No, the carbon footprint of travel is not four times as big as we thought

A new study looks at the full carbon impact of travel, but it is probably being misinterpreted.

A new study, The carbon footprint of global tourism, is causing a stir, with news sources writing headlines like Global tourism’s carbon footprint is four times bigger than thought, study says or Tourism’s carbon impact three times larger than estimated. They all report that the study claims tourism accounts for 8 percent of carbon emissions, but that “previous estimates of the impact of all this travel on carbon suggested that tourism accounted for 2.5-3% of emissions.” Almost every story is illustrated with a photo of airplanes.

TreeHugger has been on this case for a while, starting with George Monbiot’s Flying is Dying, when he noted that “If we want to stop the planet from cooking, we will simply have to stop traveling at the kind of speeds that planes permit.” That’s why a lot of people have given it up and others (like me) buy offsets to assuage their guilt.

But this study doesn’t just look at the impact of the flying; it looks at the entire picture of tourism, including what people do when they get to where they are going. They look at the carbon footprint of what happens when you get off the plane: getting around, staying at a hotel, buying food in restaurants and shopping. They look at the supply chains getting all this stuff to where the tourist is visiting.

It adds up to a lot of carbon, and as the world gets richer, more people are doing it. But in general, as people get richer, their carbon footprint increases whether they are traveling or not. And that is what I think is so confusing about this report; it is not as much about the carbon footprint of travel as it is the carbon footprint of living, with some transportation thrown in.

The emissions from road transport are larger than those from air transport. The emissions from buying goods is almost as high as flying. The agriculture to make the food, combined with the food service and food is almost as high. In fact when you total them up, the stuff of living while traveling is just about as much as the traveling itself.

And that is the biggest issue here; wherever people are, they gotta eat, they gotta sleep. Where people get richer, they eat more and spend more. Yet, the authors of the study note (my emphasis):

It could be argued that food, shopping and ground transport be counted net of what tourists would have eaten, purchased or traveled had they stayed at home. If only additional emissions were counted with reference to a stay-home scenario, air travel may well come out as the dominant emissions component. We do not attempt to quantify additionality for a number of reasons, but most importantly because food, shopping and transport by international visitors increase the carbon footprint of destinations, as opposed to the carbon foot-prints of the visitors’ home country. These activities matter for international embodied carbon transfers.

Carbon Movements© Blue is international travel; yellow is for domestic holidays.

In other words, this is more about carbon transfers than it is about consumption and carbon generation. You do learn interesting things, watching how carbon takes a vacation; Americans and Chinese tend to stay in their own countries while Canadians and Mexicans visit the States a lot. In fact Canada, with a tenth the population of the USA, has more traveling carbon in total that all of the USA. But so what? My carbon footprint may be higher when I travel because I eat out more often, but I also walk, bike or take transit and don’t use a car. I may shop for stuff, but I do that at home too.

Should we be flying all over the place? Of course not. Eric Holthaus, Grist’s meteorologist, gave up flying in 2014 and tells the Christian Science Monitor that he is taking local trips instead.

“What we’re talking about is a change in culture, getting happiness from more local travel, or slower travel,” Holthaus says. A jet-setting culture in which people travel around the globe for a few days or a week is “not compatible with a future that is livable.”

He is right. More people are flying, new and bigger airports are being built, and travel is having a bigger footprint as people get richer. But this study is, I think, being misinterpreted. CO2 doesn’t recognize borders, but this study seems to be all about them.

The carbon footprint of travel is not three or four times as big as we thought; we are just taking our carbon with us. You have to subtract the stuff of daily life.

On sister site, Starre Vartan looks at this study and concludes that when we travel, we can still do our best to reduce our carbon footprint once we are there, all of which are sensible and help.

What are the solutions to reducing impact if you love to travel? Vacationing closer to home is one simple way to cut emissions. (Let’s bring back the summer lake vacation!) You can always refuse housekeeping when you stay at hotels, or better yet, seek out smaller, family-run, eco-friendly accommodations. Use public transportation instead of renting a car, and pack light.

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This 3D “Carbon Copy” of Jesus Was Created Using The Shroud of Turin

“We believe that we have the precise image of what Jesus looked like on this earth,” said Professor Giulio Fanti of the University of Padua.

“This statue is the three-dimensional representation in actual size of the Man of the Shroud, created following the precise measurements taken from the cloth in which the body of Christ was wrapped after the crucifixion,” explains Giulio Fanti, teacher of mechanical and thermal measurements at the University of Padua, who studies the Shroud. Based on his measurements, the professor has created a “carbon copy” in 3D which, he claims, allows him to affirm that these are the true features of the crucified Christ.

“Therefore, we believe that we finally have the precise image of what Jesus looked like on this earth. From now on, He may no longer be depicted without taking this work into account.” The professor granted exclusive coverage of his work to the weekly periodical Chi, to which he revealed: “According to our studies, Jesus was a man of extraordinary beauty. Long-limbed, but very robust, he was nearly 5 ft. 11 in. tall, whereas the average height at the time was around 5 ft. 5 in. And he had a regal and majestic expression.” (Vatican Insider)

Through the study and three-dimensional projection of the figure, Fanti was also able to count the numerous wounds on the body of the man of the Shroud:

“On the Shroud,” the professor explains, “I counted 370 wounds from the flagellation, without taking into account the wounds on his sides, which the Shroud doesn’t show because it only enveloped the back and front of the body. We can therefore hypothesize a total of at least 600 blows. In addition, the three-dimensional reconstruction has made it possible to discover that at the moment of his death, the man of the Shroud sagged down towards the right, because his right shoulder was dislocated so seriously as to injure the nerves.” (Il Mattino di Padova)

The questions surrounding the mystery of the Shroud are still intact; certainly, in that tortured man we see the signs of suffering in which we find also a piece of each one of ourselves, but also—seen by the eyes of faith—hope that this man was not just anyone, but the Man par excellence, that “Behold the Man” who appeared docilely before Pilate and who, after the terrible flagellation, was raised up on the cross as an innocent man; not only innocent, but taking upon himself the guilt of all people. While belief in the Shroud is not obligatory, even for Christians, the exceptionality of that piece of linen remains there to challenge our understanding and our certainties, almost like a certain Jesus of Nazareth, who challenged our certainties by loving his persecutors, forgiving them from the cross, and conquering death, 2,000 years ago …

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The ultimate scam: How Al Gore became the world’s first "carbon billionaire" by profiting off irrational climate fears

Image: The ultimate scam: How Al Gore became the world’s first “carbon billionaire” by profiting off irrational climate fears

(Natural News)
One of the greatest scams of the 21st century started with former vice president Al Gore, who influentially introduced the concept of “global warming” to the world. Now, the truth about Gore’s “global warming” scam is documented in a new book by Marc Morano, titled, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change, available at Barnes and Noble.

At the turn of the century, Al Gore’s assets totaled between $780,000 and $1.9 million. After years of scaring the public with “threat of global warming” and convincing legislators to invest taxpayer money into climate change initiatives, Gore’s wealth multiplied. By 2007, Gore’s net worth was “well in excess” of $100 million. Gore had successfully used a climate panic to sway the government to invest in the economic sectors he was poised and ready to profit from. Under the Obama administration, taxpayer money flooded Gore’s investments, with energy stimulus packages awarding Gore’s tremendous hoodwink on the public.

Al Gore, the world’s first “carbon billionaire”

MIT scientist Richard Lindzen called Gore out for wanting to become the first “carbon billionaire.” By 2008, Gore put $300 million into a campaign to promote climate fears while offering carbon reduction solutions that benefited the firms he was invested in. In fact, when the Obama Administration introduced a “renewable energy” solution for the economy, fourteen of the tech firms Gore was invested in had received and/or benefited from over $2.5 billion in loans, grants, and tax breaks. Indeed, Gore had become the first “carbon billionaire.”

Congressman Fred Upton from Michigan called out Gore for using his circle of influence within the investment world and in Washington to profit off taxpayer funds. “Global warming” had done nothing but make Al Gore and his friends rich, while siphoning off billions of dollars from the taxpayers of the U.S. (For more on this topic, visit

Global warming beneficiaries threaten skeptics while the future looks bright for more “carbon billionaires” looking to benefit from geoengineering

Where there is a great amount of money to uphold a dogma, there are threats to silence those who challenge that dogma. That’s exactly what has happened over the years when scientists disagree with the theory of “global warming.” In 2014, the Gawker website urged that climate denialists should face jail time. Headlines such as “Arrest Climate-Change Deniers” attacked global warming skeptics by calling them “Criminally negligent” and demanding that “It’s time to punish the climate-change liars.” Fake environmentalist David Suzuki called for government leaders who are skeptical of global warming to be “thrown in jail.” “I really believe that people like the former prime minister of Canada should be thrown in jail for willful blindness,” he mouthed off.

The dogmatic war on carbon will lead to more calculated investments. The newest solutions for combating “global warming” are geoengineering schemes. Scientists, such as David Keith from Harvard University are proposing ways to spray the Earth’s upper atmosphere with light-reflecting particles to block the sun’s heat. The firms that will benefit from the blanketing of the Earth’s skies will deal in sulfur, aluminum, lithium, and barium. Chemtrails are being witnessed in many places as geoengineering becomes public knowledge, exiting the realm of conspiracy theory. Even though the UN is no longer backing “infeasible” geoengineering projects, investors will be looking for new ways to be the “solution” to global warming by spraying the world’s skies with chemicals. The corruption of Al Gore’s global warming crusade will continue on into the future, as nefarious forces attempt to cash in on the fears by spraying the Earth’s skies.

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UK carbon emissions levels same as in 1890

I’ve written before about UK carbon emissions falling to Victorian-era levels, but it’s a story so good that it’s worth repeating. Because Carbon Brief—the folks who prompted these headlines last time—just updated their data for 2017, and it turns out that CO2 emissions fell a further 2.6% last year.

Driving that decarbonization was a further 19% decline in coal use—marking the continuation of a trend that’s seen emissions from UK electricity cut in half since 2012. (There are, it should be noted, legitimate questions to be had about biomass replacing coal in this transition.)

Progress so far should be celebrated. But what comes next is an open question, because coal is the low hanging fruit. Now that much of it has been eliminated, Britain will have to tackle areas like transportation, land use and agriculture—not to mention the use of natural gas for electricity and heating too.

And those are likely to be considerably more challenging.

We may celebrate, for example, the improvements in air quality when diesel car sales in England drop, but for the short term at least, a switch back to gasoline/petrol will actually drive up CO2 emissions. Fortunately, from bike infrastructure to plug-in cars, there are signs that Britain is still committed to broader decarbonization.

Here’s hoping that the momentum can continue.

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Ontario Conservative politicians running from carbon taxes

Going green is going too far.

The Liberal government in Canada’s province of Ontario has been in power for a long time, and is due for an election this June. The government is deeply unpopular outside of the big cities primarily because a) the Premier is a gay woman and b) green energy policies. I wrote about the last Premier stepping down:

It is the coal that killed him; In the last election he lost a huge number of seats in rural ridings divided by wind turbines on land and offshore. To save an important seat in Oakville, Ontario, he cancelled a natural gas peaker plant that was already ordered; This is growing in to a half a billion dollar scandal. Dalton was done in by his green energy policies and the NIMBY reaction to them. It is a cautionary tale.

Kathleen WynneOntario Wind Resistance/ Premier Kathleen Wynne up against Wind/via

The opposition Conservative party should have won the last two elections after all these scandals, but they kept choosing seriously right-wing leaders who scared urban and suburban voters (the majority in the Province now) away.

People's guaranteeProgressive Conservative Party Peoples’ Guarantee/Screen capture

Enter Patrick Brown, who became party leader in May, 2015. He tacked hard to the left as what used to be known as a “Red Tory”- unlike the USA, in Canada red means liberal and left, blue means conservative and right. His “People’s Guarantee” probably would be too left wing for American Democrats. It also had a carbon tax that seemed quite sensible; according to Tony Keller in the conservative Globe and Mail,

A revenue-neutral carbon tax is also beloved by economists, since it involves raising taxes on something our society wants less of – pollution – and using the money to lower taxes on the productive economic activities we want more of, such as paid work.

Then Patrick Brown got caught up in a #metoo scandal and was dumped as leader about three hours later, and there is now a last-minute leadership campaign to replace him. And the biggest question right now is who can run furthest and fastest from the carbon tax.

The candidate to come out against it was Doug Ford, yes, the late Rob Ford’s brother. He is picking up the hard right wing torch and will burn the province down, like he almost did to the city. He is quoted in the Star:

I am the only candidate who has been unequivocal in opposition to the carbon tax and … have been clear since day one. I will axe the carbon tax. Just watch me.

Christine Elliot is the experienced hand in the race, and is listening to the Vox populi:

I personally oppose a carbon tax, and I know many of you feel the same way. This leadership race is a way for you to have your say.

Not to be left out of the party, Caroline Mulroney, daughter of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who was a really red Tory, even signing a free trade deal with Ronald Reagan, has flipped over.

As the leader of our party I will not support a carbon tax. I’m a conservative and I’m not in favour of a new tax, especially Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax,” she said, adding she has “now had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of members of our party” and “consulted with members of our caucus and our nominated candidates.”

Patrick Brown told one interviewer that “we have to take climate change seriously. We can’t avoid conversations on the environment.” But apparently it is back to business as usual; if you are a Progressive Conservative, you can.

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BEAUTIFUL CO2: Higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere linked to more flowers blooming in tropical forests

Image: BEAUTIFUL CO2: Higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere linked to more flowers blooming in tropical forests

(Natural News)
The increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) brought about by climate change resulted in an increase in flower production in remote tropical forests across of the globe, according to a study published in the journal Global Change Biology.

A team of researchers at Florida State University examined plant materials obtained from tropical forests of Panama’s Barro Colorado Island to investigate the effects of rising CO2 levels on plant life. The research team also took into account various environmental factors — such as temperature, rainfall, and light — that may impact the annual flowering activity and flowering duration of plant species found in the forest. The experts found that increased CO2 levels had the most pronounced effect on the plants’ flowering activities.

“It’s really remarkable. Over the past several decades, we’ve seen temperatures warming and carbon dioxide increasing, and our study found that this tropical forest has responded to that increase by producing more flowers. Tropical forests have evolved in generally stable climates. So while they may not be warming as much as some higher-latitude ecosystems, these tropical species appear to be much more sensitive than we might have expected,” lead researcher Stephanie Pau told Science Daily online.

According to the research team, the elevated CO2 levels in the atmosphere spurred the island’s flora to allocate more energy in producing flowers. The experts noted that certain plant species continue to expand their reproductive activities in response to the rising carbon dioxide concentrations. However, some plant species such as canopy trees and lianas exhibited more stabilized activities. The experts added that forests may continue experiencing new ecological shifts as a result of higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

“The effect of atmospheric CO2 on flowering has diminished over the most recent decade for lianas and canopy trees, whereas flowering of midstory trees and shrub species continued to increase with rising CO2. Increases in flowering were accompanied by a lengthening of flowering duration for canopy and midstory trees. Understory treelets did not show increases in flowering but did show increases in duration,” the study’s abstract read.

“Given that atmospheric CO2 will likely continue to climb over the next century, a long-term increase in flowering activity may persist in some growth forms until checked by nutrient limitation or by climate change through rising temperatures, increasing drought frequency and/or increasing cloudiness and reduced insolation,” the researchers wrote.

Review: Increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere may also accelerate flowering time

A meta-analysis published in the journal New Phytologist revealed that higher CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere may also speed up the flowering process in both agricultural and wild plant species. The researchers explained that carbon metabolism exerts partial control on flowering time, and thus might play a role in accelerated flowering time in plants. (Related: The REAL SCIENCE behind carbon dioxide: Plants use CO2 to create CBD, THC, curcumin and all medicinal molecules.)

According to the review, certain perennial and annual crops and flowering plants — such as African violet, blackeyed pea and bush bean as well as rice, cucumber and pepper — exhibited an earlier flowering season in response to the elevated CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. The researchers also found that up to 80 percent of wild plant species had earlier flowering seasons. The experts added that some plant varieties that bloom early were able to reach the minimum size required for flowering earlier in the season.

The research team noted that the changes in flowering time due to elevated CO2 levels may alter crop productivity and yield, and stressed that understanding the flowering-time responses of crops should be a priority for crop-breeding initiatives meant to optimize crop yield.

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This Green School In Bali Is Designed To Have The Lowest Carbon Footprint Possible

By Fattima Mahdi Truth Theory

The Green School is situated in the heart of the Indonesian jungle, Bali. The school is made entirely of bamboo and features a unique, holistic curriculum that inspires approximately 400 young learners to become green leaders.

The school was founded by John Hardy and his wife Cynthia, they were jewelers who were initially drawn to Bali for its emphasis on craftsmanship. They home-schooled their four children for years before deciding to start The Green School in 2008. “Green School is a model we built for the world,” said John Hardy. “And you just have to follow these three simple rules: Be local, let the environment lead, and think about how your grandchildren might build.”

What do you want in a school? When you step onto a school campus, what do you want to see, hear, experience and feel? Imagine this, a school without walls, a campus which ignites the senses and the natural curiosity of children, a place where innovation, creativity and learning flourish, a community, which has come together from all corners of the globe to share new experiences, a place of joy.” – Leslie Medema, Head of Academics

“Our curriculum is based on three frames of learning: proficiency, thematic, and experiential,” says Noan Fesnoux, the school’s Green Studies Projects Coordinator. “The thematic frame is integrative, taking a topic and exploring it from all viewpoints. For example, for a unit on hydroelectricity, we incorporate geography through looking at dams around the world, physics through concepts like pressure and electric generators, social studies through stories of displaced families, and environmental science through impact studies of dams.”

With its dynamic campus and radical approach to teaching and learning, the Green School has gained a lot of attention from parents all over the world. Some parents have even moved to Bali so that they can send their children to the school.  One day, the Green School hopes that its model will become the norm and not the exception.

Read more: This Indonesian Town Has Been Transformed Into A Beautiful ‘Rainbow Village’

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AP Runs Interference for Washington Governor Inslee’s Punitive, Ever-Increasing Carbon Tax

Dedicated tax-and-spend liberals often get help from the press in describing their plans to raid constituents’ pocketbooks in vague terms, while nobly describing the alleged benefits of their plans to use the money.

Washington’s Democratic Governor Jay Inslee has the Associated Press running that kind of interference for his carbon tax. Continue reading AP Runs Interference for Washington Governor Inslee’s Punitive, Ever-Increasing Carbon Tax

Scientists Have Made Biodegradable Plastic From Sugar & Carbon Dioxide

Next Story

We are producing and consuming plastic at an exponential rate, and at this point we are producing more plastic than ever before. The big problem with plastic is that it does not break down, in fact, according to GreenPeace – every piece of plastic that has ever been created still exists somewhere on the planet. That’s an alarming statistic, especially when you consider every plastic bottle, bag, wrapper, toothbrush, etc. By 2050 our oceans might contain more plastic than fish, and 80% of our tap water may contain microplastics if we don’t do something to change our current habits.

Fortunately, this problem is garnering a lot of attention and there are many initiatives designed to cut back, limit, and provide alternatives to our plastic consumption. The New Plastics Economy, for example, is aiming to reverse this problem by encouraging the plastics industry to design reusable plastic products. Others are looking to change the very nature of plastic altogether, and are searching for more  alternatives.

Have We Found A Solution?

Scientists from the Centre of Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath have now successfully created a plastic that does not use harmful chemicals during production, which creates pollution. This new method is completely biodegradable, and  it’s made from sugar and carbon dioxide – nothing more. CO2 is added to naturally occurring sugar from thymidine at very low pressures at room temperature.

This process creates a polycarbonate, which is a tough type of plastic that can make beverage containers, lenses for glasses, DVD’s, CD’s (in case anyone still uses those things 😉 ) and scratch resistant screens for cell phones. Typically, polycarbonates are made from petroleum and the chemicals that come from it. These plastics DO NOT biodegrade and we have been producing and consuming them at an alarming rate since the invention of plastics derived from fossil fuels in 1907.

It wasn’t until WW1 that plastics began being produced, plastic changed many aspects of our lives and even though it seems shocking to us now, it seems no one really thought about the potential long term effects of this exponential plastic production, where it would all end up and whether or not it would harm our environment.

Biodegradable Plastics Do Exist

Unlike the petroleum-based polycarbonates we’ve been using for decade, the plastics created by the team at the University of Bath can break down naturally. We have seen a few other examples of biodegradable plastics, but these attempts have been harshly criticized. As pointed out by the UN Environment Programmes chief scientist, Jacqueline McGlade, they were only a “false solution” because many of these alternatives would only biodegrade at temperatures of 50C. This isn’t exactly a common temperature in most  parts of the world.

The plastic created by the scientists from the University of Bath do not need high temperatures to degrade. Instead, they can  be completely degraded back into sugar and CO2 just by the enzymes which are found naturally in the bacteria located within the soil.

Another plus to this new plastic is that it is completely void of any and all toxic chemicals, so the production does not create any pollution. Also, most polycarbonates contain bisophenol-A, which you might know by the name  of ‘BPA,’ it’s a known toxin and hormone disruptor that’s often used in drink and food containers. At certain temperatures, these toxins can also leak into our foods that we store in them.

What About Other Biodegradable Plastics Made From Sugar?

There have been other attempts, and successful ones in terms of their ability to biodegrade, but the problem with these is that the manufacturing process contains the use of a highly toxic chemical called phosgene. Phosgene was actually used as a weapon of chemical warfare during World War 1 and was responsible for 85% of the deaths caused by gas attacks.

According to the scientists of this newly developed plastic from the University of Bath,

“Our process uses carbon dioxide instead of the highly toxic chemical phosgene, and produces a plastic that is free from BPA,” said Dr Antoine Buchard, Whorrod Research Fellow at the University of Bath’s Department of Chemistry.

“So not only is the plastic safer, but the manufacture process is cleaner too.”

By selecting thymidine as the sugar used to create the biodegradable plastic, the university’s scientists may also have found a medical application for it.

“Thymidine is one of the units that makes up DNA,” said Georgina Gregory, a PhD student and lead author of the research paper.

“Because it is already present in the body, it means this plastic will be bio-compatible and can be used safely for tissue engineering applications.”

This Is Great News, But What Can We Do Now?

It is amazing to see that safer, cleaner, environmentally friendly alternatives are becoming available, but the fact of the matter is that they are not yet in widespread use and as consumers we must take responsibility for our actions and be the change we wish to see. Vote with your dollar! 

There are many ways you can reduce your plastic consumption, here are just a few examples,

  • Use a reusable water bottle
  • Opt for no straw when at a restaurant
  • Bring your own containers if ordering take out
  • Say no to a lid at your coffee spot or bring your own reusable mug
  • Use glass containers for storage of leftover food
  • Try using alternatives to saran wrap
  • Buy in bulk, using reusable bags
  • Bring reusable bags to the grocery store
  • Don’t purchase products packed in a ton of plastic
  • Buy products that are made to last
  • Simply stop consuming products that come in plastic i.e. Coca Cola
  • Make your own personal care and cleaning products

There are so many ways that we can easily incorporate these changes into our daily lives and find ways to cut down on the amount of waste we are producing. If we don’t do this now, it is possible that it will be too late. It is up to each and every one of us to take responsibility, learn from our mistakes and be the change we wish to see. Do you want to be a part of the solution or a part of the problem? The choice is yours.

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The New Carbon Architecture, or why we should be "Building out of sky" (Book Review)

This book makes the convincing case that we have to change the way we build, that it is no longer enough just to save energy.

French mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal once wrote “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte,” loosely translated as “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.” In the introduction to his book The New Carbon Architecture, Bruce King writes:

This could have been a much bigger book. It might have been a 400 page tome fully reporting the state of the art with tables, graphs and other hallmarks of good science, or it could have been shaped as an academic textbook. But it seemed better to get the idea out into the world, as simply and readably as possible.

So he rounded up some of the best minds in the business, “and it took some persuading to get them to provide just the ‘elevator pitch’ summaries of their respective work in their respective fields.” They certainly delivered more than just elevator pitches; they add up to “a collection of useful essays sketching a new palette of materials for a new century.”

Net-Zero buildings that use less energy than they generate are a good start, but don’t go nearly far enough; here we point out how to design and build truly zero carbon buildings — the New Carbon Architecture.

We covered the ideas in the book previously in Why we should be building out of sunshine

Bruce King has nothing against carbon; we are all made of it. He calls carbon “the party animal of elements” because of its ability to bond with nitrogen, iron and oxygen “to make all sorts of interesting delights like giraffes, redwood trees, poodles and you.” The problem is that you can have too much of a good thing, in the wrong places. The issue of concern is Carbon Dioxide, or CO2, and its equivalents in other emissions.

MIT graph© MIT

TreeHugger covered this in Does embodied energy really matter in green building?

It all starts with a bang in Chapter One, where Erin McDade explains why the embodied carbon in our buildings matters at all. For years it has been a standard argument that operating energy overwhelms embodied energy really quickly, so that adding a little more high-energy foam insulation pays for itself in carbon really quickly. But it is not true anymore; as buildings get more efficient, that carbon hit from construction matters more and more. In a high efficiency building it matters a lot. If you are looking at shorter deadlines (like being carbon free by 2050) it matters even more. McDade concludes:

To have any hope of meeting our climate change goals, we need to rethink our traditional carbon analysis mechanisms and design processes. Whole building lifespans do not accommodate the urgency of climate change; carbon emitted today has much, much more impact than carbon emitted after 2050, and we cannot continue to underestimate the effects of embodied carbon emissions.

Frieze building being demolishedJim Howe: Frieze Building, Ann Arbor Michigan, 20047/CC BY 2.0

TreeHugger covered this in Embodied Energy and Green Building: Does it matter? In chapter 3, Larry Strain makes a great case for renovation, noting that there are two reasons to do it:

The first is to reduce operating emissions from existing buildings, and that applies to all buildings. The second is to reduce embodied emissions by renovating existing structures instead of building new ones.

This is a position that many of us in the heritage preservation movement have been making for years; we are often told that buildings have to come down because “they will be replaced with a LEED Platinum energy saving building” without even considering the embodied energy expended making the new one.

metropol© Liesa JohannssenFrom Adventures in Engineering: ARUP and the Metropol Parasol

Much of the book is devoted to the wonders of building in wood, which we have written about so often on TreeHugger that I will not go into great detail. But there is a great essay by Jordan Grant, who points out that “the carbon embodied in wood products accounts for only a fraction of the overall carbon stored in the forest they come from – as little as 18 percent by one estimate.” Lots of carbon is still released from rotting logging slash and exposed soils. The logging has to be done carefully, less intensively and more selectively to keep more carbon out of the atmosphere. Which is why we keep talking about the need to use sustainably harvested and certified wood.

Chris HomeChris in front of “canada’s greenest home”/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0TreeHugger meets Chris Magwood in Is this Canada’s Greenest Home?

Chapter 5 has Chris Magwood and Massey Burke looking at straw and other fibres, including straw blocks that look like Lego, Hemp and other straw bale products and designs. “The big advantage is that they are cheap and plentiful, and sequester carbon that would otherwise end up in the air. The primary disadvantage is their susceptibility to moisture decay.“ There is no question, it is a lot more work than a wall of styrofoam. But as Chris concludes,

Straw is a humble and unassuming material, yet it is also one of the most direct links between the human economy and the global carbon cycle; we are only just learning how to use it creatively. Most of the excitement is still to come. Stay tuned.

toothpick tower© PLP Architecture via Cambridge University From TreeHugger: Is an 80-storey plyscraper too much of a wood thing?

It is not all about wood and straw; there is a chapter about re-inventing concrete and making it better, which deserves a post of its own. There is a lot happening in the concrete world that we have barely touched on TreeHugger. There is a good discussion about the health benefits of natural building materials, and Ann V. Edminster does a great chapter on height and density, which is critically important when you realize that transportation now produces more carbon than any other sector.

Tesla 3 from above© Tesla My own rant on Teslas: Why we don’t need electric cars, but need to get rid of cars

Bruce King even ends with a rant about a Tesla with the licence plate ZERO CARB and another sporting FRE NRG “articulating in six letters the bookend myth of the green movement and really our entire culture.”

Call me a party pooper but there’s no zero emissions and there’s no “free energy”. Everything we do has effects, some of which we see and some of which we don’t.

Thinking again of Blaise Pascal, one realizes what an important book this is. It is carefully crafted to explain the essentials of some very complicated and controversial ideas in a very readable, even entertaining form that is accessible to anyone. It’s hard work, distilling so much knowledge and information into 140 pages (with lots of illustrations too!). But as Paul Hawken blurbs on the cover, it is “a fantastic, timely, important book.”

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