It’s not a pretty number: 255t.
That’s the carbon budget I used up during my lifespan so far. I used the CO2 calculator of the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt) to estimate my annual footprint, which currently amounts to 3,54t.
In comparison to the average German citizen (11,6t CO2e), my carbon footprint is comparatively small and yet not anywhere near where it needs to be: below 1t per person annually, if we want any chance to stay within the boundaries of global warming below 1.5°C.
Here is how I got to my overall, lifetime estimate.
I started by calculating my current annual emissions (pictured above). I have a green energy contract (“Ökostrom”) for my electricity as well as my heating and have been on such a renewable plan for the past 6 years. Before that, I procured green energy but, as far as I can recollect and/or reconstruct, the heating ran on district heating (“Fernwärme”). I used the same calculator to estimate the additional CO2 for heating during those years (adding 0,29t annually).
I never owned a car and tend to get around either by public transport or bike, so those estimates are fairly similar over the years and one of the factors where the average German citizen with their car-dependent culture ends up on a way higher emissions spectrum.
Another big factor in those calculations are dietary preferences. I’ve been on a vegetarian diet for more than 20 years, favouring regional, seasonal, and organic products whenever possible, which according to the calculator saves around 0,37t per year. Multiplying these by my childhood years before I opted to be vegetarian, I added those to my overall carbon footprint as well.
In addition, in my estimated annual carbon footprint I did not account for an average number of flights per year but instead calculated all my flights separately. Going back through old records, calendars and trip memorabilia, I ended up with an excel sheet of 348 flights. I’ll note that some 90% of these were business trips and I can tell you that going through my records in this strange, pandemic-ridden year of 2020 where I haven’t left the country since January made this all the more cringe-worthy. I am not planning to go back to such an intense travel schedule, ever.
My overall flight impact amounts to 118,19 mt CO2e.
Sidenote: t for tonnes and mt for metric tons are primarily regional differences, with mt favoured in the U.S.
If you’re curious how to calculate this, you can find the required steps, including the package for airport codes and calculating the distances between airports here: https://sheilasaia.rbind.io/post/2019-04-19-carbon-cost-calcs/
Using “R”, you convert the list of flights from kilometres to miles, multiply them by 0.24 to convert to pounds of carbon dioxide, then by a factor of 1.891 for airborne emissions and run that against your sheet. If you’re wondering why the factor for flight emissions is bigger than 1, that’s because CO2 emitted higher up in the earth’s atmosphere has a greater warming potential, referred to as “radiative forcing”.
Adding flights, annual estimate multiplied by my age and accounting for differences in consumption, energy and heating adjustments, I ended up with approximately 255t.
Using atmosfair.de as a point of orientation to estimate the price for offsetting all my already accrued emissions, well aware that avoiding and reducing is highly preferable but hardly implementable post the fact, I would have to invest around 5.865 Euro to offset my personal emissions — for my entire lifespan. It’s both a lot for a one-off donation and not much at all, given the overall impact and need for mitigating the climate crisis.
I decided to start with a 750€ investment (i.e. 32,61t CO2) and will be looking into other high potential and scalable projects going forward to balance out the emissions I haven’t been able to avoid to date. But even more importantly, these calculations make it abundantly clear to me that we need to more vocally call on governments to adopt necessary legislation and on business to live up to their responsibilities.
This transformation isn’t optional, the climate crisis affects us all — and “paying” to continue spending (i.e. emitting) is not sustainable. We need an incentive structure that actually allows us to avoid and reduce in a much more consistent and meaningful manner than is currently possible.