What exactly is a carbon footprint?

22 02 2008


This is a really interesting article by Michael Specter in last week’s New Yorker about how difficult it is to really quantify the actual carbon footprint of products because there is no current standard for this kind of analysis. Regarding foods, there are so many variables such as packaging, fertilizers used, shipping methods, amount of sunlight available during the growing season, time of year etc… that make it seemingly impossible to compare apples to apples…so to speak. So many seemingly obvious decisions are called into question when more far-reaching criteria are considered such as “should you buy that bottle of wine from France that is brought here via ship or from California which is trucked to the store? [answer: if you live East of Ohio, choose the Bordeaux].

Another interesting aspect of this article is an interview with Richard Sandor at the Chicago Climate Exchange who argues that putting a price on reduced greenhouse gas emissions will be the most effective way to reduce global warming. I wasn’t a big believer in carbon offsets but Sandor makes a good case. He compares the current climate crisis to the acid rain problem of the 1980’s.

“When Congress passed the Clean Air Act, in 1990, the law included a section that mandated annual acid-rain reductions of ten million tons below 1980 levels. Each large smokestack was fitted with a device to measure sulfur-dioxide emissions. As a way to help meet the goals, the act enabled the creation of the market. “Industry lobbyists said it would cost ten billion dollars in electricity increases a year. It cost one billion,” Sandor told me. It soon became less expensive to reduce emissions than it was to pollute. Consequently, companies throughout the country suddenly discovered the value of investing millions of dollars in scrubbers, which capture and sequester sulfur dioxide before it can reach the atmosphere.

He also argues that putting a value on carbon emissions will enable poorer countries to obtain financing for maintaining their forests and oceans that will prevent deforestation and pollution on a global scale.

The article is definitely worth a read.

Personally, one thing I worry about is a possible backlash when consumers realize that they can’t really quantify how “green” their practices are because they can’t measure any advances they make. Maybe the next Nobel prize will go to the person who figures out an accessible system to quantify all this.




One response

25 02 2008

At Carbonfund.org, we support the efforts made by the FTC and other verification agencies to ensure the quality and transparency of the carbon offset market.

As a non-profit, we’re doing our part to ensure quality carbon offsets and to safeguard against some of the problems mentioned here in your post.

More specifically, the products that we certify as CarbonFree undergo a rigorous carbon life cycle analysis to determine the product’s carbon footprint–all according to third party standards.

In addition, our entire project portfolio is third party certified and we undergo annual audits. These project reviews and financial statements are available online at our website: http://www.Carbonfund.org

To learn more, please visit us online or contact us.

Thank you,

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: