Checking our climate blind spots
When it comes to emissions it is easy for us to obsess about factories and farmers as if these activities were disconnected from our own lives. We are the other half of the emissions equation for these industries. As consumers we need to understand how our choices impact the environment. Knowing how much it will help to not eat meat on Mondays or to purchase a lower emissions car might mean we can take action and have the knowledge to ask others in the global environment to consider their choices as well.
It turns out that this is a really complicated exercise.
It turns out that this is a really complicated exercise. Luckily, a preliminary consumption-based analysis of New Zealand gas emissions been undertaken by Motu. According to their analysis the total average emissions per household in 2007 were 20.56 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e). The highest emitting households average 35.67 tonnes of emissions while households in the in the lowest emitting decile had emissions of 9.48 tonnes per year.
For the average household 32 percent of these emissions came from their the food, 27 percent from transport and 24 percent come from their housing utility choices like power and gas. Breaking down the food consumption emissions, meat accounts for about a third, fruit and vegetables a fifth, and milk and cheese just under a fifth. Petrol is 69 percent of the average transport emissions, and electricity use accounts for 64 percent of average housing utility emissions. What we eat, how much petrol we use and how we heat our homes is important.
What we eat, how much petrol we use and how we heat our homes is important.
So for the average household will not eating meat on Mondays return a good emission result? Using the econometric wizardry we see that spending $1000 a year less on food, by say cutting out meat on Mondays, would only reduce household emissions by 3.5 percent. Similarly spending a $1000 less a year on transport by using a more fuel efficient car only save them another 3.5 percent. Spending $1000 less over a year on your household utilities only saves a further 2 percent of your total household emissions. Combined, these changes make a realistic difference at 9 percent but it still doesn’t feel like earth changing good.
On the other hand, one way forward is for those considering an overseas holiday to think what it might look like to offset these emissions in some way. It turns a round trip flight from Auckland to London via Singapore for a household produces around 8 tonnes of Co2-e emissions; equivalent to 40 percent of the average household’s yearly emissions.
It’s easy to create economies in our minds that overstate the importance of certain behaviours, while allowing blind spots for realities we aren’t aware of.
It’s easy to create economies in our minds that overstate the importance of certain behaviours, while allowing blind spots for realities we aren’t aware of. In short each of us needs to be more aware of our emissions profile as consumers and decide where we want to play our part. These decisions will and should look different for different people. Some might choose to forgo meat, others flights but in making changes we show that we are prepared to be part of the solution.