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Week One - The Carbon Diet

Average Australian footprint = 22.5 tonnes CO2e per person per year

· Weekly experiments

My preschooler -

Last night in my dreams, I shot fire out of my eyes and me and Spiderman and Superman saved all the grownups.

Me

- Great! Because we're not saving ourselves any time soon.

Why go on a carbon diet?

The climate is changing because we've emitted too much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (CO2e). I live in Canberra. We're already predicted to be one degree warmer by 2030 and two degrees by 2060[i]. The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2°C[ii]. We're not doing well so far.

When 195 countries signed up to the Paris Agreement, Australia had one of the highest emission rates in the world. In 2017, we remain one of the highest, emitting around 22.5 tonnes of CO2e per person per year[iii]. Our Federal Government has agreed to cut back, but not by much. We've promised to reduce emissions to 5% below 2000 levels by 2020. That would be nearly 21 tonnes per person per year[iv].

A 21 tonne lifestyle is absurd. Most experts agree that a long-term sustainable level is somewhere around 2 tonnes per person per year. If everyone followed Australia's lead, the world would warm several degrees by the end of the century. Neither my preschooler nor Superman will save us then.

Most developed countries emit less than us and have agreed to cut back by more. Of those nations like ours, only Japan set a weaker target, and that's because they're back on fossil fuel after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

They had a nuclear disaster. What's our excuse?

Forget a flimsy 5% cut by 2020. I want to make a 75% cut on the Australian average over the next year. My target? Total emissions of 5.5 tonnes per year.

Will I succeed? I have no idea, but I guarantee one thing. I'll do better than our Government.

I have mixed feelings about this massively invasive lifestyle project. Can I manage the numbers? Does the data I need even exist? How will this affect my family and friends? More importantly, can I cut my footprint by 75% while still eating steak and chocolate, drinking bubbles and flying to Japan to go snowboarding?

On the other hand, there's climate change. No mixed feelings there. It's bad, m'kay? So let's hurry up and save ourselves, rather than relying on a four year old shooting laser beams from her eyes.

Week-by-week experiment

I'll run weekly experiments on my transport, waste, electricity use, flights and the things I buy, like food and other goods. I'll use as much real world data as I can record and the best emission factors I can find.

My carbon footprint data will only give estimates, not measurements, because I'm not directly measuring my carbon emissions. But this is true for most carbon accounting. I'll use industry standard techniques and sources whenever I can find them. I'll show my notes, calculations and sources here so you can see how I've arrived at my results.

What's in the Australian carbon footprint?

Australia's total emissions break down as follows[vii].

You'll notice that the biggest political issue - electricity generation - only accounts for around a third of Australia's emissions. Phasing out coal is a great start, but we need to do more.

My project plan covers most of those areas, although there are some aspects of an individual footprint that can only be changed at government level - think hospitals, roads and wars. But this experiment is not about saving the world single-handed. It's about showing our Government that it's time to take the problem seriously and fix it.

What's my current carbon footprint?

I have no idea. This is why I've set my target based on the Australian average.

I'll take a baseline measure before each experiment so I can show how each change affects my footprint. Where possible, I'll also show how it would affect the 'average' Australian footprint. The latter might be more useful to others, because we're not all semi-vegan, steak-loving champagne-sipping globetrotting hippies.

Here goes. Today, I launch my year-long adventure. Join me.

[i] See http://actsmart.act.gov.au/

[ii] Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to no more than 2°C above preindustrial levels, and preferably no more than 1.5°C http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/negotiations/paris_en

[iii] Sources disagree. For instance, the Department of the Environment and Energy's 'Sectoral breakdown of 2017 projections results to 2030' projected Australia's total 2017 emissions as 554 million tonnes of C02e, which is around 22.4 tonnes per person based on ABS September 2017 population of 24,702,900 [https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/eb62f30f-3e0f-4bfa-bb7a-c87818160fcf/files/australia-emissions-projections-2017.pdf]. But the Climate Institute July 2015 report said Australia emitted around 26 tonnes of greenhouse gas per person per year (see http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/verve/_resources/TCI_Australias_Emissions_Factsheet_Final-LR.pdf).

[iv]See https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/eb62f30f-3e0f-4bfa-bb7a-c87818160fcf/files/australia-emissions-projections-2017.pdf, which projects 2020 emissions to be 551 MtCO2e. ABS projects the 2020 population to be 26,344,667 (ABS release 3105.0.65.001).

[v] See Climate Council article dated 10.11.16 at https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/breaking-australia-ratifies-paris-climate-agreement

[vi] The federal government Climate Change Authority, 'Some observations on Australia's post-2020 Emissions Reduction Target', Bernie Fraser, 14.08.2015 http://climatechangeauthority.gov.au/sites/prod.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/files/files/CFI/CCA-statement-on-Australias-2030-target.pdf

[vii] Based on Department of the Environment and Energy's 'Sectoral breakdown of 2017 projections results to 2030' https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/eb62f30f-3e0f-4bfa-bb7a-c87818160fcf/files/australia-emissions-projections-2017.pdf. The pie chart labels refer to for Electricity, Direct Combustion other than for electricity or transport, Transport within Australia, Fugitives from the extraction, processing & delivery of fossil fuel, Industrial processes & product use, Agriculture such as livestock and crops, Waste from landfill and wastewater, and Land use.

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