Monday, 16 November 2009

Why we need to move beyond the carbon calculator culture

The world is awash with carbon calculators, each designed to tell you just how much carbon dioxide you are personally responsible for. The best I have found is on the Guardian website (see below). Now, even with no flights, no cars, and the second lowest gas and electricity usage on offer I am still on 12.14 tonnes of CO2 per year, compared to 15 as the average. Why are my emissions so high? Well in part it is my share of public service emissions, but it is also the public transport I use. I regularly take the train to Edinburgh, Bristol and other lovely places like that. Travelling an average of 450 miles a month uses 2.27 tonnes of CO2 a year... (if you think that that is just 15 miles a day, a long distance commuter would be in real trouble!). Chuck in a couple of flights a year and I am screwed.

In fact even if I don't travel at all and cut my food intake in half, I am still using more than 8 tonnes a year - two and a half times the 2050 target for the UK. When I told some friends about this they threw their hands up in despair.

And this is the problem with carbon calculators. They breed defeatism. Even if you do everything right it is not enough. In my view that leads to one logical conclusion. We need to fundamentally change the means of production and consumption. Calculators are good in that they make you think about what you are doing, but that is not enough. Don't get me wrong, individual actions do count, but what we really need is an industrial and energy revolution, and that takes political as well as personal will. Carbon calculators and the like have their place, but we are out of time for that kind of solution. People need to feel empowered, but they also need to see the things they don't have the power to change too, and instead of getting sad, we need to get angry.

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