Here we go again. Toronto jumps on the bandwagon by linking a web page that will calculate your carbon output. It’ll tell you how you’re wrecking the Earth. Excited? I am! The people behind the quiz claim to “give you the power to create a sustainable world.”

The FAQ claims they don’t actually give you power. It’s all about empowerment:

Zerofootprint empowers individuals to create a sustainable world. We provide tools to measure and manage one’s carbon footprint.

Zerofootprint’s retail offsets, sold through our carbon shop, are ISO Certified.

Well lookie-look. I can assuage my tattered conscience with cash. Among the absolution choices they offer is the Total Offset plan. For just $384, I can wipe my slate clean of the average 24 tonnes generated annually by each person in North America. My results from their own quiz inform me that I’m responsible for slightly less than 10 tonnes, but what’s 14 tonnes between friends, right?

Curious about how carbon offsets work and where your $384 goes? They provide a link. Click it and you’re informed that “The page you were looking for doesn’t exist.” Perhaps some of the money for the 14 tonnes I didn’t generate would go toward fixing the web site.

To get you started on your voyage of discovering what a bad person you really are is a link labeled New to carbon? No, thanks… I’m not new to carbon. It’s in the pencils I’ve used since childhood. I didn’t realize they ruined the environment. It’s what diamonds are made of, so shame on all you people with diamond jewellery. Why do you hate the Earth? Those are two examples of pure carbon I can think of right off. The stuff is the fourth-most abundant element in the universe (by mass) so things must be tough all over. Goodness, carbon is second only to oxygen as the most abundant component (by mass) in the human body. Since carbon can form more compounds than any other element, the environmentalists ought to be a little more careful with their terms.

The quiz breaks down the entire spectrum of possible carbon-dioxide emissions into four categories.


Choose your vehicle type and enter the distance you drive each year. The closest choices for me are small car and hybrid sedan but neither is exactly right. I also note that if you enter zero distance travelled, the carbon-dioxide output is also zero. This makes sense if you only walk or bicycle, but those who use mass transit will also enter zero because ‘bus’ isn’t one of the choices. Presumably, the output of mass transit buses and trains is someone else’s problem.


Enter the number of one-way flights you’ve taken based on the length of the trip. I haven’t flown anywhere so I get a zero here. The emissions from the air-freight delivery of goods I purchase also seem to be someone else’s problem.


You can choose from heavy meat eater, moderate meat eater, vegetarian, or vegan. As you’d expect, the emissions drop as the animal consumption drops, from a high of 3.21 tonnes to 0.54 tonnes. I expect the mechanization emissions required to tend the crops is included in the vegan figure, but what about the flights to deliver it? Produce from the south can’t be delivered by rickshaw.


You can choose detached, semi-detached, or apartment. Also enter the number of rooms, number of inhabitants, and whether you have an air conditioner. The inhabitants figure is curious. In an apartment with an air conditioner, they claim one person generates 1.86 tonnes of carbon-dioxide while two people generate 1.05 tonnes each, or 2.1 tonnes together. Heating and cooling would average out to be virtually the same (less heating, more cooling), while the use of hot water and electricity would be greater. I wonder if the dual-occupant figure is ballpark accurate or an underestimation.

I’d love to see the reasoning behind the figures produced by the various options. Some seem high and many seem low. Some are so vague as to be ridiculous. The quiz glosses over many significant factors, such as how you heat your home. Coal or solar, it’s all the same, right? Even worse are all the missing emission sources we’re responsible for. Still though, as long as we buy our emission offsets it’ll all work out!

I managed 9.40 tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions… despite my compulsive pencil hoarding.