Net Zero Carbon

How do we measure “Net Zero Carbon?”

chat Posted Sep 07, 2014 by Rezwan | Category : Check Emissions Scoreboard Glossary
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In the Race to be the First Net Zero Carbon State, the way we measure “Net Zero Carbon” will determine which state wins.  Thus, we need to come up with an exact standard to use for all states and for all sub categories where carbon is measured. 

We have not yet determined that standard. We are drawn to Metric Tons of CO2 equivalent emissions per person per year:  MT CO2e/p/yr - but this may change.  For now, let’s look at the components of this metric. 

“Zero Carbon” Defined

“Zero Carbon” or “Carbon Neutrality” or “having a net zero carbon footprint” refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions from our combined human activities.

Why “Metric Tons”

There is a difference between Metric Tons, and Tons. 

Why “CO2 equivalent”

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is only one of the greenhouse gases being emitted.  There are many other greenhouse gases.  Different gases have different impacts on climate change per unit of weight.  For example, Methane (CH4) has the potential to trap more heat in the atmosphere than an equivalent amount of CO2. Thus, a ton of methane would have the same value as a few tons of CO2. Actually, it turns out this question is more complicated than that. Stand by for a final determination.

Why “Net Zero”

This is Net Zero anthropogenic output of carbon equivalent emissions. Straw Man Bob was not clear on the concept, saying:

“You do know that we are carbon based life forms, yes? Zero carbon would necessarily mean that all life would die.  ALL LIFE!  Plants, animals, even most single cell organisms would all DIE; nothing but barren wasteland as far as the eye can see, except there would be no eyes to see, because without carbon EVERYTHING would DIE.”

Relax, Straw Man.

We’re just talking about “zero carbon” - the emissions footprint.  What you are thinking of is “Absolute Zero Carbon,” a hypothetical situation in which we would hunt down and transmute every last shred of carbon in the universe.  FYI, carbon makes up only 0.5% of the universe. 

Some people have also noted that anthropogenic carbon only represents a small portion of the CO2 already in the atmosphere and wonder why the extra CO2 people have been adding for the past couple of centuries makes a difference.  We don’t know why, either.  What difference does a few degrees make?  For some reason, it’s a big deal.  Just as the human body is happiest at around 98 degrees F, and if it goes a few degrees higher it has a fever and doesn’t function as well.  In any case, the numbers are clear.

Why “per person”

We don’t want to encourage folks to go around depopulating their states.  We want to encourage them to figure out how to meet the needs of their population without carbon.  It makes a big difference if you assess the State’s carbon emissions as a whole, or per person.  The math shows why:

Total State Emissions =  Population   x   Emissions per Person

If you want to reduce Total State Emissions, you have two choices.  Reduce the Population, or reduce the Emissions per Person.  Reducing population is considered a fascist move.

For some reason, many people continue to assess states without making this distinction.  In this way, Texas is the worst State, and California is the second worst state:

But if you take our approach, Texas is #37, and California is the second cleanest state instead of the second dirtiest. What a difference population makes!  Other states whose emissions are masked by a small population are shown for how inefficient they really are.


Disclaimer: Our website is in its initial design phase, and the data we are using in various charts has not yet been calibrated to the standards that we aspire to.  We are using eia.gov carbon emissions in various charts, and the EIA appears to use CO2 alone (meaning our chart is mislabeled).  We have yet to make a decision as to whether we will use Carbon dioxide equivalent (CDE) and Equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2e) We are open to your suggestions. Referees, game officials welcome!  This is an important issue that must be decided. 

At present, there are many websites that calculate carbon emissions using different standards and assumptions. Most only look at CO2. Many don’t list their assumptions, so you just don’t know.

We pledge to clear up this question and appreciate your input into choosing the most accurate, user-friendly standard.  Thank you!

Notes & Related:

For more fun facts about carbon, get the photographic periodic chart below!

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