Carbon Neutral in Houston (Year 2)

by Robert Nagle on 2/21/2012

in global warming,Personal

This report is my second year of carbon neutrality. (A description of my first year is here).

This year saw some life changes which affected my carbon footprint.

  • First,  I moved to a new place where among other things, I had great access to public transportation. I live near a supermarket and even more places where I can bike to.
  • Second,   unlike the previous year (where I was mostly working from home), this year I mainly worked for 40 hours in an office.  I take a bus every day to and from work.  Which is delightful.  So during summer months I turn off the air conditioning during the day and even unplug my TV and computer.
  • Third, my car died for good in June. This was not entirely unexpected, but I was preparing for a car-less existence for several years.
  • 2011 was the year of the incredible heat wave and drought.  It got really rough – especially for someone who tries to use the air conditioning judiciously.
  • I basically bought few electronic devices (except for a microwave).
  • I have sort of lightened up on the beef. I will eat it occasionally – not regularly, but I don’t worry about it as much.
  • I didn’t take any long trips really. I went to the coast by bus in July and rented a car to travel to San Antonio and Austin.  I sometimes share rides with family members, and I don’t count them in my overall footprint – although maybe I should

References for Calculating Carbon Footprint

Carbon Footprint Calculator.

EPA’s Energy and Reference.

Terrapass Methodology for Calculating Carbon Footprint

Calculations:

1500 miles on my defunct Toyota Corolla and 450 miles on the rental car (Total: 1950 miles)

Last year I used 5968 watts of energy. Here’s the breakdown for 2011: (in reverse order, sorry)

December 427 Kwh
November: 327 KWh
October 383 Kwh
September 510 Kwh
August  713 KwH
July 576 KwH
June 672 Kwh
May  544 KwH
April 325
Mar 368
Feb 366
Jan 448

Total energy consumption for 2011  is  5659 watts – a 5% drop. Of course, I’m using a green energy plan (Tera Energy at 9.4 cents a watt for a 12 month contract), so this doesn’t count towards my footprint.

On the other hand, my apartment has a water heater powered by natural gas, so I ought to be paying for that.  A Dept of Energy estimate quoted here says that 14% of total energy costs come from heating water. Because I don’t use hot water when I wash clothes and because I’m guessing my apartment uses a bigger and more efficient hot water heater, I’m going to estimate my annual usage to be 10%.. which is 570 watts or .1 metric ton of CO2.

Transportation:

I commute to work. Distance between work and home is about 7 miles.  Both ways is 14 miles per day. Assume that I have worked May through December (8 months,  20 days per year if I include vacation time and holidays). That means 160 days for 2011.

160 days x 14 miles per day = 2240 miles by mass transit in 2011.  According to this mass transit calculator, that translates to .48 metric tons of CO2. Also, I took one long distance bus trip for 250 miles.  I’m guessing that this was .04 metric tons of CO2.

In addition, I drove my car for about 1500 miles. (My car broke down in June, so I got rid of it after then).  I  owned a 1998 Toyota Corolla which got 30 mpg. That’s about 1079 pounds of CO2 for 2012. I took a summer trip of about 550 miles.  Let’s assume that the summer trip was 500 pounds of CO2.

Totals: For car travel, 1600 pounds of CO2 converts to .73 metric ton of CO2 .For mass transit, .52 metric tons of CO2. For home electricity, totals are 0. For my natural gas usage, that is 0.1 metric tons of CO2.

Grand total of my 2011 carbon footprint: 1.35 metric tons of CO2. (2975 pounds).

Conversions: 1 short ton = 0.90718474 metric tons, 1 short ton = 2000 pounds, 1 metric ton = 2,204 pounds.

Offsets

I’m going to purchase offsets for 3000 pounds of CO2. According to Terapass, the price for 3000 pounds of CO2 offsets is $17.85

Additional Costs I haven’t figured in

I’ll be honest. I don’t want to pretend that I have taken into account all the factors which contribute to my carbon footprint. I’ve just measured all that is measurable. Here are some other impacts:

  1. Other people’s electricity. I wash my clothes in a community washer every week.
  2. Big ticket items (imported). I bought an office chair and a microwave and maybe some computer parts. I really have no way to account for that.
  3. Eating at restaurants. I eat prepared foods probably more than average. Although I generally eat healthy, I have not taken into account this cost or the electricity costs of the dining area itself.
  4. My dog. My dog is only 25 pounds, but I buy stuff for him. They are probably animal byproducts in the dogfood I buy, so it’s hard to account for that.

Last year I explained my thoughts and insights into why I calculated the way I did.

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