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February 08, 2005

I Broke Kyoto

I took up Alan's challenge to see whether I personally met the Kyoto protocol's targets by reducing my climate-warming emissions below 1990 levels.

The result: a miserable failure.  Sorry, everyone, I broke Kyoto.

Now, I don't remember exactly how much energy I used in 1990 -- and I certainly didn't keep my utility bills -- so  I just made some informed guesses.  But the transportation parts of the Safe Climate caluclator were pretty easy for me to remember.  I didn't own a car, because I lived in a big city (Washington, DC) with good public transportation, where a car was more expense than it was worth.  Plus, I didn't fly that year; my family was pretty close by, and I didn't have the money for expensive vacations.  That meant that my CO2 emissions for transportation were pretty low, at least by American standards.

Today, though, I put on about 6,500 miles per year on the family car, which adds about 3 tons of CO2 per year into the atmosphere -- still low for the US, but much higher than my emissions in 1990. 

But the big thing is that my famiy and I fly across the country at least once a year to visit relatives.  A single round trip across the country for a family of four spews about 7.5 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere -- more than twice my annual auto emissions.

All told, between car and air travel, my travel habits in 2004 put about 10 times as much CO2 into the air as I did when I just got out of college.  In terms of location, at least, DC was a much more carbon efficient place for me to live; and my early 20s a carbon efficient phase of my life.

Surprisingly, CO2 emissions from my heat and electricity went down a bit from 1990 to today.  But that's mostly because I moved:  Washington, DC has higher heating and cooling costs than Seattle, and most of DC's electric power comes from fossil-fuel burning power plants, whereas Seattle's comes from hydropower.

But counting that as a reduction is a bit of a scam.  The Northwest ran out of "spare" hydropower capacity in the 1980s.  So in one way of looking at things, all of the extra power that was generated to accomodate my family's in-migration to the Northwest came from fossil fuels: my personal mix is really no better than it was in DC.

I don't know where this all leaves me.  All in all, I'd be doing pretty well if it weren't for all the air travel.  But the only way to avoid that is to move back to the east coast, or to vow not to visit my family.  Neither option really seems tenable, at least at this phase of my life. 

So for the foreseeable future, if you're looking for someone to blame for the US doing so poorly on Kyoto, you can always point your finger at me.

Posted by ClarkWD | Permalink


About Seattle's hydropower, Clark.

You're right, Seattle City Light isn't building more dams. But it has committed to climate neutrality. It's buying windpower and investing aggressively in efficiency. It's offsetting every pound of CO2 emitted from power generation. So I think you should take credit for the DC-to-Seattle savings in electricity-caused CO2. I don't think it's a "scam."

Posted by: Alan Durning | Feb 8, 2005 12:42:24 PM