Did the math on my contribution to global warming

I was curious about how many tons of carbon dioxide that my family pumps into the atmosphere (= global warming). Looked at the most direct variables: flying, driving, and home electricity. There are obviously more variables to look at (like beef!), but I’m starting with these three, as the data is readily available and I gotta start somewhere.

Result (updated):

  • Flying = 14.6 tons per year
  • Driving = 4.1 tons per year
  • Electricity = 0.5 tons per year

So, 19 tons of CO2 per year. Damn! Sorry about that, earth and future generations. Good news is that I now know how to reduce it by ALOT (like 5 times less)!

CO2e emission before and after

Here’s what I learned:

  1. I thought electricity consumption would be an important thing to optimize. But it’s NOTHING compared to driving and flying (at least not here in Sweden)! No more bad conscience for forgetting to turn off lights and computers.
  2. BIG aha: Buying a plugin hybrid car will reduce our carbon footprint by at least 3.5 tons per year! Because our driving pattern is almost 100% local (carting kids around to school & activities), we’ll almost never need to burn gasoline. Good, cuz I can’t find a fully electric car that fits our big family comfortably. And our current car is breaking down anyway.
  3. A big part of my flying footprint has been just going back and forth to Billund in Denmark every month or two (working with Lego). But actually, it would take only 9 hours for me to get there by train. Train is basically zero carbon footprint. So if I continue travelling to Billund I’ll probably to do it mostly by train. First class, working along the way. Train = 3 ton reduction per year!
  4. Biofuel is the only effective way of reducing flight emissions (other than not flying of course). Biofuel can reduce aviation CO2 emission by about 80%. That compensation will cost me about 400kr per flight hour via flygreenfund.se. Most of my flights are well-paid business trips to do conference keynotes, so I can definitely afford to pay that. Will do that for all flights from now on. Biofuel compensation = 9 ton reduction per year! I asked flygreenfund.se to invoice me SEK 26,000 today, to cover this year.
  5. I was surprised to learn that the electricity I use is clean (from CO2 perspective). 54% hydro, 45% nuclear, 1% wind. Sweden in general has mostly clean electricity.
  6. Despite (5), I’m exploring options to install solar cells on our property. Might not significantly reduce my carbon footprint, but I see it as more a long-term thing. It’s an investment that hopefully will pay off in 10 years or so, it is a way of supporting clean energy in general, and I will learn things along the way. About 10% of Swedens total energy is imported fossil fuel (roughly – hard to find consistent data about it). The more people who use solar energy at home, the less they use the grid, the less dirty electricity Sweden needs to import, the more clean electricity Sweden can export. Haven’t done the math on that yet though, so no numbers.

These improvements amount to 16 tons less CO2e emission per year, or a 5 times reduction!

So here’s my goal for 2017:

  • Flying = max 3 tons per year, and all of it carbon compensated.
  • Driving = max 1 ton per year
  • Electricity = max 0.5 tons per year

Total: 4.5 tons of CO2, instead of 19! Still not good, but definitely better.

I’m definitely not an expert on these things, but it took just an evening of googling around to learn how to cut my carbon footprint 4-5 times, without any major lifestyle change. Pretty cool!

I made sure to be picky about the sources of data. No reporters, tabloids, or social media bubbles! Checked multiple sources for everything, and fiddled around in a spreadsheet to double-check the math. But do let me know if I’ve got anything badly wrong (and if so, please include references).

Here is the spreadsheet if you are interested. I listed most sources there too.


19 responses on “Did the math on my contribution to global warming

  1. Cool! I did something similar a few years back, and flying was the killer also in my calculations. With some hope we can get stiffer taxes on flying. Perhaps it will make us think twice before flying.

  2. hey. I just want to leave some notes – maybe you know already, but at least you didn’t wrote that explicitly.

    2. I think only a plugin hybrid will help you reduce your footprint, because you can charge it with your home’s electricity. there are lots of other hybrid models in the market, that don’t have an extra socket and that are charged by the motor. so in that case, the reduction won’t be that big.

    3. the footprint of running by train (and maybe the need of a ferry) is of cause depending on their operating power. there are some train service that run with green energy, if yours isn’t you could bye at least some certificates or products from climate-friendly travelling agencies. that helps as well – somehow.

    5. depends very much on your consumption in the time of production – so to speak in day time. there will be more effect with an additional storage.

    btw: use climate friendly internet search engines like http://ecosia.org 🙂

    here’s something else to read for starters: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/Solutions/What-you-can-

  3. Good for you.

    I’m intrigued by your ambition to use home solar though, even though your electricity is already 100% clean. If that’s the case doesn’t adding solar panels increase your impact: CO2 released in the whole supply chain to get them to you, impact of mining and eventually disposing of heavy metals etc?

    It seems to me that local electricity generation is a stop-gap technology and that electricity generated without CO2 at utility scale would have economies of scale and be cleaner per capita.

    If that’s the case then would it be better to go for passive technology that reduces the amount of energy you consume – perhaps a living roof that acts as both a carbon sink and insulation.

    Anyway, I’m asking in the spirit of curiosity and I applaud your efforts and I’m looking forward to seeing beef added to the mix!


    1. Thanks for the tips. As for solar, I’m studying up on that now, in fact will speak to an expert on it this afternoon. I’m trying to go beneath the surface and get real data.

  4. Good on you for taking ownership, Henrik! These are great changes to make. One tip: Be sure to buy a used car, so that the emissions associated with its manufacture are divided between you and the previous owner(s).

  5. Interesting facts! Just make sure that you buy a plug-in hybrid. With one of those you can get down to almost zero with primarily local driving. I just bought one myself that I will pick up next week. A purchase that started primarily as an environmental move, but also proved to be suprisingly beneficial financially because of the low “förmånsskatt” (Swedish tax for driving a company owned car)

    Teknikens Värld had an interesting test earlier this year where they compared a bunch of plug-in hybrids. You can buy the article from their site…

  6. Also perhaps not buying extra stuff on Rea or Rea on Rea can help saving the earth. Today to increaase profit yoy companies are trying to change the buying behaviour and incourage customer to buy 3 inorder to get one free so he consumes 4 when he need only 2 and nautral resources which are limited , are consumed at double rate.
    I hope that business, stop seeing growth only economically ..at the end Money is a debt and we cannot buy another earth.

    1. Good point. Would be interesting to see the math on that – as in how much difference (in terms of tons of CO2e per year) it would make to change buying patterns.

    1. We use geothermal heat pump. It does take some electricy though, so it’s baked into my electricity calculation. And since my electricy is clean, it’s no big deal (which surprised me).

  7. If you have a house with a garden or some land you can plant trees and stuff to also reduce your co2 footprint

  8. As you are now deep into research: do you have any info on CO2 footprint for producing things and logistics to your door? What is footprint of producing/ligistics of hybrid car? Of new smart phone? Notebook? Could it be that smart phone makes substantial amount?

  9. I have two houses with roofs fully loaded with solar panels. They are both producing a surplus of electricity and I have two fully electric cars so CO2 footprint is negative for driving and electricity. Flying is still high on CO2 generation.

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