Author: Arnaud Brohé, CEO of CO2logic Inc and Board Member of the Global Sourcing Council
In a TEDx talk I recently presented at Columbia University in April of this year, I talked about 3 things:
- How bad is CO2 pollution really?
- Why haven’t we fixed it?
- What I think is the number 1 method for change.
Despite how bad things have gotten, I’m going to turn you into climate optimists.
What I will focus on for this month’s issue of THE SOURCE is item 3: What I think is the number 1 method of change.
In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius estimated that if the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere doubled, the earth’s temperature would increase significantly. At that time, humans had emitted less than 40 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Today, that number is close to what we emit on an annual basis. Since 1992, humans have emitted the same amount of carbon dioxide than what we emitted before 1992. This means that we have doubled the cumulative emissions of CO2!
Think of this big, red exercise ball, as the volume of CO2 the average American releases every 6 min. Next to that is one CO2 molecule.
Filled with CO2, the exercise ball weighs half a pound. The average American emits more than 120 pounds (~54 kg) of CO2 every day. Every day each of us releases the equivalent of 240 CO2-filled exercise balls. That’s equivalent to the weight of about 10 domestic cats, or 19 masonry bricks, or 87 US basketballs, or 176 human hearts. In 2017, collectively, we humans, emitted 40 billion metric tons of CO2, a volume large enough to fill 8 billion Olympic-sized swimming pools full of carbon dioxide.
In all areas of our life, if we are looking to make change, we take measurements first: “You can only manage what you measure.” If we want to lose weight, we calculate the calories in our meals and look at the impact of our efforts on the scale. If we want to improve our running performances, we train and measure and track the results so that we can make targeted improvements. The same is true for climate action. I think the number 1 method for change is measurement. The moment we start measuring carbon emissions is the moment that we make positive change possible. Carbon Accounting tracks and calculates CO2 emissions and sets carbon prices. It is one way we can measure how much energy it takes to produce what we consume, implement methods to reduce that energy footprint and assign a financial value to those emissions and actions.
Here are 2 examples of how effective carbon accounting can be.
First, take Proximus, the largest telecom company in Belgium. They started calculating their emissions in 2007 and set a target to reduce them by 70% by 2020. With an engaged C-suite and Board support, Proximus achieved its 70% target 5 years earlier than projected. In 2016, they further reduced their carbon footprint by contributing some of those financial savings to a certified climate project in Benin where efficient cookstoves are used to prevent deforestation and improve air quality. Those stoves’ waste heat can also (potentially) be used to charge mobile phones. These offset credits rendered Proximus “CO2 neutral”.
A second example is the European Investment Bank, the world’s largest multilateral bank. We – CO2logic Inc – did one of our most exciting projects with them. By helping the bank include the cost of carbon on society in their cost benefit analysis, we developed the carbon accounting tools to assess the climate impact of the projects they were considering financing such as airports, highways and power plants. With these new evaluation tools, a project that would emit too much carbon would not pass the cost benefit analysis and would not be financed.
There are many globally accepted ways of measuring CO2 emissions. Here are links to the 2 main protocols that CO2logic Inc works to adhere to.
● GHG Protocol https://ghgprotocol.org/
● ISO14064 https://www.iso.org/standard/38381.html
Not only can carbon accounting helps us make good choices, but it also stops us from making damaging ones. Take the booming green bond market. These bonds are aimed at funding new projects with some environmental benefits. Some estimates see the green bond market reaching one trillion USD per year by the end of 2020. That’s a lot of money and that’s great. That could help us achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement faster. But are they really green? In my experience, and supported by carbon accounting principles, some green bonds have become a marketing instrument and are actually funding projects that are adding CO2 into the atmosphere. Coal plant project developers and governments with a very poor climate action record have been using green bonds to finance projects that will add billions of pounds of CO2 in the atmosphere. While the intention of the bonds is admirable, sometimes the projects that are funded go against the goals of the bonds themselves.
Other applications of carbon accounting can be used in the following manners:
● in calculating voluntary offsets
● for the implementation of carbon tax or carbon markets
● for labeling schemes that help inform consumers’ choices.
Since we can’t roll back time and completely reverse what has already been done to the environment or change the expectations of our modern lifestyles, we must look forward and utilize the economic incentives our advanced industrial age has created which can reduce how much energy we consume on a daily basis while still being competitive in a world where profit margins and financial stability dictate many decisions of how we run our businesses. I am trained as an economist and I absolutely understand the concept of prioritization and financial accountability to public and private boards and stakeholders. But I also understand that if we don’t alter our methods of production, sourcing materials and consumption, the costs on a human, environmental and logistics scale will continue to increase beyond what any business, corporation or individual can afford.
Let’s ask the big question. Is it too late? Do we have a chance to succeed?
Yes, I believe we can.
Researchers Explore Carbon Footprints of Superheroes
Originally posted on www.eos.org
A tongue-in-cheek exercise about comic book heroes aims to inspire people to consider the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they themselves cause.
In a poster presentation today at the American Geophysical Union’s 2017 Fall Meeting, scientists offer comparisons of the fictional carbon footprint of Superman, Swamp Thing, and other superheroes with the real ones of average Americans. Pictured here, Batman and other characters from the Justice League film ride the London Underground this past November en route to the film’s U.K. premier. Credit: Ollie Millington/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images.
By Randy Showstack 11 December 2017
Batman, Superman, Jessica Jones, and the Oracle. These and other Marvel and DC superheroes are constantly on alert to protect the world from a rash of cartoon villains. But, yikes, look at some of the gigantic carbon footprints resulting from their superpowers and super gadgets. Can’t superheroes fight evildoers while also cutting down on their greenhouse gas emissions?
That’s the tongue-in-cheek premise of a poster, “Stop Saving the Planet! Carbon Accounting of Superheroes and Their Impacts on Climate Change,” presented this afternoon at the American Geophysical Union’s 2017 Fall Meeting in New Orleans. The poster is part of a session on using real science to explore fictional worlds.
The point is to get people interested in learning about their own carbon footprints, or how much greenhouse gas they’re responsible for releasing to Earth’s atmosphere each year through their energy use, transportation, diet, and other factors, poster coauthor Miles Traer told Eos. The self-professed comic book nerd and his coauthors are doing that “by using comparisons to things that are admittedly somewhat ridiculous, but things that are very familiar in popular culture,” Traer explained.
“If I calculate my own carbon footprint, that’s depressing. If I calculate Batman’s carbon footprint, that’s hilarious. So let’s go with the hilarious,” said Traer, a geological data scientist doing postdoctoral research at Stanford University. “It’s a way of tricking people into learning.”
Calculating Superhero Carbon Footprints
Traer, 35, said that the scientific literature about the average carbon footprint of Americans and media coverage of the topic indicate a figure of about 44,000 pounds per year. (Eos usually uses metric measurements, but the editors have opted in this article to keep the English units as presented.) By comparison, the carbon footprints for some superheroes are supergigantic, according to calculations by him and his coauthors. Traer came up with the numbers with coauthors Ryan Haupt, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wyoming and a paleontologist, and Emily Grubert, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford and expert in life cycle assessment.
The team found that Batman’s annual carbon footprint is 5.5 million pounds, according to Traer, who noted that many assumptions went into the calculations. For example, the Caped Crusader’s Batmobile emits 48,400 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) if he drives 20,000 miles per year and gets 8 miles per gallon. That’s assuming Batman drives about the same distance as a New York City cabdriver with the same fuel efficiency as the U.S. presidential limousine.
The Batwing airplane, if used just 48 hours per year, mostly flying rather than hovering, accounts for 1.7 million pounds of CO2e, assuming that its closest real-life analog is some sort of cross between an F-117 stealth fighter and the Harrier Jump Jet. Meanwhile, the Batsuit, which Traer estimates may be Kevlar and Nomex material, requires nearly 7,000 pounds of CO2e to make.
A chart from the poster about superheroes’ carbon footprints depicts total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of nine of the fictional champions. Credit: Miles Traer
Batman Versus the Environment?
Traer, who has a collection of hundreds of comic books, said that the poster project began with Batman. A few summers ago, he and some friends were hiking in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, debating who is the best superhero. Traer insisted that it’s Batman. But then, as Traer recalled, a friend turned to him and said, “Miles, you’re a hypocrite. You’re an environmentalist. Batman has got to be terrible for the environment.”
“I kind of chuckled,” Traer said, “and, in the back of my head, I was like, ‘I bet I could calculate that.’”
For the poster project, Traer and coauthors also calculated the footprints for eight other superheroes, again with enormous assumptions. Carbon emissions for the Flash, for instance, ranged from a meager 131 pounds of CO2e to nearly 89.5 million pounds, depending on factors including his running speed—which Traer said could be near the speed of light—and CO2e per calorie in his diet. The carbon footprint for Oracle, a computer whiz, also varied wildly, depending on assumptions such as computer energy sources, from about 151,000 to more than 320 million pounds. Most of the footprint for Oracle, who works alongside Batman, comes from the massive amount of computational power she requires to immediately calculate insane data requests.
Some superheroes fared pretty well in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. The footprint for Jessica Jones, a superstrong antihero and private eye, measures 42,670 pounds, mostly for maintaining a fairly typical apartment in what might be Brooklyn, N.Y.
Swamp Thing, who takes carbon out of the atmosphere, has a footprint calculated at between −2.2 pounds and 0.18 pounds. Superman, however, really is super in this regard, with total carbon emissions of zero because his superpowers derive from absorbing energy from the Sun, according to Traer’s background documents, which reference the comics.
Up Next: Supervillains?
With this project completed, Traer is considering looking at supervillains as a next step. “One of my favorites,” he said, “is Mr. Freeze, because refrigeration carries a pretty horrendous carbon footprint.” Traer added that he wants to do his part to increase scientific literacy. “That’s the hill I’m willing to die on.” Linking science to popular culture “is a great way of getting people to engage with the science,” he added.
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer
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