Azara Blog: Carbon neutral lifestyle

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Date published: 2005/06/07

The BBC says:

The G8 summit promises to be a "carbon-neutral" event, but thousands of people in the UK are already taking steps to cut their personal carbon dioxide emissions.

A summit to discuss global problems often falls prey to headlines of waste, gluttony and gas-guzzling.

Not this time, the government hopes.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett has announced the G8 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, and the rest of the UK's presidency, will compensate for its emission of the greenhouse gases blamed by many scientists for global warming.

The total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with the G8 presidency is equivalent to the electricity and gas used in 800 average homes over a year.

So the government has promised to invest £50,000 in projects with strong sustainable development benefits in Africa, and use clean fuel cars and video conferencing where possible.

The Kuyasa urban housing upgrade in Cape Town, which involves installing solar water heaters, ceiling insulation and compact fluorescent light bulbs, is set to benefit.
Flying is one of the highest carbon costs - a return flight from London to Los Angeles "costs" 2.45 tonnes of carbon, according to Climate Care, which says this can be offset by an investment of £15.93.

In one of the sidebars to the article the BBC also claims that "a return flight from Edinburgh to Southampton produces 0.12 tonnes of CO2, offset by £5" and that "driving 10,000 miles in a year in a typical petrol-driven car produces 3.5 tonnes of CO2 for the year, offset by £22.72". The numbers quoted do not stack up, as the following table shows (to convert from tonnes of CO2 to tonnes of C you multiply by 12/44):

activity CO2, tonnes C, tonnes offset, £ offset/C
Edinburgh - Southampton0.120.0335153
10000 miles in average car3.50.9522.7224
London - Los Angeles9.02.4515.936.5

The ratio in the last column should be constant, if these numbers are supposed to be in any way consistent. But they are not. Suppose the Edinburgh - Southampton ratio is correct. This would mean that the offset for driving 10000 miles in a typical car is not 23 pounds but still a reasonable 146 pounds. This is much, much less than the average motorist pays in tax (due to the petrol tax). And it is indeed true that the only economic activity in the UK that pays (more than) a proper carbon tax is driving. So it is ironic that so-called environmentalists hate cars and love so-called public transport (which is heavily subsidised, so doesn't even come close to covering its operational costs, never mind its environmental costs). But the chattering classes never were very good at maths, or logic.

And the London - Los Angeles offset quoted is a joke. The 16 pounds is way less than the almost non-existant tax (around 60 pounds) paid by such airline passengers. Assuming the Edinburgh - Southampton ratio is correct then the offset would be a more believable 374 pounds. And then that would be (a first approximation to) the amount that jet fuel should be taxed in compensation (it is currently not taxed at all, except indirectly).

And it is a bit of a joke that spending 50000 pounds on some politically correct projects somehow makes the G8 summit carbon neutral. If the summit really does squander the same amount of CO2 as the gas and electricity of 800 homes, then that gives a ratio of 62.50 pounds per home. And there will not be many people in the UK with a total power bill of anywhere near as low as that (it's out by getting on an order of magnitude). And since the participants are not paying the bill themselves, the whole concept that the summit is somehow environmentally acceptable is facetious. The leaders of the world are some of the main culprits in environmental destruction (along with all the other rich people of the world).

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