How Green Are You, Really? Learn Your Carbon Footprint In 2 Minutes Flat

Photo: Tari Gunstone

If everyone in the world lived like you, would we be better or worse off in the fight against climate change? Environmental nonprofit Conservation International's (CI) new carbon calculator will give you your answer in under two minutes.

The tool measures just how much carbon, in tons, users are emitting into the atmosphere each year, and then gives them the option to purchase offsets—projects that take carbon out of the atmosphere in order to effectively even out impact accordingly.

"We wanted to take action on climate change one step further by giving every individual the opportunity to understand how their personal decisions can also have a powerful impact on a global problem," Shyla Raghav, CI’s climate change lead, tells mbg.

By collecting information across three categories—household, transportation, and travel—the sleek, user-friendly calculator also estimates how people's consumption stacks up compared to that of their neighbors and the rest of the world.

One input of my ZIP code and a series of questions like "Do you purchase clean energy such as wind or solar?" and "Do you recycle items such as metal, plastic, glass, or paper?" later, and I found out I emit 12.02 tons of CO2 a year; not bad compared to the 21 tons the average American burns through but pretty shameful next to Europe's 8 average tons and China's 4. While some emissions are beyond my immediate control (I live in an apartment building and don't have the option to use Energy Star appliances, for example), a lot of them are very much within my power. The tool reminds me that simple tweaks like lowering my thermostat, purchasing more secondhand clothing, or flying direct (yay, another reason to splurge to avoid layovers) can slash my number by hundreds of pounds of CO2 each year.

While carbon calculators are not a new idea, this is the first of its kind to give users a verified way to offset their emissions immediately. After crunching my numbers, it showed me exactly what it would take to "neutralize" my yearly footprint: $144—about what I spend on food for one week.

This $144 could go toward protecting endangered areas like Madagascar and Peru, where deforestation threatens the local ecosystem and way of life. "The conservation sites for the calculator are all located in areas where Conservation International works, places we’ve had partnerships with governments and local communities for years, if not decades," Raghav explains. "These projects meet the highest standards for REDD+ projects and have generated verified emissions reductions. They are also projects that have been able to support the livelihoods of local communities and multiple benefits to the local environment such as biodiversity conservation."

Tools like this essentially gamify consumption by presenting low emissions as a coveted target, reminding us that the lower we go right now, the less we need to pay up later. Our brains are wired to crave this sense of immediate gratification, and studies show that we're less likely to respond to issues that we perceive as being far away with any sense of urgency.

So, what are you waiting for? Get ready, get set, get calculating.

Feeling guilty about all that carbon you're putting out there? Check out how to go beyond offsetting by donating time or money to environmental nonprofits. And check out some of the most effective environmental actions you can take, according to seasoned activists.

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