Travel & the carbon dilemma

IMG_4055I do a little work for a local group whose objective is to improve or at least maintain the liveability of our small town. I recently agreed to undertake some research on ways in which the town could ‘do it’s bit’ towards reducing carbon emissions and, in the process, helping to maintain the current liveability of the town, for future generations.

I found a number of inspirational projects that had been undertaken by communities in other countries, some had the aspirational objective of aiming to become carbon neutral. It sounds easy if you say it quickly but when you delve into what this entails, it becomes more challenging.

‘In a nutshell’, it involves determining the carbon footprint of the community. Initially at an individual level and then aggregating the results into a community footprint that includes a number of shared contributors and carbon sequesters. Having done that, it was a case of creating a collaborative effort to find ways of reducing that footprint. It still sounds pretty do-able although there are a couple of challenging tasks such as; encouraging participation,  surveying the participating households and then aggregating the data to get a baseline carbon footprint and repeating the survey each year, not to mention helping participants to find ways of reducing their footprints.

I started to delve into the carbon footprint calculations. Based on 2013 World Bank figures, the World average per capita footprint is 4.9 metric tonnes of carbon. In NZ it is 7.6 and a country like the USA 16.4 (hey Donald you are already great!).

There are plenty of calculators on the web but you do need to find one that takes account of specific country differences, especially with electricity generation. In NZ we are already at close to 80% renewable generation which means that electricity consumption does not create the same carbon contribution as it does in a country where, for example, coal use is a significant input in electricity generation . I used  this calculator and while it was UK based, it was reasonably broad based but also simple to use.

Despite our current household efforts, the result was a fail and the biggest contributor by a ‘country mile’ was travel – car use and one return but longish flight (10,000km).

carbon footprint
Our solar power counted for little (other than cheaper electricity), we recycle, buy local food when it is available, purchase little ‘stuff’ (clothes, TV’s etc) but look at that travel data – and that is from a relatively inactive year in travel terms.

Well, we have started researching Electric Vehicles (EV), the infrastructure is improving and battery(and in turn car) prices are falling and capacities increasing and within the next two years EV’s will probably be a viable alternative to our existing vehicle that will be due for replacement. Having our own solar to fuel car travel around the local area makes it a little cheaper than if we were having to power entirely off the grid. At present the additional cost of an EV more than offsets the much lower running costs over a 10 year period but there is not much in that difference and it will quickly swing in favour of the EV.

Given the New Zealand is over 2,000km from it’s nearest neighbour (The east coast of Australia), over 9,000 from Asia or North America and over 18,000km from Europe, maybe our travel future will have to consist of touring NZ in an EV. I did read recently that Richard Branson believes battery powered planes are realistic by 2030, too late for these travellers.

Ruth preparing for our next overseas trip?

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