Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

The Invisible Foot(print)

Posted by Rich Sweeney on February 28, 2008

Last week’s New Yorker has well written piece on measuring and mitigating carbon emissions by Michael Specter. For those who are relatively new to the subject matter, Specter provides a nice, readable overview. For regular CT readers, the article is worth checking out for its clever anecdotes, if not for its novel insights. Specter surveys the gamut of responses to global warming, from Tesco’s ridiculous carbon labeling scheme to Richard Sandor’s vision of property rights and tradeable permits (Sandor, chief economist at the CBOT, is known as the “father of financial futures”).

Here are some notable quotes:

On deforestation: “According to one recent calculation, during the next twenty-four hours the effect of losing forests in Brazil and Indonesia will be the same as if eight million people boarded airplanes at Heathrow Airport and flew en masse to New York.”

On locavores: ““One of our real responsibilities is to say to our customers, ‘The most important thing you can do to effect climate change is insulate your house properly,’ ” [Tesco’s Katherine Symonds] went on. “ ‘Next would be to get double-glazed windows,’ ” which prevent heat from escaping in the winter. “Third, everyone should get a new boiler.’ We are trying to put this into context, not to say, ‘Buy English potatoes.’ ”

On yuppies: “Several food companies have promised to label their products with the amount of carbon-dioxide emissions associated with making and transporting them. Last spring, Walkers crisps (potato chips) became the first of them to reach British stores, and they are still the only product on the shelves there with a carbon label. I walked over to the crisp aisle, where a young couple had just tossed three bags of Walkers Prawn Cocktail crisps into their shopping cart. The man was wearing fashionable jeans and sneakers without laces. His wife was toting a huge Armani Exchange bag on one arm and dragging their four-year-old daughter with the other. I asked if they paid attention to labels. “Of course,” the man said, looking a bit insulted. He was aware that Walkers had placed a carbon label on the back of its crisp packages; he thought it was a good idea. He just wasn’t sure what to make of the information.” “

5 Responses to “The Invisible Foot(print)”

  1. dWj said

    “Gamut”, maybe?

  2. Rich Sweeney said

    ha. thanks.

  3. DK said

    Well, to help the Yuppies out, a bag of Walker’s Crisps has a footprint of 75g of C. Using EPA’s handy calculator, that’s equivalent* to consuming .01 gallons of gasoline. How many bags of chips is your carbon footprint equal to**?

    *The EPA calculator converts CO2 equivalents, not C equivalents as Walker reported, but I didn’t bother trying to convert the 75g. Also, I think there may have been some rounding error.
    **While EPA’s converter reports outputs in several equivalents (gallons of gasoline, barrels of oil, tree seedlings grown for 10 years, tons of avoided recycling waste, etc.), bags of chips is not one of them. You’d have to calculate that yourself. Also, I haven’t found a calculator that incorporates your chip consumption into your carbon footprint calculation (just household size, electricity use, miles driven, etc.). Anyone want to build the ultimate footprint calculator?

  4. Daniel Hall said

    a bag of Walker’s Crisps has a footprint of 75g of C. Using EPA’s handy calculator, that’s equivalent* to consuming .01 gallons of gasoline.

    Actually, 75g of carbon is 275 g of CO2. (The conversion factor is 3.67 units of CO2 for 1 unit of C.) So it’s actually a whopping 0.03 gallons of gasoline.

  5. Dicky White said

    I resent your characterization of Yuppies.

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