Reducing Carbon Footprint is Not Painless

It is a really good thing that data centers and service providers data centers and communications service providers now are working to reduce their carbon footprints. 

Sometimes the magnitude of the changes is hard to assess, in personal terms, as those changes by firms are not directly experienced. 

This estimate by Business Insider suggests a typical U.S. resident produces 17 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Some of us would be happy it was only that much.

Other estimates peg typical carbon footprint at 20 tons per year, with an absolute minimum of perhaps 8.5 tons (no home, no car, mostly carbon embedded in food consumption). And I have seen estimates as high as 26 tons per year. Of course, it all depends on one’s assumptions.

I did some calculations of what it would take to get my own footprint cut nearly in half, using 26 tons are the baseline, in other words aiming for about 14 tons annually.

The assumptions include business travel on airplanes, one of the worst carbon impacts. A long story made short, I’d have to stop flying altogether, and stop using a private auto altogether, to have any shot at reaching 14 tons of carbon production per year.


That sort of hints at the actual sacrifices most people might have to make, to get more carbon neutral. Low carbon lifestyle, no matter how we frame it, is a tax on living standards. Some of that hit arguably consists of us being more careful about how we define lifestyle.

In other words, some changes simply mean a shift to lower-carbon output, without necessarily “lowering” living standards.

But I found it hard to escape the reality that quality of life was going to be affected in serious ways. Granted, one might argue that personal carbon and work-related carbon output should be treated separately. In that case, I’d have a shot at 14 tons. But only a shot. Major limitations on air travel might still be required. I have not modeled that scenario. Sobering, very sobering.

And it has to be said: rich people will simply buy offsets and do as they please. Most working people cannot afford to pay the carbon tax without cutting somewhere else. It is disingenuous to argue otherwise.  

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