Column I recently installed an app that promised to measure my carbon footprint, then offer meaningful recommendations that could help me to reduce it.
I thought that sounded like a good enough offer that I was willing to endure a modestly nosey survey that gathered information about my lifestyle, income, and personal habits. The result was an indication that my footprint was in the “high” range.
I found that a little surprising. I did fly a lot, back when that was still a thing. But I don’t have a car, walk and bike everywhere, use renewably generated electricity, and am vegetarian.
The app informed me that 70 percent of my CO2 emissions came from an area defined simply as “purchases”.
Uh … ok? I tapped on that, to see if it might be broken down in any meaningful way, only to find that my rating was an estimate drawn from averages that may or may not have reflected my personal circumstances.
I’d like to believe that I tread lightly on the environment, though I know as a middle-class Australian that’s unlikely to be the case. In the absence of any meaningful information, how can I make changes? I could follow the app’s suggestions – though these seem to be more broad brushstrokes than highly targeted activities.
That leaves me little wiser than before I launched the app.
It’s not really the app’s fault. It’s doing the best it can to offer advice in an environment that almost completely lacks auditability, transparency, or solid sources of data.
When I buy an apple at the supermarket, I have no idea how much carbon was burnt bringing it to me, nor do I have any obvious way to learn this. That’s broadly true for almost everything – although here in Australia automakers are required by law to let you know how many litres of petrol it will burn to take you 100 kilometres (each litre of petrol adds around 2.2 kilograms of carbon…