January 25, 2007

Carbon footprints–what are they?

Filed under: Green, map, politics — ubikcan @ 10:40 am


While I was in the UK there was a big to-do about “carbon footprints” and something called “offsets” because PM Tony Blair admitted to taking airplane flights for his private family vacations. While HM government pays “offsets” on its official travel, apparently Tony doesn’t when he goes on holiday. As you can see from the map, these vary quite considerably globally.

This was tied in to Ryan Air’s refusal to take part in a EU carbon reduction scheme (Ryan Air are one of those cheapie airlines that can only operate if it sees all such things as “taxes” and refuse to pay them–according to one critic I heard). Some of their flights are 99p. See here for example:

“I personally think these things are a bit impractical actually to expect people to do that,” Mr Blair says in an interview.

The prime minister, who recently had a family holiday in Miami, adds that it would be wrong to impose “unrealistic targets” on travellers. “You know, I’m still waiting for the first politician who’s actually running for office who’s going to come out and say it – and they’re not,” Mr Blair says. “It’s like telling people you shouldn’t drive anywhere.”

His remarks contrast with the tone set by Ian Pearson, the environment minister, who last week used strong language to criticise Ryanair for opposing the European commission’s plan to include all flights within Europe in the EU carbon trading scheme from 2011.

Mr Blair’s remarks are also at odds with the declaration last month by the Prince of Wales that he would cut back on domestic and international flights.

David Cameron, the Tory leader, believes he has stolen a march on the government by emphasising green issues and his own credentials – installing a wind turbine on his new house.

Among some people I met there was plenty of skepticism about this offset stuff, ie that you plant a tree every time you fly or whatever.

The day I left the Independent published this story about reducing the carbon footprint:

Tony Blair personally emits more than 700 times as much of the pollution that causes global warming as the average Briton, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. His air travel alone contributes as much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as a medium-sized business. …

The [Independent] commissioned a leading business carbon-footprinting consultancy – the Oxford-based Best Foot Forward – to calculate them, using what information is publicly available.

The firm, a winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, estimated that the Blairs have a footprint of at least 8,127 tons of carbon dioxide a year. By contrast, says the firm, the average Briton emits about 11 tons. …

The firm says that if Mr Blair he had travelled on scheduled flights, his emissions would have dropped to 38 tons. It adds that the Prime Minister could have reduced his emissions even further, to 37 tons, by using Eurostar instead of a plane to and from Brussels and Paris during the year.

What this means is that patterns of travel (esp. going by high speed train vs. flying) will markedly change if people pay attention to their “carbon footprint.”

The biggest difference I found is that in the UK there is a real consciousness about all this, whereas in the USA… well…

This morning came news that UK supermarket Tesco is going to spend $10 million on finding out not only the “food miles” in each product (how far it has come) but also its carbon footprint:

In principle, the concept is easy. A so-called “life-cycle analysis” tots up the energy used to extract raw materials and turn them into products. The greater the energy use, the greater the carbon footprint, and the worse for the environment a product is. Tesco says such information would allow consumers to shop according to their environmental conscience. As demand for more damaging products falls, the thinking goes, so will the stocking of that product.

Yes indeed it’s hard to imagine Walmart doing this…


1 Comment »

  1. offsets means pollution trading.

    Comment by mm — January 25, 2007 @ 5:45 pm

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