Offsets

Based on the calculations in yesterday’s post, we had 10 tonnes of CO2 emissions to offset. WWF’s Gold Standard lists certified projects which allow you to offset your emissions while supporting a range of social and environmental projects.

J’s worked in the International Aid sector before, so I asked her to choose which projects she liked and we ended up offsetting 5 tonnes through a program [replacing wood fires with solar cookers}(https://www.goldstandard.org/projects/solar-cooking-refugee-families-chad) in UN Refugee camps in Darfur, and the other 5 tonnes through a reforestation project in South Australia.

Total cost: AUD$276

Also, a friend recommended switching our electricity to PowerShop who are 100% carbon neutral, so I might look into that when we move back down South. We’re packing up here in two months, so not much point making the switch here.

Decarbonisation

This Summer in Australia got everyone thinking about climate change and that the effects might be visited upon us a lot sooner than most people had considered. Most of NSW and large parts of Queensland have been in a severe drought for a number of years now, and the months of spring were filled with pleas for help from farmers whose livelihoods were being slowly destroyed.

While this discussion continued, bush-fire season started early and then took off with a vengeance, burning the entire eastern seaboard over the course of a couple of months. There’s no need to describe what happened, as the fires were so bad they warranted global news coverage.

I’ve always accepted the reality of climate change and have tried to do a bit here and there to keep my emissions down, but I’ve never really sat down and workout out just how much emissions I am responsible for, so, inspired by Tim Bray’s decarbonization article, I resolved to sit down and figure out my 2019 emissions and see where I can make improvements.

I used the Carbon Neutral Calculator, in advanced mode where appropriate, and made a start.

The rough outline is that we are a professional couple, with no kids, currently renting in Brisbane.

Emissions

Vehicles

We have one car, a 2013 Hyundai i30 with a 1.8L Petrol engine, which doesn’t get that much use. Both of us work from home at the moment, so it’s mainly used for grocery trips and exploring local cafés, with the occasional longer drive to visit my mother-in-law at the coast. I don’t have an exact mileage driven for the last year, but we seem to be averaging approx. 8,000km/yr and the fuel efficiency gauge typically reads around 9L/100km, dropping to 6L/100km for motorway driving.

8,000km @ 9.2L/100km = 1.85T

Not much we can do about this at the moment. We own the car outright, it’s in v. good condition, so it doesn’t make financial sense to replace it with an EV yet. One option which could be worth looking into is buying an electric cargo bike. That would remove all the grocery trips, for me at least, though J isn’t comfortable cycling in traffic and there are no bike lanes between us and the supermarket, so not sure she’d be keen. Something to re-consider when we move to Thirroul.

Electricity

This one is fairly easy to work out as I just added up our bills for the year.

3,025kWh @ Queensland = 2.81T

We’re renting, so can’t put up solar panels or modify the house, so there’s no options to reduce energy usage on that front. However, we’re with AGL who have a Future Forests initiative, where you pay an extra $1 per week and they guarantee to buy enough carbon offsets to offset your electricity use. I’ve signed us up. In the meantime, we try to limit the use of air-conditioning to only when it’s really needed (30C+ outside), and only in the rooms we’re in.

Gas

Again, strightforward to work out from bills.

10,948MJ @ Queensland Metro = 0.95T

Again, not much we can do here as we’re renting. We use gas for cooking, hot water and a small gas heater in winter. If we had our own place we could look at investing in solar hot water and switching to an induction cooker powered with solar panels.

Waste

This one is tricky. We split our waste into recyclables (glass, paper, hard plastics, metals etc.), soft plastics (which can be dropped off for recycling at our local supermarket) and regular waste. Do you count stuff that’s going to be recycled? There doesn’t seem to be an option for that on the calculator. I’ve made the assumption that everything we put in the red ‘general waste’ bin is food, and have guessed that we throw out 1 cubic metre of general waste per week (almost certainly an overestimate.)

1m3 per week = 0.95T

Not much to do here. We’re pretty good at recycling the waste that’s eligible for recycling. Composting food waste also releases CO2 so not sure there’s anything to be gained there. We can definitely get better at making sure we use all the food we buy, particularly things like salad ingredients and fruit, so that’s something to work on this year.

Paper

Again, not really sure about this one. All our paper and cardboard goes into recycling, so, again, does that count? I’m saying no for the moment.

Flights

These are just my flights - J will have her own set.

  • Brisbane - Sydney: 0.23T * 5 = 1.15T
  • Brisbane - Cairns: 0.23T
  • Brisbane - Newcastle: 0.23T
  • Brisbane - Queenstown (NZ): 1.09T

Total: 2.7T

The easiest way to reduce our flights is just to move back to Sydney 😁 which we’re doing later this year. Living in Sydney would have removed all but two of those flights, though with my sister living in NZ and the rest of my family in Ireland, we’re always going to have some flight-related emissions. I checked and a return flight to Europe is about 5T! We have a Euro trip booked this year, but COVID might put paid to that! I might just have to look at carbon offsets for this one.

Public Transport

We both work from home, so don’t use a lot of public transport. We take occasional bus or train trips into the city, plus occasional ferry trips. There’s no ferry option on the calculator though, and these distances are total guesses. A round trip to the city is about 12km on the bus and 10km on the train.

  • 500km, commuting by bus: 0.2T
  • 500km, commuting by train: 0.2T

As it turns out, public transport doesn’t result in a large CO2 contribution anyway.

Events

I flew to Newcastle for a four-day MTB race.

Port-to-Port MTB: 0.41T

Grand Total

6.7 tonnes between the two of us, excl. flights. If we assume J had approx. the same flight profile as me, then we’re up to approx. 12.2 tonnes CO2 for the year. Taking advantage of AGL’s electricity offsetting reduces our total to 9.39T CO2 between us, or 4.7T each.

I’m not sure how accurate the calculator is, but I had a follow-up attempt at Global Footprint Network which estimated my emissions at 9.7T, excl. J’s flights, based on a different way of entering data, so I seem to be in the right ballpark, though, as they say, garbage in, garbage out.

I know Australians are among the worst emitters in the World, with approx. 26T per person, but I think that’s just our total emissions divided by the population, which isn’t an accurate estimate of what the average person is directly responsible for, so hard to gauge how we’re doing on that front.

In the meantime, we have 10 tonnes of emissions from last year which require offsetting. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, the best offsets are those certified by the WWF Gold Standard Climate+ program, which aims to combine carbon offsets with global development benefits. Prices range from USD10/tonne to USD20. Time to pick a project.

Underground Living

Long read about a homeless man in London, who built himself aan underground bunker on Hampstead Heath.

Halfway along the footpath, he turned off again, this time stepping directly into dense bramble. He found a narrow gulley that had been cut between the thorns and followed it through a zigzag turn to a small clearing, where he bent in the dark and patted the earthy floor. There – a concealed hatch. Van Allen tugged it open with his fingers and descended into the ground, closing the hatch behind. Below, he flicked on lights at a switch. He hung up his coat.

COVID Death Rate

Hard to get a handle on the coronovirus issue. The Australian Dept. of Health are claiming a death rate of 3.4%, but seem to be miscalculating it.

They are calculating the number of deaths as a proportion of the number of infections, which is incorrect. When when you contract a deadly disease there are two possible outcomes: you either get better or you die. While you are still sick you are ‘unknown’.

Logically then, the correct calculation is the number of deaths as a proportion of infections which are resolved.

Using the correct calculation shows that it’s killing approx. 7.75% of people infected, though that does seem to be coming down slowly.

Some more stats are available here

State of the Environment

Bill McKibben, one of the earliest to write about climate change and the founder of [350.org][http://350.org], has a article on the state of play in the New York Review of Books. In it he looks back on what scientists got right with their early modelling…

These climate models got their first real chance to shine in 1991, when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines, injecting known amounts of various chemicals into the atmosphere, and the models passed with flying colors, accurately predicting the short-term cooling those chemicals produced.

…recalls that the oil companies were well aware of the problem even while they did their best to ensure no meaningful action was taken…

Exxon, for instance, got the problem right: one of the graphs their researchers produced predicted with uncanny accuracy what the temperature and carbon dioxide concentration would be in 2019. That this knowledge did not stop the industry from its all-out decades-long war to prevent change is a fact to which we will return.

…and goes on to point out that we need to do way more than we’ve been doing.

To meet the Paris goal of limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world would need to cut its emissions by 7.6 percent annually for the next decade. Stop and read that number again—it’s almost incomprehensibly large. No individual country, not to mention the planet, has ever cut emissions at that rate for a single year, much less a continuous decade. And yet that’s the inexorable mathematics of climate change. Had we started cutting when scientists set off the alarm, in the mid-1990s, the necessary cuts would have been a percent or two each year. A modest tax on carbon might well have sufficed to achieve that kind of reduction. But—thanks in no small part to the obstruction of the fossil fuel industry, which, as we have seen above, knew exactly what havoc it was courting—we didn’t start correcting the course of the supertanker that is our global economy. Instead, we went dead ahead: humans have released more carbon dioxide since Hansen’s congressional testimony than in all of history before.

The whole article is worth a read to get an idea of where we are currently and the potential for change, from increasing use of renewables to divestments and campaigns to leave fossil fuels in the ground.