I’m not a big fan of carbon offsets. I think it’s far more important to change lifestyles than to think we can go on generating emissions with impunity. So when I travelled recently to a conference in Johannesburg, I decided to see if I could balance my carbon budget with other lifestyle choices related to travel.
The house I am living in now in Cape Town was chosen specifically to allow me to commute to work by train, allowing us to survive with only one family car. In the past six years, I have driven to work no more than six times. Is that enough to compensate for my flights to Joburg?
Many cars emit 150g of CO2 per km. I travel 25km a day to and from work by train, so I am saving 75kg of emissions each month. A round trip from CT to Joburg generates 300kg of CO2 per passenger, so by commuting by train, every year I am saving the emissions I would generate from 3 return flights.
You will realise that my train travel does produce emissions, since the electricity used by Metrorail is generated using coal. But then I could also argue that by not owning a second car for my family, I am saving more emissions, since making a car can produce as much carbon emissions as driving it – 17 tonnes for the average car.
So yes, it’s complicated, and I fly to Joburg more than three times a year, but it’s useful to think about the implications of the various travel choices we make. And living in South Africa, which is ranked number 12 in the world for worst carbon emissions per capita, this is a big issue.
In 2008, SA generated 8.93 metric tonnes of CO2 per capita – nearly double the world average of 4.76. This is far better than the US (18.0) but slightly worse than the UK (8.5).
There are many carbon footprint calculators on the internet. I used these sources for the statistics in this post:
Flight emissions from the International Civil Aviation Organisation: http://www2.icao.int/en/carbonoffset.Pages/default.aspx
Car emissions in general: http://www.carpages.co.uk/co2/
Car emissions by model: http://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?tab=4
Carbon footprint of car manufacture: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/green-living-blog/2010/sep/23/carbon-footprint-new-car
World Bank CO2 emissions by country: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC?cid=GPD_27