let me just say I am writing this the day after having travelled for 8 hours on a plane.  How much CO2 did I use?  About 790 kilograms.  I have no ‘feel’ for what 790 kg is, whether it is a lot or little.  However, the app says that 8 hours flying is the equivalent 4,560 miles in a car – about the same as my annual usage.  It is 52,659 km if I used the train – I confess I probably only travel about 400 km a year on trains.  I think for me one of the surprising equivalents is beef.  It actually takes a lot of carbon to grow a kilogram of beef, particularly in Europe where cows are fed crops grown with fertiliser and managed by machinery.  My 8 hours flying is only 134kg of beef – that seems small compared to the 52,000 km of travel I could have had by train.  I could have watched 82,135 hours of television!  And I could have drunk 334,698 cups of tea!