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October 12, 2006

Our collective carbon footprint

Greenland I mentioned in one of my early postings to this blog that I had some reservations about the amount of travel that I do in order to attend meetings, and the resulting size of my personal carbon footprint.

Having just come back from DC-2006 in Mexico and now sitting in Glasgow airport awaiting my return flight to Bath following the CETIS Assessment and Metadata and Repositories SIG meeting, I'm feeling particularly guilty!  We are used to the notion of cost / benefit analysis - though I'm not sure how well we apply it to the kinds of digital library and elearning meetings that we attend.  Doing such an analysis is difficult, since many of the benefits of face to face meetings are relatively intangible, and often only bear fruit sometime downstream of the actual meeting.  But I'm wondering whether we, as a community, also need to factor in the "carbon cost" of our activities?  One obvious way of reducing our impact on the planet being to make more use of virtual meetings than we do currently.

Two coincidental happenings occurred to spark this particular post.  Firstly, a seminar at the International Centre for the Environment at the University of Bath earlier this week entitled "The Case for Personal Carbon Allowances" by Dr Tina Fawcett from the University of Oxford.   A personal carbon allowance essentially gives each individual a quota of "carbon points", charging them for any over-use, but allowing them to sell on any part of their quota that they don't use to someone else.  It's an alternative form of taxation - intended to hit hardest those who contribute most to the problem.  An interesting idea, though I'm not sure how well it would work in practice and unfortunately I missed the seminar because of prior commitments.

Secondly, an article in last Saturday's UK Guardian questioning the value of carbon offsetting as companies jump on the band-waggon of becoming "carbon neutral".  The paper version of the Guardian report includes some indications of typical carbon emissions.  Running a car for a year (average mileage) produces 3 tonnes of carbon for example.  A return flight from London to Sydney produces 5.6 tonnes.

Using the Terrapass emissions calculator shows that my two DCMI trips so far this year (Seattle, US and Colima, Mexico) have produced over 8 tonnes of CO2 - that's equivalent to running my car for nearly 3 years!  Frightening.

I'm not sure that I'm ready to draw any hasty conclusions yet - hey, I enjoy travelling as much as the next person!  But it certainly gives pause for thought.

Image: View over Greenland [May 2006]


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Conversation overheard in Bristol Airport this morning...

Man: I've been told that Brussels is the most boring city.

Woman: Yes, I've heard the same thing.

Man: Still, it'd be nice to see for ourselves.

Good grief. The wonders of modern air travel... it takes us to places we don't even want to go! :-(

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