As part of my subscription to The Economist, every now and then I am sent a copy of their glossy companion – Intelligent Life. Normally there is usually a rapid correlation between my desk and the rubbish bin because I find the magazine full of vacuous glossy rubbish. This year, something interrupted the trajectory of the magazine, and I am quite glad that it did. Buried in the articles on cars, wine, food, and fashion is a thoughtful little article about carbon equivalence (see article).
When discussing the green agenda, the conversation normally becomes bogged down in meaningless statistics. The idea of carbon equivalence is to establish an exchange rate for our activities so that we can weigh the choices that we make. For example, we have previously calculated that the amount of US corn derived bio-diesel used to fuel an SUV for a month could feed a family of four in Mexico for a year (see post). In making such comparisons, a comparator is needed. The British Physicist David MacKay proposes using the ‘Kilowatt Hours Per day (kwh/d) as the base unit of account in comparing various activities.
The article very kindly points to Professor MacKay’s book on the subject, which is available as a free download from here. This is an immense step forward. If we can establish the currency of carbon reduction, we will then be able to measure and monitor our activities. From a policy perspective, we will be able to establish a value for the taxation of activities that do not enhance the carbon profile, and we will be able to calculate the import duties to be added to the goods of those nations that provide a carbon subsidy to their economies – such as China, India, and the US – by not effectively tackling the issue of carbon reduction.
I have to admit to being surprised to find such a forward thinking article in a glossy magazine. Perhaps I ought not to be too hasty in throwing away future editions?