What Are Our Starting Emissions?

It’s one thing to say that we want to become a carbon negative family, but quite another to actually achieve that goal. The carbon that our activities release into the environment is invisible and typically occurs far away from our home and our consciousness. When I’m standing in the supermarket looking at two products that appear to be interchangeable, but are produced by different companies in different packaging, I have no idea how I am supposed to know which one is environmentally more responsible. I don’t think about the way our energy is produced when I turn on the television so the kids will leave me alone for twenty minutes. How bad can it really be?

Australian Emissions

Since we live in Australia, it’s worth looking at average Australian Emissions as a starting point. Environmental awareness seems to be everywhere these days. People are switching from the old halogen light bulbs to more efficient alternatives, and solar panels seem to be springing up on roof tops everywhere. There has been a big push for better insulation in homes, people commute with public transport, and supermarkets have begun to get rid of single use plastic bags. Sure, our new prime minister once walked into parliament with a lump of coal that was supposedly our salvation but, that inexplicable moment aside, as a nation we must be rocking it. Right?

Well, it turns out that we aren’t rocking it at all when it comes to our emissions. In December 2017, the ABC reported that our emissions rose for the third consecutive year. Even though our per capita emissions are now at their lowest level in 28 years, we are still producing 1.3% of global emissions. Given that we have a national population of approximately 25 million people in a global population of around 7.5 billion people, that’s not great. To save on mathematics, according to the World Bank, Australians produced 15.4 metric tons per capita in 2014. It’s easy to try the developed country argument but, according to the same source, the Euro area only produced 6.5 metric tons per capita and the world average was 5.0. That means we produce more than twice the emissions of some other developed countries, and more than triple the rest of the world.


Our Emissions

There are four of us, so the World Bank’s calculations mean that we are contributing 61.6 metric tons of carbon emissions as a family. That number is staggering and difficult to comprehend. I want to insist that we can’t be so bad as a family, that we’re sensible and practical people who are surely under the average, but denial rarely leads to solving problems. It’s possible that we’re under the average, and just as possible that we’re over it. We need to know.

I decided to use the Australian Greenhouse Calculator provided by the EPA to assess our emissions. Each category provides a quick and a detailed level and benchmarks your energy usage against that of a comparable Australian household. Switching to the detailed level gave us sometimes dramatically different results, which were as follows:

Category Our Calculated Emissions Typical Household’s Emissions Green Household’s Emissions
Transport 3.708 7.303 2.766
Air Travel 1.221* 1.427 0.357
Heating and Cooling 0.456 2.07 0.843
Hot Water 0.671 4.841 0.881
Clothes Dryer 0.0 0.258 0.084
Lighting 0.306 1.109 0.424
Refrigeration 2.226 1.24 0.449
Cooking 0.841 0.858 0.621
Other Appliances 3.428 2.052 0.508
Food and Shopping 12.772 12.359 8.27
Waste -0.023 -0.024 -0.05
Total 25.606 33.493 15.153

*For flights, we typically alternate domestic and international flights each year. To calculate this, I put in the holidays for two years and then divided by two.

At the start of the calculator I felt pretty happy about how much we were under a typical household on some of the categories. Heating and cooling? Nice. Clothes dryer? Boom. Then I arrived at some of the later categories and the smugness quickly wore off. Since there are four of us in the family, this calculator gives us each an annual emissions rate of 6.4015 tonnes per person. We might be doing well in some areas, but we obviously have a lot of behaviours that need to be worked on, and quickly.

If you’re playing along at home…

…then find an emissions calculator tailored to your geographic area and find out how well your family rates. Are you doing better or worse than we are? Were you surprised by how well or how poorly you were doing in some areas? Please share your starting point in the comments below.

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