Just One Ton
by Kyle Schuant (march 2008)

I recently wrote about goal emissions for the world, how that to avoid catastrophic climate change we must reduce our emissons to about one ton per capita per year of carbon dioxide from household sources--that is, the sources you and I can control.

Is this achievable? Yep.

  1. Buy electrical power from other sources preferring in order: wind, geothermal, solar, hydroelectric, landfill gas or natural gas, waste burning, bagasse. Don't even think about nuclear or coal.
  2. Use cool drinks and fans not airconditioning, jumpers and hot drinks not heating, hang washing out to dry, change to CFLs, and pull plugs out on appliances not in use
  3. Don't fly in aircraft at all.
  4. Bye-bye cars: for a journey under 5km, walk. Under 15km, bike. Over that, public transport.
  5. Consume mainly fresh fruit and vegies, grains and legumes, avoid processed containerised food
  6. reduce meat consumption to under 12kg/year (0.25kg/week)
  7. For consumer goods, borrow rather than buy, secondhand rather than new
  8. If available, use coppiced wood for heating/cooking, otherwise use that wind powered electricity, or if that's not available, use natural gas
  9. Plant trees--don't pay someone else, plant them where you can watch them and know they'll be cared for.

An individual person who:

This person will cause a net 947kg CO2 in emissions (about 1.5t without the tree-planting). They will cycle 30km/20 miles twice a week (for work and hobby), and ride or walk 10km/6 miles once a week (for shopping). They'll spend about one hour a week tending their little garden patch and trees they plant. With that exercise, their relatively low-meat and low processed food diet they'll probably be in good health. They'll impress friends and potential spouses with their health and gifts of fresh fruit and vegetables, and money saved from this lifestyle. They will have an overall good quality of life in material terms.

"But I can't because..."
In the developed West, the average person can do this. For every person who is 100km from work and won't cycle, there'll be another one who is just 3km from work and can walk, not even having those public transport emissions. Some will need more meat because they're menstruating or recovering from surgery, but others will be vegan. Some won't have any yard at all to garden in, or even a balcony for container plants, but others will have relatives living in the country who'll be delighted for them to plant trees in some disused paddock. Individuals may be able have less emissions in one area but more in another, walking to work but eating more meat, using less electricity but buying more books, and so on and so forth. So this represents an average. Just because you find one area difficult doesn't mean you have to forget the other areas.

Doing these emissions-reducing things, living the one-tonne-carbon lifestyle, is not something everyone can do, because we don't have the public transport or renewable energy generation capacity. It's a bit like becoming rich--anyone can do it, but not everyone can do it. The difference between this lifestyle and becoming rich is that as we put in the public transport and renewable energy infrastructure, everyone will be able to live like this, whereas it'll never be the case that everyone can be rich. As the public transport becomes used more, and more people sign up for wind energy and so on, the infrastructure will be built. This is why even though the lifestyle suggested here you could live tomorrow, in the Goal Emissions article I allowed a decade for everyone to change to this lifestyle. That also allows ten years while you say, "but I can't because...."

Kyle Schuant