Measuring a Berkeleyan carbon footprint

A recent research paper by UC Berkeley’s Christopher Jones and Dan Kammen looks at the impact location and lifestyle has on your household’s carbon footprint. The point of the research isn’t to state the obvious: that, for example, a couple living in an urban area with good public transportation has a very different footprint to a family of four living in car-dependent suburbia. Instead it looks at how different strategies for carbon footprint reduction are needed depending on where and how you live.

So what does it mean for a Berkeleyan? Helpfully, Jones and Kammen have worked with the California Air Resources Board to create a carbon footprint calculator that focuses on Californian lifestyles, which is part of an online community called CoolClimate Network. CoolClimate Network is a project of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the university.

“Our primary message is simple:If you are concerned about reducing your carbon footprint, or the carbon footprint of others through policy, it is important to focus on the actions that lead to the greatest reductions,” Kammen told UC Berkeley NewsCenter. “Our online tool can help people do just that.”

I used the calculator for our household and I’d love to report that we’re paragons of green use. But we’re not (see summary above). On housing and shopping, we’re slightly below U.S. averages, which still isn’t good, but which the calculator generously terms “OK”. Most Berkeleyans — including my household — have some significant advantages over most Americans. We don’t use air conditioning and we only need heating sparingly for much of the year. What sends our household into carbon perdition is the amount of air travel we do (which probably doesn’t rival the never-still Kammen, but is still a lot). The calculator has us producing over 50 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year from air travel. Similar U.S. households create 26.3 metric tons from transport use in total.

What makes the calculator more than an exercise in personal naming and shaming, however, is that it provides guidance on actions households can take to reduce their footprints. In our case, a change of diet, a switch to “eco-driving”, using our bikes more and reducing air travel (I wish), would save 10% of our footprint and nearly $2,000 a year.

CoolClimate Network encourages users to create a profile and the site, which they can then share with neighbors or similar households elsewhere in the state. It also hopes to encourage competition between cities or business for carbon reduction.

If enough Berkeleysiders are interested in creating a CoolClimate community, we could track our collective efforts. Let us know in the comments below.