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This Site Calculates Your Carbon Footprint, Then Helps You Offset It

The new carbon calculator from Conservation International gives you a sense of what your impact is, so you can work on making it smaller. But the real changes need to be systemic, not personal.

This Site Calculates Your Carbon Footprint, Then Helps You Offset It
“By having access to this information, it empowers each of us to make decisions about our daily choices.” [Photo: Luca Bravo/Unsplash]

After Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Conservation International–like other nonprofits–saw a surge in interest from people wanting to know how they could act while the government slowed or stopped progress. A revamped carbon calculator is designed to help: answer a few questions about your daily life, and it uses up-to-date data to tell you your carbon footprint, clearly see what you might be able to change, and offer you a verified way to offset your emissions.

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“What we’ve really noticed lately is that climate change has really become a personal issue for people,” says Shyla Raghav, climate change lead at Conservation International. “It’s no longer someone else’s problem. There’s a recognition that we all have a role to play. By having access to this information, it empowers each of us to make decisions about our daily choices and our lifestyle that will have an impact on the planet.”

“We wanted to feature and to demonstrate the link between climate change and data.” [Image: courtesy Conservation International]
Carbon calculators aren’t new, and Conservation International first created one about a decade ago. But the new version, funded by a grant from SC Johnson, uses the latest data, including new numbers on the impact of diet and information about hybrid and electric cars that wasn’t previously available.

The calculator, which takes only two or three minutes to use, asks questions about the type and size of home you live in (tiny apartments have smaller footprints than larger houses, unsurprisingly), energy use, recycling, diet, daily transportation, and flights. As you answer, the calculator shows a running tally of your footprint. At the end, you have the option to offset that footprint through supporting programs that reduce rates of deforestation.

We really see this as a missed opportunity for all of us in the climate conversation.” [Image: courtesy Conservation International]
“We’ve tied this calculator to a type of solution that oftentimes gets ignored, and that’s nature,” Raghav says. The researchers estimate that nature-based solutions make up about 30% of the total solution to climate change, but only receive about 2% of climate finance. “We really see this as a missed opportunity for all of us in the climate conversation,” she says. “We wanted to feature and to demonstrate the link between climate change and data.”

One set of offsets comes from the Chyulu Hills in Kenya, an area a little bigger than Rhode Island, where protecting the forest serves multiple benefits–beyond absorbing CO2, the forest supports Kenya’s largest population of elephants and populations of critically endangered black rhinos. The offsets are verified by a third party and then available as carbon credits.

We’ve tied this calculator to a type of solution that oftentimes gets ignored, and that’s nature,” [Image: courtesy Conservation International]
The purchase helps account for part of an individual carbon footprint that’s hard to eliminate. Even if you lead a greener-than-average life–biking to work, buying solar power, rarely eating meat–your carbon footprint may still be around 10 tonnes a year. One study suggests that to meet the goals of the Paris agreement of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius, we’ll need to reduce the per-person footprint to two tonnes a year.

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A large part of that change, of course, needs to happen at national and international scale. But while someone can’t individually shift the entire power grid to renewables–beyond the role they can play as voters–the calculator recognizes that individual actions do have some impact. In some cases, individual actions could have an impact more quickly than larger-scale change: someone can decide to start taking public transit instead of driving today.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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