Climate change is an urgent threat. However, it’s not always clear what we can do about it as individuals. A good place to start is to find out how much our everyday activities are contributing to the problem.
Climate change is largely driven by the use of fossil fuels. When petrol, oil, gas and coal are burned they release carbon dioxide – the main gas that causes climate change. Yet we use these fuels all the time to heat and light our homes, to travel and to produce the things we buy. It’s these activities that we need to target if we want to make a difference in our daily lives. A ‘carbon calculator’ can help us find out how to reduce our impact on the climate.
WWF provide an easy-to-use carbon calculator online. By entering information about how you get to work, how often you fly, what you eat and what you buy, you can estimate your ‘environmental footprint’. You can compare your footprint with that for an average person in the UK and with what’s needed to avoid dangerous climate change over the long-term. Some examples are shown below.
Amount of Carbon Dioxide emitted per person per year
19 tonnes: Person A: Includes a return flight to Asia, driving a diesel car, higher spending & well-insulated home 10.5 tonnes: UK average in 2020 (WWF figure) 8.2 tonnes: Person B: No flights, electric car, solar panels, lower spending, well insulated home 1 tonne: Goal for Global average in 2050 (WWF figure)
19 tonnes: Person A: Includes a return flight to Asia, driving a diesel car, higher spending & well-insulated home
10.5 tonnes: UK average in 2020 (WWF figure)
8.2 tonnes: Person B: No flights, electric car, solar panels, lower spending, well insulated home
1 tonne: Goal for Global average in 2050 (WWF figure)
The WWF calculator gives you a broad idea of how carbon-intensive your lifestyle is. It is particularly useful for showing the relative contribution of different activities such as travel, home energy, purchases and food, as well as the contribution from the things that we all use such as hospitals and schools. However, it doesn’t break down the numbers in great detail. If you want to find out how to reduce your footprint even more, you need to run the WWF calculator again with different assumptions about things such as your car use.
Alternatively, you can investigate what difference you can make by looking at the biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions. WWF describes flying as “the single most climate-polluting activity an ordinary person can do; even a single flight can dramatically increase your carbon footprint”. This is one reason why person A has more than twice the footprint of person B in the table above.
There are several websites that give more information on the impact of flying and how to reduce it by, for example, swapping to cleaner forms of transport. For example, travelling from London to Paris by train rather than by plane reduces emissions by 90%. Choosing sustainable transport has much more effect than small steps such as not using disposable coffee cups. As we can see from the table below, a person would need to avoid paper cups for nearly seven years to make up for one flight to Paris. Carbon calculators show us that some sources of emissions are simply much bigger than others.
Flight to Paris 0.064 Train to Paris 0.004 Car use for a year (12,000 km) 2.33 Paper coffee cup 0.00004
Flight to Paris 0.064
Train to Paris 0.004
Car use for a year (12,000 km) 2.33
Paper coffee cup 0.00004
(images and reference from https://climatevisuals.org/ )