‘Carbon Footprint’ therefore is just ONE of the many Footprints that can be calculated. However, it is, by far, the most critical ‘Footprint’ for the specific environmental circumstances we live in and have created for ourselves. This is because it is a direct indicator of a human’s impact on Global Warming: the most daunting environmental issue confronting us.
‘Carbon Footprint’, thus, is a measure of the total quantity of gaseous emissions of Greenhouse Gases (gases that cause an undesirable and disproportionate heating-up of the earth’s atmosphere) emitted by an individual in one year; directly (such as by burning fuel), or indirectly (through consumption of products and services that have resulted in such emissions in the manufacturing process).
There are three main gases that are classified as ‘Greenhouse Gases’: Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, and Methane. By converting Nitrous Oxide and Methane into equivalent quantities of Carbon Dioxide, one can arrive at a total amount of ‘Carbon Dioxide Equivalents’ produced per year. In a nutshell, then, your ‘Carbon Footprint’ value is the number of tonnes (1 tonne is a 1000 kilograms) of Carbon Dioxide equivalents you have generated in one year.
Global Warming is a burning issue because it threatens the existence of human civilization as we know it today. The average temperature on Earth is exhibiting an unprecedented rise due to human-generated emissions of greenhouse gases. This temperature rise is projected to precipitate many alarming impacts on the environment, due to which suitability for human existence will be greatly depleted. Most critically, however, unlike other ‘environmental issues’ such as deteriorating air quality, water pollution, destruction of animal habitats etc., the time period over which the consequences will acquire disastrous proportions is much more immediate – the next 50 years.
Let’s however be clear, it’s NOT ABOUT SAVING THE PLANET – the earth has existed, and will continue to exist, for many millions of years with or without humans on the planet. We believe this is primarily not an ‘Environmental’ or a ‘Save the Planet’ issue – it is essentially an issue of HUMAN SURVIVAL.
You’ve heard the expression “every drop counts in an ocean”. Now just re-imagine that ocean as being one that you find yourself surrounded by, and every Carbon Footprint of each human adds to that ocean’s level. You’ll visualize that it is constantly rising towards a state where we are at a risk of drowning in our own self-created ocean.
Most of the industrialized countries have established programs and environmental institutions entrusted with the task of creating Carbon Footprint Calculators that encapsulate the specific realities of that particular nation (for instance, each country uses a unique combination, in differing proportions, of various fuels to generate electricity). No such nationalized authority has been established in our country; furthermore, no other visible efforts are evident to understand the global warming impacts of the specific activities and lifestyles of Indian citizens.
Consider this as an illustration: no efforts have been made to determine the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from a long-distance train journey on the Indian Railways network. This example can be expanded to include airline flights within India, journeys using specific makes and models of cars on Indian roads, auto rickshaw and public transport bus journeys in major metros of India, food consumption patterns and food production systems in India.
To eliminate all these deficiencies of information and analysis, we have created this ‘Indian Carbon Footprint Calculator’
A rigorous review of worldwide and nationwide data on distribution of emissions generated by various activities reveals that Transportation, Energy consumption, and Food consumption are the major contributors to an individual’s Carbon Footprint. Hence, grasping these three aspects is deemed necessary and sufficient for a quick preliminary assessment of the person’s impact on Global Warming.
Predicated on the observation that all industry, commercial activity, public utilities and infrastructure exist for the service of the individual (consuming them either actively or passively), it is logical to attribute an averaged proportion of the emissions related to these ‘services’ rendered to the general society, to each individual inhabitant.
All ‘Footprints’ related to aspects of household living that are shared relatively equally amongst its members – such as electricity use, cooking gas consumption, and newspaper subscriptions – are apportioned equally to all active members of the household (household helpers are excluded).
Predicated on the idea that the phase of their lives when individuals start exercising active consumption choices, coincides reliably with exposure to substantial ‘external’ influences (influences outside the household), we have adopted the policy of treating a teenager (13 years or older) as being wholly responsible for an equal share of the common household Footprint in addition to the Footprint resulting from their personal lifestyle.
Almost 80% of the electricity generated in India originates from power plants using Coal, Natural Gas, and Diesel Oil as fuels. Thus, despite there being no directly visible emissions associated with electricity use in a household or an office (in contrast to fuel usage in a vehicle which emits visible emissions), there are significant quantities of emissions related to its production in power plants that must be accounted for in any rigorous analysis of ‘Carbon Footprint’. To put it in perspective: one night (8 hours) of air-conditioner use (1-ton AC suitable for a small sized room) results in approximately the same Carbon Footprint as from driving an average Indian car for 85 kilometers!
Milk production requires livestock (cow, buffalo, goat etc.) farming – a process that in turn relies on a wide array of processes and activities to feed and sustain livestock as well as to process milk. These activities range from energy use for cultivation of animal feed, to fertilizer and manure application on land used for such cultivation. These activities lead to varying degrees of emissions of methane (for instance, from manure released from livestock) and nitrous oxide (from nitrogen-based fertilizers). In addition, livestock such as cow and buffalo release noteworthy quantities of methane as by-product of digestive and internal fermentation processes during their life cycle.
Furthermore, livestock farming land represents land that is cleared and deforested and results in reduced Carbon-absorption potential of the land owing to elimination of trees. All these impacts are precursors to milk processing, transportation, and storage.
The sum of the greenhouse gas emissions of all these activities results in a milk consumption related ‘Carbon Footprint’. To put it into perspective – on average, one litre of cow milk production in India results in the release of approximately 1.5 kg of Carbon dioxide equivalents; this equates to approximately 10 km of driving in an average Indian car.
Milk producing livestock in India are of the following primary types: indigenous cattle, crossbred cattle, buffalo and goat. The milk production life cycle using each of these animals is distinct and unique and thus results in a different Carbon Footprint. For instance, while one litre of cow milk production in India results in the release of approximately 1.5 kg of Carbon dioxide equivalents, the emissions from goat milk production is approximately 8% lower – 1.3 kg of Carbon dioxide equivalents per litre.
Meat production requires livestock (cow, buffalo, goat, etc.) farming – a process that in turn relies on a wide array of processes and activities to feed and sustain livestock. These activities range from energy use for cultivation of animal feed to fertilizer and manure application on land used for such cultivation; all leading to varying degrees of emissions of methane (for instance, from manure released from livestock) and nitrous oxide (from nitrogen-based fertilizers). In addition, livestock such as cow and buffalo release noteworthy quantities of methane as by-product of digestive and internal fermentation processes during their life cycle.
Furthermore, livestock farming land represents land that is cleared and deforested and results in reduced Carbon-absorption potential of the land owing to elimination of trees. All these impacts are precursors to meat processing, transportation, and storage.
The sum of the greenhouse gas emissions of all these activities results in a meat consumption related Carbon Footprint. To put it into perspective – on an average, one kg of mutton production in India results in the release of approximately 22 kg of Carbon dioxide equivalents; this equates to approximately 140 km of driving in an average Indian car. Observed from another perspective, for the same Carbon Footprint creation, approximately 31 kilograms of rice could be cultivated as opposed to just 1 kg of mutton.
Random sampling of meat-based meal preparation activities was conducted amongst households to determine the approximate weight of meat purchased to prepare a single meal to serve 4 persons. An approximate value of 750 grams of meat purchase was ascertained and is used in the calculator.
Rice production practices in the Indian sub-continental region are characterized primarily by water-intensive cultivation methods, which result in disproportionate releases of methane relative to average rice related emissions in other parts of the world. Our review and analysis of existing rice related emissions research and rice production data indicates that 1 kg of rice production results in approximately 700 grams of Carbon dioxide equivalents.
To put it in perspective, this is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions created by 4.5 km of driving in an average Indian car.
Local trains operate on electric power. Since electricity generation in India results in significant greenhouse gas emissions, owing to an inordinately heavy dependence on fossil fuel combustion in thermal power plants, these impacts are transmitted to technologies that utilize this electricity.
The redeeming feature in this instance turns out to be the heavy utilization and popular patronization of local train networks in the country. This ensures a relatively lower per passenger Footprint for a given journey. Hence, local train travel results in a very modest emission of approximately 12 grams of Carbon dioxide equivalents per km of travel.
To put this into perspective: a single kilometer of travel in an average Indian car would result in the same Footprint as a 12 km long local train journey.
There are other people travelling by trains, aircrafts and buses too. Is that taken into consideration while measuring my Footprint?
The presence of other passengers in various modes of transportation is accounted for in the calculation. Passenger load factor data, wherever available, is used to estimate the percentage of unused or over-utilized capacity and appropriate adjustments are then made to the calculation to arrive at the accurate value.
For instance, a half-full bus has a passenger load factor of 50%. The passengers in this bus are collectively responsible for the entire Footprint of the bus journey. The per-passenger Footprint of each passenger in this bus is double that of a bus with a passenger load factor of 100%
The different types of fuels such as Petrol, Diesel, CNG, LPG, etc release a predictable quantity of greenhouse gases when combusted, which differs discernibly for each fuel. For instance 1 litre of petrol results in the release of approximately 3.17 kg of Carbon dioxide equivalents whereas one litre of Automotive LPG results in the release of 1.50 kg of Carbon dioxide equivalents.
Furthermore, since the calculator relies upon price-conversion to equate fuel expense to quantity of fuel purchase, it is important to identify the fuel type correctly as fuel prices differ significantly between Petrol, Diesel, CNG, LPG, etc
The make and model of the car is directly linked to a specific ‘fuel economy value’ that is used by the calculator to perform Footprint calculations. These fuel economy values are obtained from reviews of automotive periodicals and are vital in accurately determining the Footprint of journeys undertaken by using a particular make and model of a car.
Estimation of greenhouse gas emissions from a ‘representative model’ of a 4-wheeler and 2-wheeler vehicle per hour of engine operation when subjected to real-world driving conditions (as simulated in laboratories that reconstruct what is known as the technically-defined ‘Indian Driving Cycle), has been derived from research conducted by the National Physics Laboratory (New Delhi) in conjunction with Bajaj Auto Ltd. (Pune) and the Ohio Supercomputer Institute (USA).
This data is used by the calculator to estimate the travel-related Carbon Footprint, based on the number of hours travelled.
Airplanes use enormous quantities of aviation or ‘jet’ fuel for landing and taking-off and also during cruise-mode travel. These quantities are alarmingly greater per kilometer of travel for a single passenger as compared to rail travel or vehicular travel with multiple passengers. For instance, a 1000 km journey by a domestic Indian airline would contribute approximately 110 kg of Carbon dioxide equivalents to a passenger’s Carbon Footprint. In contrast, the same journey undertaken by rail or a 4-person journey in an average Indian car would create a Footprint of 14 and 40 kg of Carbon dioxide equivalents, respectively. These equate to reductions of approximately 90 and 65%, in relation to air-travel.
International air travel levies an egregious burden on global warming. Consider this; a single international roundtrip flight to USA/Canada from India creates an individual Footprint of approximately 2.6 tonnes of Carbon dioxide equivalents. In the year 2004-2005, the average per capita Carbon Footprint for India was 1.6 tonnes per annum. Thus, one international roundtrip flight to USA/Canada would create enough Footprint in 36 hours to exceed the annual Footprint of an average Indian by 62%!
The type of airline you travel in does affect your Footprint.
The primary global warming impact of air travel can be attributed largely to the fuel used by aircrafts during flight. While there are a wide-array of support and secondary activities related to air travel (such as airport operations, catering operations etc), these have not been adequately quantified as yet on an industry-wide basis and their use in the calculator would mar the credibility of the results. Thus, aircraft related emissions are of paramount importance. Since the various domestic airlines in India have widely different aircraft fleet compositions, it is quite evident that the emissions resulting from flights taken over identical distances would vary with the choice of airline.