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Are You Adhering To The Kyoto Protocol?

By Bruce of Stone Marmot

July 21, 2008

Many Americans are rather vocal about their disappointment that the U. S. hasn't ratified the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse emissions. But nothing is stopping them from individually meeting the Kyoto Protocol. How many of these concerned Americans are making any effort to adhere to the Protocol themselves?

Summarized, the Kyoto Protocol state that each signatory shall reduce its greenhouse emissions to less than the levels it generated in 1990 (a little more specifically, 7 % less for the US). As individuals, it is difficult to measure the greenhouse emissions from our activities. But much of the emissions we generate are approximately proportional to the energy we use. It is usually fairly easy to determine the energy we use:

1) You can approximate the amount of gasoline you use by dividing the number of miles you drive over a year's time by the miles per gallon (or miles per liter) fuel economy of your vehicle. For example, I drove 9700 miles in my vehicle, which gets about 23 mpg, which gives 9700 miles / 23 mpg = 422 gallons. I also drove 900 miles in a rental car that got 35 mpg, for 900 / 35 = 26 gallons. This is 422 + 26 = 448 gallons total last year. This compares to about 14000 miles in a vehicle that got 27 mpg, or 14000 / 27 = 519 gallons of gas in 1990. If you haven't been specifically recording the miles you drive over a year's time, you may be able to find approximate data in your vehicle's maintenance records or your vehicle registration renewal forms.

2) Most all of us have electric bills from an electric utility. You can just compare your present energy use on your electric bills to the energy use on your 1990 electric bills. If you don't have copies of our 1990 bills, you may be able to get copies from your power company. Be sure to compare energy used in kW-hr and not cost, since the cost of electricity has probably changed dramatically since 1990. For example, I used 3270 kW-hr of electricity in 1990, compared to 1168 kW-hr last year (2006). Incidentally, the typical U. S. household uses about 11,000 kW-hr a year. For comparison, the typical household in France and the UK uses about 3400 kW-hr a year.

3) If you use another form of energy, such as natural gas, today as well as back in 1990, you can again compare your use last year with that in 1990.

4) If you use another form of energy today but not back in 1990 or vice versa, things get a bit more complicated. You now have to convert the units for that other form of energy into the same units of the energy form it replaced. For example, if you used natural gas in 1990 but are now all electric, you have to convert the units the natural gas was measured in (probably cubic feet or liters at a particular pressure), determine how much energy was in each of those units (say BTUs per cubic feet or Joules per liter), and then convert that energy to kW-hr, which is what your electricity is measured in, and add that to your 1990 electrical consumption to determine your total energy use. There are so many variations possible here that I can't give a nice neat formula that will work in all cases.

Of course, there is more to meeting this Protocol than just reducing our direct energy usage. After all, energy is also used by the people who manufacture the goods we buy, maintain our services, such as highways, water and sewer, government, etc. If you are really conscientious, you will also try to keep your purchases and use of services to less than in 1990, which is a bit hard to even estimate. But I suspect that most of those who complain about the US not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol are not even attempting to do the easy stuff to try to meet the Protocol themselves. How can you expect someone else to meet some criteria you yourself aren't willing or able to meet?

If all those who are complaining meet the Kyoto Protocol as individuals, it starts to become moot whether the government ratifies the agreement or not, since a significant number of us will be meeting the Protocol and peer pressure will force many others to also conform with the Protocol, effective making the country as a whole come close to, if not actually, meet the Protocol. In fact, many US companies, particularly those with a strong international presence, have as company goals to meet the Kyoto Protocol. Shouldn't you join them?

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