Saturday, July 26, 2008

Carbon Footprints In The Sand

All right. I have had it with this global warming crap. (Oh, calm down! I'm not done yet!) If I never hear the term "global warming" ever again in my lifetime it will be too soon. Don't get me wrong, I am aware that the earth is gradually getting warmer. (I'm also aware that human beings generate heat and there are an awful lot of us hanging around the globe these days.) And I am also aware that there are plenty of things that people can do that will help not make the current condition of the environment any worse. But what I'm really aware of is how softheaded a lot of people in this country and on this planet really are. And, in a rare moment when I am going to advocate regulating something, if someone doesn't come up with some sort of a standard for what some of these actions relate to, we're never going to get anything done. Oh, hey, kind of like now.

The term that I dislike as much as "global warming" is "carbon footprint". Whenever I hear "carbon footprint" I want to plant my "carbon footprint" right on that person's arse. The "carbon footprint" is supposed to refer to the amount of carbon that is being emitted by something or someone and through their actions or activities. And regardless as to how much I dislike the term, the "carbon footprint" is a real thing. However, I have yet to see a standard method for measuring what the "carbon footprint" actually is. Thus, that means that people or organizations that claim to be all for saving the environment (and who are usually, ironically, doing so via some sort of business that they hope to capitalize upon. Shocking, I know.) seem to measure the carbon emissions of things however they want to. And we wouldn't really know how that is because they don't tell us. But for some reason, if you claim to know about the "carbon footprint" and how to measure it, they will line up in droves, like zombies, to listen to you and to throw money at your feet.

I'm not exaggerating. Here's an example: Delta Airlines has a "Carbon Offset Program" where you can choose to contribute $5.50 per round trip domestic flight ($11.00 per international round trip flight) to help "offset" their "carbon footprint". That money goes into their Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund uses that money to plant trees. I find it interesting that it's the same $5.50 regardless as to the length of the flight that you're taking. See, I find it doubtful that my "carbon footprint" if I flew from California to Utah would be the same as if I flew from California to New York. But they're "offsetting" something with "carbon" in it, so it must be good. Offputting is what it is. But I digress.

So, over at the "Global Footprint Network - Advancing the Science of Sustainability" they have a "Personal Footprint Calculator" which claims to help "you see how your living habits relate to your use of the planet's resources." I don't know how they figure stuff out based upon your answers, and neither will you because they don't say. But that's not my entire issue. No, my issue is with some of the questions. Let's begin.

They have only figured out how to do carbon footprint analysis in the United States and Australia. So if you're reading this in Europe (where I'm HUGE), sorry, you're going to have to continue ruining the planet blissfully unaware of the damage that you're doing. (Oh, how I wish I was in Europe right now.) Once you select your country, you're given the opportunity to create an avatar that will represent the Earth killing you throughout this activity. I guess the purpose is to make your gradual depleting of the earth's resources seem kitschy and fun. You can custom design your avatar or have one randomly generated. If you don't like the randomly generated one, you can randomly generate them until the cows come home. (Or, if you don't hear any mooing, until you find one you like.) Here is the avatar I chose to represent the wasteful me (I liked the hair):

The questions can be answered with a general response or with a more specific response. The questions covered the basics. How much of and what kind of food do you eat? How much trash do you generate? What are your driving habits? How often do you fly a year? Stuff like that. Those questions seem reasonable. But then I ran across some questions that did NOT seem reasonable.

The first question I had a problem with was, "Which housing type best describes your home?" You are then given seven choices. One of the choices is "Free standing house without running water." WTF?! What am I? A yurt dweller? (With the Internet, oddly enough.) WITHOUT running water? Are they serious? They must be, because there it was. Grrr.

But the question that just made me want to twist right off was, "Do you have electricity in your home?" ::blink:: ::blink:: ::stare:: ::blink:: ::blink:: Is it really asking me if I have electricity in my home as I take this quiz on the freaking INTERNET?!?! And it's asking me this right after it asked me if I have running water in my home?! Who am I? The Unabomber?! (Although, now that I think about it, that guy was pretty environmentally friendly. Aside from all the bombs, of course.)

OK, so I DID manage to finish the quiz. (The quiz that wasn't sure if I had electricity or not because they're taking into consideration I could be living in a teepee on an island in the middle of the Pacific somewhere as I use what little power my solar cells have generated for my computer to take their ridiculous quiz). And for me the bottom line was that my habits, running water and electricity and all, allegedly require 4.1 planet Earths "if everyone lived like me". My habits allegedly take up 18.2 global acres of the Earth's productive area and emit 19.8 tons of carbon dioxide. That's when I moved to Australia.

I took the quiz again, but this time I clicked on Australia. The only difference in the questions was that they did include one about how often I used a bicycle for transportation and they also had the responses in metric units. It also asked for which region of Australia. Now, I don't know why that would make a difference, as it didn't ask for what region of the US I lived in, but it definitely seemed to. If I had the exact same electricity using, water running, food eating habits that I had in the US in (Western) Australia, I would only require 2.6 planet Earths "if everyone lived like me" and I would only take up 2.6 planet earths 4.7 hectares (6.67 acres) 8.6 tonnes (9.47 tons) of carbon dioxide. HOW is that possible?!? Oh, and if I moved to one of the other regions in Australia, my usage needs were even less than that!

I mean, if it were a little bit different, that would seem different, but normal. Kind of like how the water in the toilet swirls a different direction in Australia. It's different, but it seems normal, so I'm OK with that. But the difference between the wasteful US me and the wasteful Australian me seems greatly different and for no apparent reason other than location, location, location.

Now, I'm not saying that this particular company is trying to scam people into...something. I'm not sure what their overall goal it (although it does say that they're non-profit). But that just doesn't make any sense to me. And if they have to ask if I have electricity when I'm taking their Internet quiz, that raises some serious concerns about their overall competence for dealing with environmental issues. I mean, maybe they know what they're doing, maybe they don't. But you and I have no way of knowing because there are no standards for which comparisons can be made. That's why we need some standards. And until we get some, if everyone (except for smart scientist folk) could please just pipe down, we'd appreciate it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to tote some well water back to the yurt.

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