Carbon Footprint Calculator Models

Carbon Footprint Calculator Models

Carbon Footprint Calculator Models

The average American’s is 18T (18 metric tons of CO2 equivalent gases).  The world average is currently 4T.  The Paris Agreement target is 2T.  If we decreased our emissions by 80%, we would only reach the current world “average”.

With all the talk about the need to reduce our carbon footprints, and initiatives from the UUCC Climate Team to help, it is natural to wonder “What is MY carbon footprint?”, or “I try to be good to the environment, is my footprint better than average?!”

There are multiple carbon footprint calculators available on the internet.  Most are free.  Each has upsides and downsides.  Two of three were reasonably consistent with each other (plus or minus 25%). Most have graphics and a list of actions you can take to reduce your footprint.

However, beyond that, the models vary significantly in what data input is required, how easy are they to navigate, which sources they evaluate (eg, the Food category is missing from one model and quite detailed in another), and the underlying assumptions they use to make the calculations.  Some also provide good data on how much carbon you can reduce based on specific behavior changes.

I originally thought we should encourage all members of the congregation to calculate their household’s footprint.  However, after several of us experimented with various online models, with less than satisfying results, I now think that only a self-selected subset will want to try it.

If you ARE a data and numbers person, the models can be pretty insightful.  See Part 2.

If you are NOT a data and numbers person, I wouldn’t bother doing a carbon footprint calculator/model (or reading Part 2). It would probably be frustrating, and unfortunately you would probably also find, like me, that your footprint is actually HIGHER than the US average (since richer counties have higher average carbon emissions, too).  You don’t need to complete the model to know:

The need to greatly decrease carbon footprints is compelling and urgent.

Even if you are 10% or 20% below the US average, you would still need to decrease 80% to meet the world target.

Your household’s top sources for carbon emissions are almost certainly:

Home Energy

Transportation

Food and Food Waste

Consumer goods and services (sometimes called “secondary footprint”)

Most of the initiatives by the UUCC Climate Team will be applicable to your household.

Part 2:  Carbon Footprint Calculator Models

If you still want to calculate your household’s carbon footprint by doing an online carbon footprint model, here are some tips.

Three of us each experimented with one or more online Carbon Footprint Models.

https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx

https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/consider-your-impact/carbon-calculator/

https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/

Here are some tips.

You will want to gather data in advance.  Most models require:

Monthly or yearly average number of kWh of electricity you used and number of therms of natural gas.  This is on the BGE (or equivalent) bill.

For each car, average number of miles driven and average MPG.

Sometimes, you’re going to just want to approximate!

For all models, I recommend that you model for your entire household, and then after you get the results, you divide by number of people in the household.

Carbonfootprint.com

Carbonfootprint.com includes:

Home: Electric and gas

Transportation:  car(s), flight(s), motorbike, public transportation

Secondary footprint (based on annual dollars spent):  Food, 7 other categories of goods, 6 categories of services

The output is a nice graphic comparing your footprint to US average and the world target.

There is an “opportunity” to buy carbon offsets.

Nature Conservancy

Nature Conservancy includes:

Home: Electric and gas

Transportation:  car(s), flight(s), public transportation

Food:  5 categories where you can choose how your diet compares to “average” (Meat, grains, dairy, fruits, snacks).

Shopping footprint (based on annual dollars spent):  2 categories:  Goods and Services

Graphic shows your household in camparison with US averages.

It has an excellent list of ways you can decrease your footprint in these three areas AND it calculates how much each action will reduce your footprint.

EPA.gov

EPA.gov includes:

Home: Electric and gas

Transportation:  car(s)

Waste

It has an excellent list of ways you can decrease your footprint in these three areas AND it calculates how much each action will reduce your footprint.

I expect that this is probably also the most precise calculator, since the EPA does not have a profit agenda.

SUMMARY

Carbonfootprint.com and the EPA were the most consistent with each other: +/- 25%.  Nature Conservancy estimates were usually 50% to 100% higher.

The EPA calculator was easiest to use, but had the fewest categories (no Food, no Flights, no Secondary).  I would expect that the EPA calculations were the most rigorous.

carbonfootprint.com categories were the most comprehensive.

Nature Conservancy had the best Food category.

EPA and Nature Conservancy had the best Actions lists and related drop-down sections on how much carbon you could reduce by taking specific actions.

If you want to know more about carbon offsets, please review the information on this link. https://uucolumbia.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/CARBON-OFFSETS-Paper-V3-2019-02-01.pdf

02/14/2019 KSC

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