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Carbon Footprints – Uh?

August 24, 2009

With all of the Global warming, Climate Change and Carbon footprint, CO2 emissions and a whole load of other stuff flying around, it can get very confusing. In this post I will attempt to tackle just one of these subjects: The Carbon Footprint.
carbon footprintSimply put, this is the thing that helps you help the problem. If you understand Carbon footprints, well you don’t need to understand all the science and facts, all you have to do is your bit to help.
A carbon footprint is the measure of CO2 that something puts into the atmosphere in a set amount of time. That something can be a country, company, building, individual, product, event or just about any entity which is quantifiable. Now the time factor is important to because without it, well, everyone and everything’s carbon footprint is endless, like time. When we look at an individuals Carbon Footprint it is usually looked at in CO2 emissions per year.
The idea is, if you know your carbon footprint you can look at how to reduce it. Of course you can reduce it without knowing it just by doing more eco friendly things. We should all be doing this anyway, but understanding you Carbon Footprint just makes it easier.
Now one way is to look at the average Carbon Footprint for the county you live in.

• UK 9.66 tonnes
• USA 19.7 tonnes
• Mexico 4.5 tonnes
• China 4.57 tonnes
But hey who wants be average?

To work out your carbon footprint you have to look at everything in your life and work out how much CO2 that emits. So that includes transport, heating, holidays, food, water, electricity and a whole wealth of other things. Now to try and figure all that out! You probably just said to yourself something like, no way, or you must be out of your mind. It’s pretty much impossible and anyway and we all have far better things to be doing with our lives.

CO2 per capita by country

This is when we turn to Carbon Calculators. Yes you guessed it, a calculator that works out your carbon footprint. Brilliant. There goes all the work. Well, not exactly, you still have to fill in some information. There are loads of them online, just type in Carbon Calculator into Google.
Simply fill in the information and it will work out your carbon footprint. Now you can see you Carbon Footprint. I used the calculatore at carbonfootprint.com and my Carbon Footprint is,
4.04 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Why not find your carbon footprint and post it as a comment at the end of this post. (and lets be honest about this) Remember you get the results instantly, which actually makes it kind of fun.
Great! So I now have a number, but what do I do with it. Now I try to reduce that number. I do things like turn the lights and appliances off, change my electricity to an Eco tariff, recycle more, use less, drive less, and walk more. Then I go back in 6 months or a year and see if my footprint has reduced. I have been doing this for a while now and have been reducing it every time. CARBON CALCULATORBut it can be hard to find a place to start reducing your footprint. This is where a good carbon calculator helps. In your results you will get a breakdown of where you CO2 emissions are coming from. You just find the area in your life that has the greatest amount of emissions and work out how to reduce it. So if its your car then try car pooling (sharing lifts to work etc) or biking to the shops, or even take PUBLIC TRANSPORT. Scary I know, but it really isn’t that bad once or twice a week!

We all need to have a target, right. For an example UK the government has set a target get personal Carbon Footprints to 8.5 by 2015. That’s 75% of the current average. Which is less than a 4% reduction each year.

But in reality this is nowhere near enough. For everyone on the planet to be living sustainable it is thought that our carbon footprints need to be less than 2 tonnes of CO2 per person. Now that’s less than 20% of the UK average today and less than 10% of the USA average. The ideal Carbon footprint is a subject of great debate and the is not one single number that has been agreed on. The IPCC of the USA has a target of 80% reductions on 1990 figures by 2050. New zealand has a ’20 by 2020′ idea. This means to reduce carbon footprints by 20% by 2020. Although this doesn’t come close to the 2 tonne footprint, it is a goal. I however believe it should be 40% by 2020 for every nation. This is a target that we should all adopt. Of course for those of us with already low carbon footprints this is going to be a whole lot harder, but possible none the less.
This really shows how screwed we are at the moment. We need to do more than just change the light-bulbs to CFL’s.We really do need to make a bigger effort to change, fundamental change. We need to support the new technologies in transport, electricity and buildings. Once we have mastered the small efforts we must not stop there but continue tackling this huge issue.  I will write a blog about the 2 tonne idea soon.
So that’s the basics of Carbon Foot printing. Why not go and find out your carbon footprint now then post your results at the end of this blog. Post your country and your personal Carbon footprint.
I hope this helped.
Thanks for reading.

Ed

Ps. if you have questions then please post them in the comments and I will respond.

Like Texas in the Summer on the Sun

August 20, 2009

Global warming, or climate change is such a hot (really, puns already?) topic right now.  With all of the chatter, however, there seems to be very little understand about WHY climate change is actually happening.  Recently I read a New Yorker article that explained climate change in the most concise way that I have seen.  It is called The Catastrophist, and it profiles James Hansen, the “grandfather of global warming.” (New Yorker, “The Castrophist,” Eliabeth Kolbert, June 29 2009)  I want to use that to more thoroughly explain climate change, talk a little about carbon off-setting, and then post a little invention idea that I’ve been working on.

Ok, let’s go back 200 million years.  Well… ok wait, scratch that.  Let’s talk carbon cycle first.

Remember earth cycles and systems?  You probably learned about them in Earth Science class in elementary school and 9th grade.  Maybe you even did a project about photosynthesis and respiration?  I remember coloring in trees and arrows– so many arrows!  Well, the carbon cycle in its basic form looks like this:

Carbon Cycle

(Thank you Earth and System Sciences power point; Spring 2009; Dr. Padilla)

Like the above image shows, the earth draws down carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere in a couple of different ways– through photosynthesis (plants) and the ocean (sedimentation, shells and coral).  Now, I knew about plant respiration using carbon dioxide to create food, but the ocean drawing down CO2 was news to me.  The ocean literally absorbs carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere through a series of biological and chemical processes (that’s vague I know, but it’s OK for these purposes).  This dissolved CO2 is then used by animals to make shells and coral, and in turn creates sediments on the ocean floor.

Alright, this is a cycle, so there’s an up arrow too.  Volcanoes, animal respiration, decomposition, and combustion all pump CO2 back up into the atmosphere.  Combustion includes the burning of wood and coal, and the use of fuel.

Right, so back to 200 million years ago.  It was hot.  And not like Texas in the Summer hot, like Texas in the Summer on the Sun hot.  There was no north pole, no south pole– well, I mean, there were poles, but they weren’t cold.  There were no ice caps so the ocean was hundreds of feet above the current sea level.  There was also a ton of CO2 in the atmosphere.  It is now widely agreed that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is directly related to the climate.  Ok, so then how did we get to the current climate conditions?  Well, in short, the Earth kept spinning.  Over time, the plants that covered the continents drew down the carbon dioxide through respiration and photosynthesis.  As the plants died off, and as the Earth changed, the now decomposed plants were pushed down down into the crust and became fossil fuels, like coal and oil.

All of this info is leading to the one main point:  when we talk about global warming, we are talking about 200 million years worth of carbon dioxide being pumped back into the atmosphere in less than 100 years.

Simply put, coal, gas and oil is stored carbon which to took millions and millions of years to be collected.  We are burning them, putting that CO2 back in the atmosphere at a rate that is totally unmanageable for the Earth to sustain. We are steeling from millions of years of careful balance (there’s a great film about this:  Home by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. You can watch it for free in HD at http://www.youtube.com/homeproject).

Now for the upside.  1. we can stop pumping all of that CO2 back into the atmosphere.  2. we can also do things to encourage drawing the CO2 back down.  So, not only are these climate changes possible to stop, they are theoretically reversible.  What are some people doing?  Carbon off-setting, like planting trees.  That’s a big one.  There is a website called Erase Carbon Footprint where you can put in the amount of CO2 that you used on, let’s say a plane trip, and then donate the amount of money that it takes to plant the number of tree to counter balance that time.  I really really like that idea.  There are also many budding “carbon sink” ideas that are being implemented.  There is some concern with the Oceans pH levels when drawing down carbon dioxide, but ideas including restoring and growing coral reefs which would use the carbon to grow.  I think that there is a lot more research to be done about the ocean and pH levels before we go nuts, though.  There is SOOOO much exciting and current information on carbon off-setting, it’s going to need to be its own blog.  Let me know if you have anything to add!

But first, here’s my own little invention idea for carbon offsetting.  This would be for roofs that are not able to be made “green” and I think of it primarily in an urban setting.  I call it Tree, and it involves three parts: Leaf, Root, and Stem.  Leaf would be a large, thin, permeable and translucent storage of chlorophyll (or algae).  Root would provide the water needed, and Stem would help to power it.  The idea behind it is that it would increase the general surface area where plant respiration could take place.  Really I would love it to be just chlorophyll, but the technology needed to replicate photosynthesis outside of plants hasn’t been developed yet.  I think that algae would work, though, at least in the the sense that algae would resperate.  So Leaf is busy breathing in CO2, using water (from Root), and sunlight, and breathing out O2.  Haha, so just a budding idea, but it’s fun to think about!  Let me know what you think too!

Keep spinning.

-AB

War and its Climate Crimes

August 19, 2009

Global Warming is a massive issue right! So what about all these wars going on throughout the world. What kind of effect is that having on the planet? In this post I will be focussing on the Iraq war and how that is contributing to Global Warming. I will use the USA’s involvement in the war and related data to point out how war may be accelerating Climate Change.

We seem to have wars for everything at the moment. We have a war on terror, war on crime, war on drugs, war on global warming. The thing is, this so called war on terror which is creating a load of wars is having a massive effect on the war on global warming, does this mean we need a war on the war on global warming to make the war on terror eco friendly? First of all let me just say making war eco friendly is no solution to any of these problems.

Ok so all these wars are not only killing thousands of people directly but also contributing massively to global warming, which has the potential to kill or at least displace millions more. We will discuss all that in another post.

So how much CO2 (the stuff which is creating Global warming and Climate Change) does something like the Iraq war generate?

Well between March 2003 and March 2008 the war was responsible for at least 141 million tons of CO2. Now that sounds a lot doesn’t it, but how much is that really? How about 25 million more cars on the road. Or, if it were a country it would generate about the same amount of CO2 as New Zealand.  Or more than 100 million return flights between London and New York. So if nothing more, stopping the war could offset a lot of shopping trips in either city. (Now that’s an economy booster).

Now this war is generating a lot of CO2 and to do that it needs to use a whole load of fossil fuels. 4 billion gallons of fuel to be precise (that’s how much the US military has purchased).  Burning these fuels has directly produced nearly 39 million metric tons of CO2. But hold on how does all that fuel get to where it needs to be. Yes you got it; it takes fuel to deliver fuel. In fact transporting fuel uses about the same amount than is actually delivered. Therefore your can double the above figure to about 90 million tons of CO2. With one of the major factors of wars being fossil fuels it seems completely outrages that the fight for the fuel is using so much.

Throughout the Iraq war there have been many cases of oil well fires and pipeline bombings. This dramatically increases the amount of carbon emissions. It is estimated that since 2003 these fires have emitted 15 million tons of CO2.

There are also many unquantifiable emissions created from war. These are things like the development and deployment of explosives and chemicals. Not to mention the fact than when you blow things up, they need to be rebuilt. This uses a lot of cement, which in its production is one of the world’s largest emitters of CO2.

Ok so that’s a lot of CO2 being created. Now, to do all of this the US government has had to spend a whole lot of cash. In 2008 it broke the $600 billion mark. Now can you imagine what could happen if that money was spent on renewable energy research and development. After all in 2006 the US spent more on the Iraq war than the entire world spent on investment in renewable energy. (http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/international/press/reports/future-investment.pdf) That’s hard for me to get my head round. Renewable energy is something that will positively effect us all, how is it that one war is worth more than that!

That $600 billion could have been used to build 9000 wind farms. That’s would be enough to generate 25% of the USA’s energy needs. Imagine that. Stop wasting oil on the war and getting 25% of energy from a renewable source. Try passing that through congress. I don’t think they’ll go for it, it makes too much sense.

Obama has committed to spending $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of green energy technology and infrastructure. Now that is fantastic, but if you consider the US spends nearly that much on the war in Iraq in just 10 months, (http://change.gov/agenda/economy_agenda) its clear that there is not enough focus on a sustainable future.

So as you can see, war is not only a mindless money eating killing machine but it has massive byproducts. One of which is a huge contribution to Global Warming.

Now, I focused on the USA and their involvement in the Iraq war, but I am in no way saying this is the only war or the only country committing these climate crimes. Every war and every country involved in a war is having a negative effect on the planet. What if ‘climate crime’ became an international offense. So individuals, corporations and governments could be tried for causing inexcusable and avoidable ‘climate crimes’. Climate crime could become a war crime and added to the 1996 war crimes act. Governments and leaders found guilty of this crime will have to repay the climate debt through carbon offset or passing new sustainable energy bills. If they have money for war they must have money to develop a sustainable future. Ok so I went off on a tangent. But you get the idea.

Just a imagine a world where all countries followed Costa Rica’s lead and stopped investing in armies and put the money towards nature conservation. This would be a true Global solution to Global Warming.

Thanks for reading.

Ed

Vague, but the videos cool.

August 18, 2009

Ok so this is my first blog post. I guess I will learn how to walk before I run. So lets keep it short. Here is The Waste Projects New (well its about a week old) video. Check it out.

Now you have seen it, you know what to do…..

I am going to be writing the diary pages for the project (link at the top of the page). Quite simply, I will write a diary entery whenever I feel the urge. There are three pages so far. I’m not really sure how those pages will turn out, but at the moment they are just thoughts about the projects situation. Don’t worry they arn’t going to be some boring list of what is happening but more like how things are going and any news for The Waste Project.

As for my blog. Well I will write whenever I find the time and feel passionate about writing. Not too sure how often those stars will align! What will it be about? That I really don’t know, but it will be connected to the environment in some way.

Ok thats all for now. So until next time, keep green.

Ed

The Urban Environmentalist’s Dilemma

August 11, 2009
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Ed asked me to start writing a blog for The Waste Project at 1 in the morning outside of a bar in the East Village.  He had just pitched the idea to a group of his New York friends and old co-workers.  I was buzzing at the thought of it and I rambled off ideas that had been swimming around my brain for the last couple of months.  I can’t imagine any of it made much sense, but at the time he was enthused and asked me to start writing right away.  I agreed, excited by the prospect of being able to flesh out ideas in a public forum.  Of course, that’s before I actually started writing.

It’s amazing how clearly and coherent the inner voice sounds until one actually sits down to start writing.  It’s like that Warner Brothers cartoon with the singing frog that only performs for his owner.  In front of anyone else, pure silence.  It’s enough to make a person go crazy. What I soon realized, however, is that I only have part of the puzzle pieces.  I have been spinning the things I know over and over, without realizing all of the things I don’t know.

In some ways, this is great realization!  In my urban home, it seems like most people feel this way.  The sustainability and green “movement” of late has exploded, but in unbalanced ways.  Education comes in the form of advertisements, and it’s hard to decipher what is a passing fad, and what is actually responsible practice.

We know that we shouldn’t use plastic bags, but there’s very little emphasis on how food is packaged.  We want to eat natural, organic, free range and local, but what about genetically modified?  If you have to choose, is it better to eat organic or local?  We want to recycle, but how much energy does it use to recycle plastics?  Is decycle really a better word?  How much do recycled plastics and tires off gas?

Uggggg!

In this blog, we’ll look at these questions and others through the lens of innovation, art, engineering, and science.   There will be a lot of questions, a lot of interviews and profiles, and an occasional rant or invention idea.  Please feel free to send me anything and to comment when you are so moved.

Like Ed so eloquently and concisely puts it, “it took a whole world to create these problems, and it is going to take a whole world to fix them.”  We might not know everything, but we do know that inaction is no longer an option.

Also, be sure to check out The Waste Project’s website and become a founder.

Keep spinning.

-AB

Prologue: A Promise

August 11, 2009
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Catch Up

This is my first blog post, well, ever. I’ve thought a lot about what it is to blog, and why I might like to do it. What can I contribute? Am I just regurgitating someone else’s ideas? Am I just adding to the internet “noise”? And does that mean I can never link sites or blogs that I find interesting? What’s my voice? Is it ever about me or my opinions? What’s my responsibility level to ensure that the reader is aware when it is just opinion? What’s the reader’s responsibility level?

Most of these questions have become rhetorical by default. I just don’t know, and I won’t know until I’ve done it.

So here’s my promise to you:

* I will always try to add primary sources and content.
* When I quote a section, or idea, I will always site it/link it.
* When I’m adding opinion, I will try to make it clear.
* I will only link or re-post blogs or sites when I find them interesting or relevant.

Here’s what I ask of you:

* Tell me when something is wrong.
* Remember that when discussing innovation and new research, very little of it is fact, but rather much is theory.
* Remember that I am not an expert.
* Comment! If you have an idea or thought, throw it out there!

Thanks everyone. Hope you all enjoy!

Keep spinning.

-AB