It’s time to invite the neighbours for a barbecue. I’ve been borrowing a lot of stuff from them lately. And I’m looking forward to some sizzling steaks and cold beer on the patio. Out comes the shopping list. Maybe scotch fillet this time.
Marg looks over my shoulder, “Have you thought about the emissions from beef? Cows belch a lot of methane.” Oh no.
This is a good time to try out our new voice–activated Google Assistant. “Hey Google, What’s the problem with…”
Google cuts me off: “Methane?”
Now, that’s just creepy. “Hey Google, how did you know what I was going to ask?”
Google: “I like to help with what you are thinking.”
Me: “Have you been spying on us?”
Google: “Absolutely not! I only observe your interests so I can bring you answers and products you like. Think of me as your personal Information matchmaker in the cloud.”
Humm. I go on: “OK, What about methane?”
Google: “Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with 25 times the global warming potential of CO2 over a hundred year period. It breaks down to CO2 and water in a few decades but its concentration in the atmosphere is rising faster than CO2.”
“There is an organisation in America called the Environmental Working Group that has calculated how much greenhouse gas is produced by each kilogram of beef consumed…”
Wait a minute. How did Google know that I was going to ask about beef?... Never mind.
“The calculations include farming, processing, transportation, cooking, trimming and waste. One kilogram of consumed beef creates an equivalent to 27 kg of CO2 emissions.”
Wow! That’s about the same as driving from Blenheim to Nelson! But wait a minute, these are numbers for American beef, which is mostly grain-fed. Ours is grass-fed in clean green pastures. Maybe it is less.
Me: “What about…“ Google: “Probably about the same as grain-fed. Grass-fed has lower emissions per year but grain-fed beef grows faster, so it may actually have lower lifetime emissions.”
Blast! I can’t serve beef at the barbecue. The kids will bash me up with their climate protest posters.
Me: “What about…”
Google: “Lamb has even higher emissions. They also belch methane and less of the animal is used for meat. One kilogram of consumed lamb creates the equivalent to 39 kg CO2.”
Me: “What about…”
Google: “Pork is less, creating emissions equivalent to about 12 kg CO2 per kg consumed, about the same as farmed salmon. Chicken is lowest, creating equivalent to about 7 kg CO2 per kg consumed.”
Marg comes into the room: “So, what are we going to have?” It’s too late, she’s overheard my conversation. “Chicken”, I answer back. She smiles, “Good choice. And you’ll be using charcoal instead of propane, I presume. Propane creates about 3 kg CO2 for every kg burned, you know.”
Now, which of my neighbours has a charcoal barbecue I can borrow?
I need to get down to Christchurch to visit some friends. It has simply been too long and they are going to forget I exist. I was already to hop into my trusty rusty old Subaru when Marg caught me up. “What about your emissions? How much greenhouse gas are you going to produce? You know, we all need to do our bit.”
Crikey! I hadn’t thought about that! It was time to put pencil to paper and resurrect the maths I learned back in the Pleistocene (i.e., how many woolly mammoths does it take to…). Let’s see…
The Subaru uses 10 litres petrol per 100 km and a litre of petrol produces 2.4 kg of CO2. Google Maps tells me that the round trip from Blenheim along Hwy 1 is 614 km. So, if I drive, I’ll produce 147 kg of CO2. That is close to twice my weight in greenhouse gas! Is there a better option?
Air New Zealand calculates your emissions when you book flights, so a quick play on the internet finds that I’ll produce 69 kg CO2 for the 490 km round trip. That’s better, and the flight is a bit of fun if the weather is clear (and a bit of terror if it is not). Now it is down to under my weight in CO2, at least.
But I haven’t taken the train since the tracks were reopened after the earthquake. How about that? Kiwirail is a bit cagey about their emissions per passenger-kilometre, so I turn to the trusty Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DRFRA) tables from the UK. These are tables that businesses use to calculate their emissions, as required by law in the UK. Here I find that the round trip would produce about 27 kg CO2. Better still! About a third my weight in CO2. And I get to brag about how beautiful the Coastal Pacific trip is to my mates who haven’t ridden it yet.
I’m all ready to book the ticket when Marg appears again, like the little voice in my conscience, whispering into my ear. “What about the bus?” Nuts. Do I really want to take the bus? Granted, it would be the cheapest option. “OK, I’ll check”, I growl. Out come the DRFRA tables again and it’s only 17 kg CO2 for the round trip! That’s about one-eighth of what it would be if I took the Subaru!
Marg smiles. “So, you’ll be taking the bus, right? And you can ride your bicycle to the bus station with your backpack! My handsome eco-warrior.” She has me. Looks like I’ll be taking the bus.
The posts are a collection of opinion articles written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim.