One Stone Carbon Challenge

global warmingIf you read this blog, you’re probably familiar with the idea of global warming, and you know that it is going to have serious effects in the coming decades (see this image only if you want to be depressed). You may also know that scientists are suggesting there is a “point of no return” where we won’t be able to stop or reverse global warming. This point is usually described as a ratio of how much carbon (or more accurately, carbon equivalent[1]) is in the atmosphere. There’s some debate about the exact number, but somewhere between 300 ppm and 450 ppm is considered the “safer” level that will prevent the worst of the effects.

Individual people can have a lot of impact on the total CO2 emissions dumped into the atmosphere. The average American household dumps 18 tonnes of carbon equivalents into the air every year. The sustainable level of carbon emissions – that is, the level that every person in the world could emit and keep the greenhouse effect from worsening beyond the point of no return – is one tonne per person per year [source].

If that sounds like a pretty big drop, well…it is. There’s a group of folks who are committing to make that reduction within a year. They’re calling it the Riot4Austerity, and I take my hat off to them for their bold undertaking, and I hope to reduce my carbon to at least 75% below American average in the next 2 years.

But for me, right now, it’s just too much to change all at once. Anyone else out there feel the same way?

I wanted to come up with a more manageable “chunk” to whittle away at, and I wanted to know the relative merits of various actions. Take the bus for 45 minutes or drive 5 miles? Eat 100% local or go vegetarian? Give up the hair dryer or turn off the A/C? Give up my car, or airplane flights? If I can do one thing to reduce my footprint today, which thing should it be? If I can’t give up my car, how else can I make up the difference?

onestoneAnd so, I bring you the One Stone Carbon Challenge. The basic premise is simple: I’ve created a list of activities which produce, on average, one stone (14 lb) of carbon emissions. You choose activities that prevent 14 pounds of carbon equivalent from entering the atmosphere, and you mark one stone off this chart (200Kb PNG). When you’ve crossed off the 157 stones on the chart, you’ve prevented one tonne of carbon pollution.

I’m putting the detailed calculations on a static page, here, to prevent any further clogging of people’s feed readers.

So, let’s make this a formal Challenge, in best blogging fashion. The One Stone Carbon Challenge runs from now until May 1, 2009. Comment below and tell us:

  1. That you’re participating
  2. Your goal – how many stones will you reduce by May 1?
  3. If you like, tell us your current carbon footprint, and at the end, recalculate your footprint and tell us the difference. Feel free to skip this if it sounds too much like a Weight Watchers weigh-in. ;)

Feel free to snag the icon above to post on your blog, for thems what like badges.

I’ll check back in on May 1!

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9 Comments

  1. EdgeWise said,

    March 9, 2009 at 9:52 am

    The only carbon negative activity I know of, is to create biochar, crush/shred/chip it, and mix it into your garden. Purchased charcoal without toxic binders, even with shipping costs, is still weakly carbon negative.

    In this contest, does it count to either buy offsets or bury some biochar?

    • Emily said,

      March 9, 2009 at 10:26 am

      Planting trees is carbon negative. :) I’ve not included carbon negative activities here for simplicity’s sake. I’m not sure how to count it if I plant a tree this month. Do I count its lifetime of carbon this month? Do I try to calculate the carbon it sequesters as it grows?

      If I buy electricity offsets, it is theoretically funding some wind power somewhere, but in fact the coal plant at the end of my line is still spewing carbon. So I’m focusing here on actual reduction, not just offsets.

      • EdgeWise said,

        March 10, 2009 at 1:23 pm

        Probably wise not to include carbon negative activities, given we can so easily reduce our footprint. Offseting is controversial, and as you mention planting a tree sequesters nothing immediately, and only a small amount per month of the tree’s life. When trees die they decay and release 90% of the carbon into the atmosphere via CO2 and methane. Biochar is a little easier to calculate and rely upon to remain sequestered.

        • Emily said,

          March 10, 2009 at 2:15 pm

          Yep, I agree: why mess with negligibly carbon-negative activities when it’s so easy to just produce less carbon in the first place! Filling my entire yard with biochar probably has less net effect than vacationing 100 miles closer to home.

  2. thepinkdoran said,

    April 5, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    I’m about a month late, but can I still participate? What a great idea!

    I had a look at riot4austerity and although that is the way to go ultimately, it’s such a drastic change, and I’m just not ready for it. I’m taking my own little steps though, and this stone challenge seems managable!

  3. Emily said,

    April 5, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Pinkdoran- you bet! Join up any time and let us know how it goes!

  4. Kiashu said,

    June 2, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    If you enjoy accounting so much, then you can try the Carbon Account Challenge.

    In this, carbon dioxide is the backing for a new currency, the Carbon (¢). Your allowed emissions are treated as an “income”. You can earn more income from planting trees and harvesting food. If you are a truly profligage Carbons spender today, perhaps you could take four months to reduce to the current Western average, ¢1,000. Then reduce this by ¢10 every month until you reach the world average spending, ¢300. After that you reduce it by ¢5 per month until you reach the safe level of ¢100 a month.

    So you take 4 months to get to the Western average; then 70 months, almost six years, to get from the Western to the world average. Then you take 40 months, three and a half years, to get from the world average to a safe level. In all, in nine and a half years you’ve gone from profligate wasteful spending of Carbon to a level the world could sustain forever.

    People generally take 2-5 years to completely change their lifestyle. In 2-5 years you can move to a new country and learn a new language, get married and have children or get divorced, find a new home and be well-settled in, get a new qualification and a new career, become depressed and suicidal, get deadly cancer and go through chemotherapy, go from being grossly obese to a bodybuilding champion, and so on.

    So you ought to be able to make significant changes in your carbon-spending lifestyle in almost ten years. If you can’t, well it’s not that you can’t it’s just that you’re not trying. Ten years.

    As Emily says, small steps do take you towards a far goal. However, I’d say that one stone is a bit too small a step. It becomes a token effort we know is useless, like Earth Hour.

    The thing is that all these carbon calculations are not terribly precise. Maybe my coal-fired station is a bit worse than yours, so that I only get 4kWh for a stone compared to your 7kWh. Maybe my beef is grass-fed instead of grain-fed so it farts less.

    In the Carbon Account Challenge, these inaccuracies come out in the wash, in that however inaccurate the particular figures, over time you’ll see if the trend in spending is generally up or generally down. That’s a bit harder if you’ve got 157 things to keep track of.

    The other issue is that it’s presented as “carbon saved.” But the problem is not how much carbon we’re saving, rather how much we’re spending. If I drink ten Guinesses tonight, it will not help my head tomorrow that I said “no” to two more. Ten was nine too many. It’s easier to keep track of the drinks I did have than the drinks I might have had but didn’t. I cannot “save” drinks, I either drink them or I don’t.

    Likewise, we cannot “save” emissions. If (say) 1,000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide will turn our planet into misery, that we “saved” 10,000 billion tonnes won’t matter. All that matters is the emissions we make. We have to get them down, and fast. It may be too much or too hard, but we’ve not any choice.

    Once in the Army I saw that when blokes fall down on a cross-country run, a corporal or sergeant comes along and kicks them in the guts until they get up and keep going. Lying there gasping, you have a choice: you can lie there being kicked, or you can get up and keep running. Most get up and keep running.

    That is overly brutal and people shouldn’t do that to each-other, but that’s what the Earth is doing to us. Hurricane Katrina, the Black Saturday bushfires, the Bangladesh cyclone, drought in Australia and the Sahel – the Earth is kicking us in the guts and saying, “get up, keep going.”

    We can lie there in airconditioned comfort and in our SUVs munching on our burgers, and keep getting kicked in the guts by global warming. Or we can switch it off, get out and walk and find a decent meal, and keep running. It’s shitty and hard and unfair but we have no choice.

    It’s also a social justice issue. One Bangladeshi man was interviewed after a flood. He said, “I am told that the flood happened because of greenhouse gases and global warming. But I swear to you, I have never owned a single lightbulb.”

    We’re being kicked in the guts, but they’re being kicked in the balls.

    Get up, keep running. You have ten years.

  5. Emily said,

    June 3, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Kiashu-

    This Challenge is designed as a first step. I don’t think it’s “token,” because while the difference between 10 beers and 12 beer may not matter, the difference between 3 beers and 5 beers might. It’s also very important for folks who are just realizing they need to cut back that it’s actually achievable to not have those 2 beers, instead of figuring “Well, I can’t possibly cut back to just one, so I won’t even bother trying.”

    I framed the challenge in terms of “saving” instead of “cutting out” specifically to appeal to people who are intimidated by your Carbon Account and the Riot 4 Austerity. I figured between us, we’d motivate more people to change their behavior. After all, different people are motivated in different ways. It seemed wise to me to frame the case for carbon reduction in a different way than what I’ve seen out there already, in order to help motivate the huge numbers of folks who are intimidated or feel only despair when reading other challenges.

    And I do hope that once people start making changes in this more friendly and accessible way, they’ll realize that a) they can make these changes and b) they are just a first step – and move on to Rioting.

    Emily

  6. dee said,

    September 12, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    I cannot believe how many fools out there actually believe this crap! Al Gore went from having 3 Million in assets to over 400 Million once he became the global warming czar. He’s so rich he can have his green behind flown in a private jet while he laughes at the rest of you fools. Some people believe the most nonsense crap. I can’t believe it!


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