I've been wondering about my carbon footprint. What is it exactly? How do I calculate it? Can I realistically reduce it? Does it matter? Of course, I started by doing a Yahoo search.
Before I tell you about the calculators, I found a couple of interesting things — the three top sponsored links to exhortations about all the great green things IBM, Intel and BP are doing. IBM just made a lot of PR noise and published a “red paper” about its green data centers. I'm not sure why IBM doesn't do white papers anymore, but “red” seems to signify Big Blue's green market-speak color for now. Anyhow, we wanted to do a story on IBM's own plan for a $1 billion green data center, but right after the announcement was made, anyone at IBM who could talk in depth about it went on vacation. Go figure. But I digress.
Anyhow, I found several carbon footprint calculators which all ask the same questions, more or less. Al Gore's says our household of three pushes out 20.5 tons of carbon dioxide against a national average of 7.5 tons. Carbonfootprint.com came in virtually the same at 20.478 tons and is the most detailed right down to every flight taken and local produce buying habits. Similarly, the Nature Conservancy's questionnaire asks about meat consumption, recycling, frequency of flying and how many miles driven each year. But its results were far higher, claiming we came right in at the U.S. national average of spewing out 80 tons of carbon dioxide annually against a world average of 17 tons.
While it's hard to account for such a big difference, more than anything, these calculators create awareness about what innocuous-sounding activities produce carbon dioxide. I never thought going to the movies, buying new clothes and eating out contribute to global warming, but those are the types of things carbonfootprint.com asks about. Apparently, the environment is a lot better off if you wear hand-me-downs. Of course, everyone donning them would be devastating to the economy even though 50 years ago, that's what a lot of people did.
Finally, I also found an ecological organization called Redefining Progress and it has four footprint quizzes. These 'let's whip ourselves' exercises are really in fashion. And I thought endeavors such as riding my bike 10 miles back home after taking my car to the repair shop or carpooling counted the most. Unless you're a devoted tree hugger, it's easy to discount these calculators given the ongoing debate over global warming and the political overtones of the discussion. And by the way, none of them ever asked about my wood stove or (small) power boat.
Congratulations to Martin Fisher, our 2008 Engineer of the Year. Fisher is a worthy if not a typical choice for our 21st Engineer of the Year. But the brilliance/benefit ratio, if such a metric existed, of his “MoneyMaker Deep Lift” pump would be remarkable. Congratulations to our 2008 Engineer of the Year finalists and Golden Mousetrap winners, as well.
Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my Design Engineering at Large blog.