Carbon Calculation

What is Carbon Calculation?

Carbon calculation is a process which measures an amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by something.

Usually, carbon calculation is used by people to see how many emissions their individual lifestyle produces, or to see how many emissions a certain action or project would take, like renovating a home.

Many corporations have a version of carbon calculation that they are required to do, detailed in the form of Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.

So, Where Do the Numbers Come From?

Methodology for carbon calculation includes a wide range of potential emissions routes. When calculating individual carbon footprints, it’s important that this range of factors considered is as wide as possible, since pretty much everything associated with modern life involves emitting greenhouse gases in some manner.

Common actions that go into a carbon calculation include air, car, bus, and train travel, diet, and  home power consumption. Additionally, there are considerations such as the building you live in, which can have a wide range of emissions associated with it depending on the size and materials.

Not to be overlooked, the presence of ratios is also an important part of an accurate carbon calculation. Many carbon-intensive activities are done for multiple people simultaneously, so the ratio of your use of the action to the total people who use it is taken into consideration.

For example, if someone flies on a private plane holding 14 people, they are personally responsible for more emissions than someone taking the same flight on the same plane holding 300 people. It’s the basic idea behind carpooling to school and work-by sharing in the emissions process, it reduces the total emissions that would have been created.

Pictured: Some people with a higher ratio of emissions to the rest of us

In carbon calculation, ratios are taken very seriously to ensure an accurate calculation-even the slight difference between sitting first class with 2 seats per row as opposed to 3 seats per row is taken into account.

How Accurate is Carbon Calculation?

The accuracy of carbon calculation is a loaded topic.

In terms of missing out on potential avenues that produce emissions, carbon calculation is extremely accurate. Since the creation of carbon accounting systems in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, environmental accountants have measured just about every action, material, and industry in the world to determine the level of greenhouse gas emissions they produce.

However, there remains aspects of emissions calculating that are simply too abstract to ever be accurately measured. Our world today is so interconnected and fast-paced that a true measurement of all of the tangential effects of a particular action is nearly immeasurable.

The common example of this is cookstoves in rural India.

In some Indian provinces, the most common method of cooking food is using a small, inefficient wood-burning process, so a project delivered more efficient cookstoves to a certain number of families in an attempt to reduce emissions.
Inefficient wood cookstoves, Maharashtra, India

The initial calculation is easy-just calculate the difference in emissions and multiply that by the amount of families that received stoves.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as that. What if the families, now blessed with better cooking materials, all start cooking more meals than before, thereby cutting into the emissions reduction? What if, because of the better strength of the stove, they start cooking more heavy meat products rather than vegetables, thereby increasing demand for carbon-intensive meat products? The cookstove decision is now tangentially responsible for increased fuel demand to transport that meat, should that be taken into consideration in the calculation?

In such a connected world where most actions include emitting greenhouse gases, the “network effect”, so to speak, of a single action grows very quickly, making carbon calculation an imperfect science.

At the end of the day, considering the exhaustive considerations included in carbon calculation, it’s something that is accurate and worth doing. Just remember to be liberal when entering data for personal carbon footprint calculation, since the tangential results of emissions are hard to measure and add up quickly.

What Is Carbon Calculation Good For?

Ok, so you can know your personal emissions down to a decently accurate number. Why even bother? What good does it do?

Mainly, carbon calculation is valuable to know when planning to offset the emissions you produce.

Just like calculation, carbon offsetting is an imperfect science, but offsets are a tangible reduction of harmful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as well as the most scalable form of environmental activism.

Offsetting personal emissions may not make oil companies stop drilling, but it is something that takes 30 seconds that wipes away the environmental impact of day-to-day life and furthers the movement of environmental activism at large.