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Greenhouse gas calculator reveals hard carbon truths

The new carbon footprint calculator factors in a household’s light sources, heating, washing, food consumption patterns, air travel and more, making it one of the most thorough calculators developed yet. Flickr

One of the most comprehensive greenhouse gas calculators ever was launched today, allowing members of the public to add up the total carbon cost of their their household set-up, food choices and travel patterns.

As global negotiations on how to tackle climate change move at a glacial pace and domestic politicians bicker about the best policy response, greenhouse gas calculators allow individuals to assess their impact and change their own behaviour now.

The Australian Greenhouse Calculator, developed by researchers at RMIT, allows users to develop a big picture view of their energy consumption patterns.

“My view is that people need to be empowered to make change,” said project leader Alan Pears, a lecturer in energy efficiency at RMIT’s School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning.

The free website, which was supported by the Victorian government, asks users a series of questions about their household size, types of appliances used, laundry set-up, food consumption and wastage patterns, shopping habits, heating and cooling, air travel and a range of other energy-consuming behaviours.

The quick version of the survey calculates your total greenhouse gas contribution and shows how you rate against an average Australian household and a ‘green’ Australian household.

A more comprehensive version of the survey factors in details such as the quality of the seals on your fridge door.

“One of the things we find abut energy and household greenhouse gas emissions generally is people are not well informed and what makes a difference may not be the obvious things,” said Mr Pears.

“If you look at the food area, some meat products have lower emissions than others and some vegetarian options have higher emissions than others. It’s not just ‘meat versus vegetarian’. There’s a lot of flexibility in there if your main focus is climate change impact,” he said.

The calculator also allows users to work out what would be more efficient – changing behaviour or investing in new household infrastructure, such as solar power.

“And someone who is a tenant or has a low income can explore the behavioural stuff while people who are about to renovate can go through and say, ‘What will we do about our lighting?’” he said.

Mr Pears said the project was developed over three years and that the calculator is drawing on an enormous data set compiled from government and industry sources.

For those who have already kitted out their house with the most energy efficient technology, the online tool allows them to feel deservedly smug.

“What this does is allow them to confirm they are on the right track and feel some sense of satisfaction because they can benchmark themselves.”

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