Dear Umbra,

I want to adopt the Kyoto treaty myself and adjust my lifestyle accordingly. No waiting, and to hell with George Bush! If my nation had adopted it, I’d have to be doing it anyway. So what is my per-capita fossil-fuel ration for the next 10 years, how do I measure it, how do I account for indirect consumption, etc.? Please advise. Thanks!

Hans Noeldner
Oregon, Wis.

Dearest Hans,

Good for you. The average American emits 6.6 tons of greenhouse gases per year. Gadzooks! Lots of room for improvement.

Better calculate than never.

As you live in an industrialized nation, you will be an “Annex I” party to the Kyoto Protocol. The Annex I goal is, between 2008 and 2012, to lower greenhouse-gas emissions to 5 percent below 1990 levels. As you can see, it’s not a universal amount; it’s related to your own past.

So, how to set your goals? It’s going to take a little time and a little math. Using one of the many greenhouse-gas calculators listed by the U.S. EPA, determine your present and 1990 emissions as best you can. Collect your utility bills and travel records before you start, since knowing kilowatt-hours, oil and gas burned, miles traveled, etc., will increase accuracy. For nailing down indirect emissions — the energy used to, say, ship mangoes to the supermarket — I once again tout The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices. It has two tables in appendix A — “environmental impacts per household” and “environmental impacts per dollar of expenditure” — that will give you a ballpark figure for your habits. Go through the charts, list each area in which you indirectly emit, and add that to the numbers from the calculator.

Whew. Now, if your current emissions are higher than 1990 levels, you will need to figure out how to bring them down. What are you willing and able to change? That EPA page also provides tips on reducing your output. Make a specific timeline and targets, and you’re on your way. Use these same sources to help measure your progress.

Of course, there are other Protocol protocols you can consider (for a complete overview, go straight to the horse’s mouth [PDF]). One is that the treaty did not come into effect until 55 countries had signed on. So if you do make a plan, and think others could easily adopt it, see if you can get 55 people on board. Another facet is emissions trading: once you have other “signatories,” you could use your ability to bike to work to make up for someone else’s inability to turn the heat down during the day. Together, you will lower your collective emissions.

If you actually follow through, Hans, please let me know how it goes. I’d like to share any successes with other fair readers, in case they are in the mood to annex.

Admiringly,
Umbra