To slow climate change we must know our own impact
IF you want to deflate your household’s black balloons, you should first pinpoint exactly how many there are, says energy efficiency expert Alan Pears.
The tool, developed by Mr Pears, RMIT’s Centre for Design and Education Services Australia, connects our household habits with their greenhouse repercussions. It covers car use, public transport, flights, heating and cooling, hot water, lighting, appliances, cooking, shopping and waste.
“One of the crucial messages is that there are lots of ways to cut your carbon footprint,” Mr Pears says. “For example, if you can cut your food waste by not letting it go off in the fridge, it would reduce your expenditure on food – and that by itself would make a big difference.
“The idea behind the calculator is that instead of people throwing rocks at each other or feeling disempowered, they can get a sense of what the issues are, with enough sophistication to look at different ways to solve them.”
In a matter of minutes, the calculator’s “quick mode” will give you a good idea of your greenhouse emission profile. It graphs the results against both a typical and a green household, by way of comparison.
You can then delve into the detailed sections to better understand the areas that interest you, or those in which you fare the worst.
The options are astonishingly comprehensive. You can factor in the withered seals on your fridge or the lack of ventilation space behind it, and watch the emissions rise up accordingly. You can examine the effect on your car’s fuel efficiency when you inflate the tyres, schedule regular services or install roof racks.
“It’s very empowering,” Mr Pears says. “You can explore a much wider range of options for cutting your carbon footprint than you can with any other calculator in the world.
“Some behavioural things have much bigger effect than you realise. For example, changing your heating and cooling thermostat by one degree in Melbourne really does make a big difference to your energy use,” he says.
Among other findings likely to surprise, Mr Pears identifies the super-low emissions of public transport and the dazzling inefficiency of halogen downlights. Likewise, a large flat-screen TV might gobble more electricity than the family fridge (unless it’s one of the “amazingly efficient” new 8-star screens).
And although our shopping habits are often overlooked, they account for over one-third of the average household’s carbon footprint. “I think a lot of people will be surprised by how significant food and consumer items are,” he says.
The calculator’s “weekly shopping” section allows users to compare different kinds of meat and all the food groups, as well as drinks, processed goods and other supermarket products.
Mr Pears says there’s a benefit to the online tool beyond its potential to spotlight excess carbon emissions. “In most households people become fixated on certain things. Someone will say, ‘It’s the kids’ computers’, or, ‘My wife does this’, or, ‘My husband does that’.
“But with the calculator you can specify how many showers you have, long they last and the flow rate of the showerhead. It’s a big opportunity to resolve longstanding arguments,” he laughs. “In that way, it’s potentially a household conflict-resolution tool.”