It can be hard to imagine how much impact our lives have on the world. On average European lifestyles mean that the equivalent of 15 tonnes of carbon is released into the atmosphere per person, per year — the same weight as two fully grown elephants. Face your carbon elephant and see how you could reduce your elephant footprint!
What to do
Print out the PDF, put the elephant to one side for the moment.
Cut out the lifestyle cards and separate those that fit with your life in the last year and those that don’t. For example, if you eat meat more than once a week as well as exotic fruits and vegetables and cheese regularly, you should choose the large food card. If you went on a holiday to the US last year you should choose the inter-continental holiday card. You should be careful to include the appropriate energy card for each electrical appliance you own.
When you have done this, add up the squares to calculate your carbon footprint for the year. Each square equals 100kg of C02e.
Now divide your items into the things you need and those which you simply want. Then try to decide on what a reasonable yearly consumption would be. What do you think would be sustainable?
A baby elephant weighs about three tonnes — translated to C02e, 3 tonnes would be a sustainable annual carbon footprint level. In Europe we have an average carbon footprint of approximately 15 tonnes Co2e which is the same as two fully grown elephants. So on average we use 3 times as much carbon as is sustainable.
Take your copy of the elephant and see if you can reduce your footprint further to fit into the squares on the baby elephant.
Did you manage to reduce your carbon footprint to a sustainable level? Were there things that you had to remove but really didn’t want to? What would be hardest to live without?
Are there changes you would be prepared to make? What are they?
Which things are you not prepared to live without? What do you think is an achievable footprint for you?
The calculations used in this method are rough but are reasonably accurate (it is almost impossible to get a perfectly accurate calculation due to all the different factors and processes involved). Many of the estimates are adapted from ‘How bad are bananas’ by Mike Berners-Lee, Profile Books 2010.
‘Carbon footprint’ is a term we have used loosely. ‘Footprint’ indicates the impact something has, ‘carbon’ is used to cover all greenhouse gases.
Co2e is a rough calculation meaning ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’ (including all greenhouse gases, not only carbon dioxide). Therefore the carbon footprint indicates the rough climate change impact of something measured in kilos of carbon dioxide
Take it further
This activity was adapted from the Handbook for Action Against Climate Change from our partners at IFM-SEI. With lots of useful background information and more activities for groups on the climate emergency.