I track my main sources of carbon emissions using The Carbon Account. You put in your mileage—it works out your car’s efficiency from its make and model—and your meter readings—it works out your electricity’s greenness from your provider—and it does the rest. Here’s a graph of my carbon emissions for 2008: the recorded total for the year comes to around 1.9 tonnes.
After a glut of car use last Christmas—coinciding both with my own illness and our having to move house—we’ve been concentrating on running the car as little as possible this year: it was without an MOT for nearly two months. This has meant that so far in 2008 we’ve put just under 1000 miles on the clock. That might seem excessive in some contexts, but here’s roughly how it breaks down, from memory:
- 175 miles: five Oxford Geek Nights (a round trip to pick up projector, two laptops, a box of books and various cables)
- 60 miles: three trips to Witney, one to wash K’s wedding dress
- the rest: 780 miles: thirty-nine commutes to work, or just under two working months (assuming 22 working days in a month)
I don’t particularly like commuting by car, but at this time of year the roads are especially perilous. I was five degrees of wheel turn from a skid in the car last week, and it was less than twelve months ago that I came off my bike entirely at the top of Finstock hill on some black ice, spotting it at the last minute and therefore merely bruising my extremities.
The hospitalized don’t exactly have any control over their—understandably spiralling—carbon emissions, so I consider these a necessity (almost). Until we’re able to move house, and maybe to somewhere more convenient for my work commute, then there’s a bare minimum of days in the year on which I have to either use the car, work at home (which I can sometimes manage), or make a three-hour round trip by public transport to travel a total of twenty miles. On most of those thirty-nine days I car-shared with another one or two people, and tried to combing such trips with bringing in bulky items such as a stash of cycling-friendly high-carbohydrate foodstuffs.
To put it into perspective, the car only contributes 20% to my year’s measurable carbon emissions: 34% of the rest is from electricity, and 46% gas. Given K. has no car, then that’s around eleven percent of our household’s emissions in total. That means essentially that we’ve got car use to the point where our home’s energy performance is the limiting factor on our carbon diet. Again, this comes back to accommodation: rental properties are effectively unmodifiable, generally less well-maintained than owner-occupied properties, and oh also our landlady is a crazy bitch.
That our car has been a minority contributor to our emissions this year also lets us feel like we can partake of a particular Christmas luxury, which others would probably do without a second thought but we’ve fretted about for ages: driving to K’s parents in Cardiff for the week around Christmas itself. This both frees us from the rather poor rail transport between the two cities (far worse over the Christmas period), and also lets us take presents and treats of enough quality and quantity to convey our affection for our family. The heating and electricity will be off throughout our stay there, so it may well work out the carbon-equivalent of a holiday spent at home.
The priority for 2009, for all sorts of reasons, is to try to buy a house. This might mean a glut of car use, of course, as we trawl around following the agendas of (now desperate) estate agents. But at the end of it, who knows? Such luxuries as double glazing? A++ white goods throughout? Wood-burning stoves (zero carbon, if we use waste wood)? Our energy use, with a little finesseing from using Good Energy, might come in at considerably less than a tonne. At those sort of efficiencies, we could practically burn a tyre in the back garden every month or so, just for kicks.