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Know your impact on global warming

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Tom Belford04 September 2020

A recent NY Times article reported that very few of us actually have an accurate sense of our personal impact on global warming via the greenhouse gas emissions we directly or indirectly cause.

The average New Zealander has a carbon footprint of 10 tonnes of CO2 per year.

There are a variety of ‘calculators’ that can help you make your own assessment.

Here’s one I find particularly intriguing.

Answer the questions and you will be told your “Personal Overshoot Day”. That is, the date in the year after which your consumption habits, if matched by everyone, would outpace the Earth’s ability to sustain in that year.

Earth Overshoot Day for 2020 is estimated at August 22.  In other words, for every day beyond that, given current consumption habits, we have been consuming beyond what the planet can replenish in a year. We’re mining our natural capital.

If your personal day is calculated later than August 22, you are to be commended.

I lied in my responses to see what it might take to be a model citizen … but even then I only pushed my Overshoot date to September 16! If everyone lived like me (or my ideal report), it would take 1.4 Earths to meet our annual needs.

Obviously this is not the scientific precision that allows an astronaut to safely dock at a space station, but nevertheless the ‘Overshoot’ concept does make one think about our daily effects here at Ground Zero.

If you’re looking for a more refined calculation (household or business), try this offered by NZ’s Sustainable Business Network. And if you want to go even further and have your carbon footprint to verified, organisations like Toitū Envirocare and Ekos offer independent certification.

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Tom Belford04 September 2020

One response to “Know your impact on global warming”

  1. John Blundell says:

    Per capita emissions are quite meaningless in a world where we are trying to address global emissions.

    New Zealand has high per capita emissions because we are a major food exporter – yet by any count we offer the lowest emissions per unit of output delivered to market.

    For any given level of food supply – to lower global emissions – New Zealand should increase it’s farmed outputs at the expense of less efficient producers – thus lowering global emissions – but of course New Zealander’s per capita emissions will rise.

    Similarly closing our hydro powered smelter will lower our emissions from the carbon anodes consumed – but as demand will remain unchanged – any shortfall will be taken up most likely by low cost coal fired smelters in Asia – with massive increases in global emissions.

    Unfortunately when trying to solve global emissions problems – trying to optimise individual’s emission measures can lead to very perverse outcomes.

    Even the argument every nation need to pull it’s weight makes no sense on this basis.

    This is not an excuse not to be as efficient as possible – no one needs to drive a V8 when a modern hybrid offers similar utility but with much lower emissions.

    These are very complex issues and do not always lend themselves to simplistic solutions such as per capita emissions

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