Tracking Your Carbon Footprint:
Guidance for Friends and Local Meetings
BYM Unity with Nature Committee
For Friends, tracking our own carbon footprints can be a form of witness to our own actions. Each of us can show good faith by looking honestly at our lifestyles and how they impact the sustainability of the earth’s natural systems.
Fortunately, tracking your carbon footprint — or that of your local Friends meeting – may be easier than you think, thanks to on-line carbon footprint calculators and other sources. In fact, many Friends find that calculating their environmental footprints can be an illuminating and motivating experience. Although Friends’ analysis of carbon footprints remains a work in progress, much can be done to inform ourselves with actionable information. Calculating one’s carbon footprint provides a knowledge base for taking “next steps” to live more sustainably and justly.
Baltimore Yearly Meeting and many of its local meetings are among scores of Friends organizations worldwide that have reached unity with the Shared Quaker Statement on Climate Change . Beyond just taking a stand on climate change, this document is a call for action, inspiring Friends to let their lives speak by moving away from fossil fuels, changing diets, and calling for institutional changes to protect our planet.
Meanwhile, BYM’s Unity with Nature Committee has also provided local meetings with a comprehensive list of practical “next steps” that individuals and meetings can take to fight climate change. Taking next steps involves making decisions about how to manage our household and meeting affairs, and about advocating for climate-change policies in our communities and states as well as at the national and international levels of governance.
Carbon calculators can serve as springboards for action by individual Friends and their meetings. An on-line calculator provides a step-by-step process for estimating one’s carbon footprint, inspiring personal reflection on the impact of our own lifestyles and insights about what our next steps to reduce carbon emissions might be — both as individuals and as meetings.
Carbon calculators can help us to visualize how far we have to go, as individuals and as meetings, to achieve a sustainable future for the earth’s climate, such as the “Net Zero Carbon Emissions Economy” envisioned by the delegates to the COP-21 meetings in Paris in 2015. See sidebar:
Any individual household or Friends meeting can estimate its carbon footprint with the help of an on-line carbon footprint calculator. In order for the calculator to produce a reasonable estimate of your carbon footprint, you’ll need to gather basic data on household energy use, transportation, diet, and the like. To the extent possible, try to use inputs based on quantity of energy or calories consumed. For example, units of energy consumed are shown in your utility bill, in some cases for a 12-month period. Some calculators accept inputs like diet type, energy expenditures, or miles traveled x MPG as a fallback where more precise inputs are not available.
There are a great many varieties of carbon footprint calculators, and some are better than others. Key attributes of a good calculator include user-friendliness, accuracy, robustness, and usefulness of results. No single calculator is ideal in all respects. Often there is a tension between simplicity and accuracy in calculating one’s carbon footprint. If you run into problems with one calculator, try a different one.
The following calculators have been identified UwN’s Carbon Footprint Working Group as having especially useful features, but they each have limitations as well. We invite you to give at least one of these calculators a try:
CoolClimate Calculator: http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/calculator UC-Berkeley’s “CoolClimate Calculator” Is both user-friendly and sufficiently detailed to provide reasonable, robust results. CoolClimate Calculator requires volumetric inputs with a choice of standard or advanced inputs, depending on available data. For example, one can enter a vehicle’s fuel consumed, if available, or use an MPG factor as a fallback. For diet, the user is invited to enter calorie inputs by food type (if available) with simpler diet type inputs available as a fallback. CoolClimate’s air travel footprint is based on a versatile miles traveled approach, and the calculation includes not only the effects of fuel consumed but also “radiative forcing” effects of high altitude flight. CoolClimate’s sophisticated electricity module accurately reflects power flows across state boundaries that confound most other calculators. CoolClimate’s documentation is thoroughly explained, surpassing any other calculator we’ve reviewed. Based on your household’s data, CoolClimate provides your score in tons of CO2/year and then offers a list of measures that might help to lower your carbon footprint. CoolClimate currently lacks any means of comparing your carbon footprint to a measure of sustainability, but we hear that such a feature is under consideration.
carbonfootprint.com: http://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx Used around the world, the U.K.-based “carbonfootprint.com” calculator is comprehensive and easy to use for household footprint calculations. carbonfootprint.com calculates air travel footprints precisely based on individual flight segments, including “radiative forcing” impacts as well as fuel consumption. For cars, carbonfootprint.com calculates emissions based on standard MPG ratings instead of using the more precise input of fuel consumption. The diet and electricity modules appear inferior to those of some other calculators, and documentation overall is sparse. The highlight of carbonfootprint.com is its creative display of calculated results, depicted graphically as footprints of varying sizes. The tiny “world target” footprint of 2.0 metric tons makes a typical American household look gargantuan by comparison. Like some other calculators, carbonfootprint.com allows the user to purchase “carbon offsets” for each ton of CO2 emitted – a practice that some Friends find objectionable.
Cool Congregations Calculator: http://www.coolcongregations.org/calculator/ Interfaith Power & Light’s Cool Congregations Calculator offers the capability of calculating carbon footprints for religious congregations as well as households. Thus, it provides a means for individual Friends meetings to measure their carbon footprints. Cool Congregations is straightforward and easy to use, provided the user has assembled the necessary data inputs for their meeting. Testing has raised questions about Cool Congregations’ electricity and transportation modules which may understate emissions. IP&L is open to making enhancements to the calculator if warranted.
Some Friends may be interested in making their own carbon footprint calculations to verify or enhance the results from a calculator. Others may be motivated to act without knowing precisely “how bad they are.” For those who want to measure their footprint as precisely as possible, Eli Fishpaw has developed a “Direct Use Emissions Spreadsheet” tool that you can be download at:
for UwN that can help to augment or verify the calculations of the above calculators. This is an open source document that will allow you to modify and add to if you have excel compatible program. It also includes per capita emissions of nations and math identifying rightly shared average per capita global emissions that will achieve net zero carbon emissions.
Please note that BYM Unity with Nature’s work on carbon footprint calculators continues to evolve as on-line calculators improve and new information becomes available. Friends are encouraged to inform us of their experience with carbon footprint calculations so that we can learn from you and share the most current information with others.
Thanks for your interest in calculating your carbon footprint! Please direct questions or comments about carbon footprint calculators to the email address below.
Carbon Footprint Working Group
BYM Unity with Nature Committee
The Science of Climate Change
Currently, the Earth’s atmosphere contains more than 400 parts per million (ppm) of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) – a level higher than at any time for more than 800,000 years. CO2 levels are growing by about 2 ppm per year. Because of the buildup of atmospheric CO2 as the result of burning fossil fuels, the Earth has warmed by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5F) since 1880, and the rate of temperature rise is increasing. Impacts of climate change – such as sea level rise, drought, and wildfires – are emerging and foreshadow potentially violent conflicts over food and shelter.
The United States is, after China, the second largest national emitter of carbon pollution. On a per capita basis, Americans emit about 17.0 metric tons of CO2 per year. Equivalent figures for other countries are: Australia (16.5); China (6.7); Germany (8.9); Sweden (5.5); and the United Kingdom (7.1). Halting the growth and then reducing the stock of atmospheric CO2 to a safe level – commonly estimated to be 350ppm or less – will require humans, particularly Americans, to conserve energy, reduce fossil fuel combustion, and mount effective measures to sequester carbon.
 In order to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions, humanity must meet its needs such that anthropogenic carbon emissions are equal to or less than carbon that is sequestered:
carbon emissions − carbon sequestration ≤ zero
 One Friend recommends that a carbon footprint be calculated for every flight taken.
 Please note that carbonfootprint.com’s output is measured in metric tons, not U.S. short tons. A metric ton equals 1.1 short ton.
 Friends might wish to discern whether the purchase of carbon offsets conflicts with taking personal responsibility for our environmental impacts.
 See http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC Emission levels are for the period 2011-2015.