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The Cheeseburger Syndrome: Carbon Transparency

carbonfacts_sm.jpgThe "Footprint of a Cheeseburger" post continues to reverberate around the web, and not just in the so-called "Green Blogosphere." I have an interview about the story coming up that might make it to national radio. The Cheeseburger Footprint popped up on business sites, on hamburger and foodie sites -- heck, it even got linked to by a well-known slavering right-wing website Which Shall Not Be Named or Linked (I've read too much Lovecraft and Stross to take that risk), with readers there wondering if I was serious.

For the record: yes, I was serious.

That doesn't mean that the post wasn't a bit tongue-in-cheek. It was, ultimately, an attempt to take a remarkably prosaic activity and parse out its carbon aspects. After all, we're all increasingly accustomed to recognizing obvious, direct carbon emissions, but we're still wrapping our heads around the secondary and tertiary sources. This is another example of a recurring theme for me: we're good at cause and effect, not so good at cause...
...and effect. Exercises like this one help to reveal the less-obvious ways that our behaviors and choices impact the planet and our civilization.

I doubt that we'll have to go through this process with everything we eat, from now until the end of the world. As our societies become more conscious of the impact of greenhouse gases, and the need for very tight and careful controls on just how much carbon we dump into the air, we'll need to create mechanisms for carbon transparency. Be they labels, icons, color-codes, or arphid, we'll need to be able to see, at a glance, just how much of a hit our personal carbon budgets take with each purchase.

Will information alone make a difference? Probably not; after all, nutrition info panels on packaged foods didn't turn us all into health food consumers. But they will allow us more informed choices, with no appeals to not knowing the consequences of our actions.


How did you make that label?

A combination of: a look at a "Nutrition Facts" side-panel from a box of cereal, Photoshop, a blank page, and about an hour.

Lol@ first question.

Anyway, I saw this just now Jamais, and thought of you:


Do you know about the Low Carbon Diet?

I wrote a piece on my inadvertent method of carbon offset at

I was trying to work out the full cost of coal energy. I think it needs to be done country by country, but mainly for the USA and China.

Coals impact on individuals in the USA

$200-1000/year in higher health insurance premiums
higher prices on goods and products. Companies are passing on the higher health premiums that they pay for their workers, plus the lost productivity for workers that are out sick because of pollution.
Higher costs for acid resistant paint for cars, houses
Extra costs for public buildings that need more repair to the outside because of pollution damage
Toxic waste, superfund cleanups
Less fish, higher prices for fish
Less resale value on cars in places with acid rain (more rust and corrosion). New Jersey, Detroit etc...
Any flight delays in or out of Los Angeles and other places because of visibility.

Significant chance of personally knowing one of the 27,000 people who die each year in the USA.
Grandma, granddad, mom, dad, uncle or aunt, friend dieing a few years earlier from lung disease. Definitely over 40 years. 1 out of 300 people would be dead permaturely from coal. In China it is worse with 1,000,000 permature deaths per year from coal. Total death rate in China is 6.94 per 1,000. So out of 9.4 million dead, 1 in 10 of the deaths was premature from pollution which is mainly coal pollution.

Power plant pollution is responsible for 38,200 nonfatal heart attacks and 554,000 asthma attacks each year in the USA.


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