There are literally hundreds of carbon calculators (read MNN's Top 15 list) and most all of them have one thing in common... they are really, really boring.

In doing some research on the future of personal carbon management, I came across this interesting calculator called Bloom created by the BBC in partnership with UK nonprofit organization Energy Saving Trust, which vetted all the numbers corresponding to each action. 

With the tagline, "Smart Choices for the Carbon Conscious" the site uses funky, colorful graphics to sugar coat 75 pills that describe a wide range of personal carbon impacts. Each action is represented by a psychedelic seed. When you click on the side and make a pledge to do a carbon-reducing action, your seed "blooms" in a colorful burst of carbon-friendly flowers. 

The site is built entirely in flash which makes the load time pretty painful, but the site works well and packages a huge amount of data in small bite-sized chunks. It also allows the user to invite in their friends to pledge actions together. A few things I learned..

  • Composting all your veggies = 88 kg CO2
  • Cutting shower length by 2 minutes = 320 kg CO2
  • Insulating water pipes = 70 kg CO2
  • Reducing meat eating by 2 servings = 310 kg CO2

I envision a next generation of carbon calculators coming out in 2010 that incorporate some of Bloom's best features -- a much more sophisticated database of individual carbon actions and a user experience that makes the whole process of understanding your real carbon footprint much more fun.

This is important work. The reality is setting in that even if everyone signs on to the COP15 agreement AND complies (two very different things), we are still going to fall FAR short of the CO2 mitigation necessary to get us back to a sustainable 450 PPM.

In my book, the only hope is to have the leading edge of society (often referred to as "civil society") neutralize their carbon footprints. Roughly speaking this represents about 20% of the population in developed countries. In the U.S. that is about 60 million people. 

If 60 million Americans brought their carbon footprints to zero though a combination of reduced consumption, increased efficiency, and forest preservation (carbon offsets) the world would save close to one billion tons of CO2 annually.

We need to see major dents like this if we ever hope to to reach a sustainable level of atmospheric CO2. But right now, even if individuals were motivated enough to "go to zero," no comprehensive carbon tool exists for them to see exactly where they stand in relation to other individuals in the country, how to to reduce their impacts, or where to find vetted rainforest and other remediation projects that can offset the remainder of their impact.

Until that time, I think going "carbon neutral" will remain a marginalized pipe dream.

Plant some virtual carbon seeds
A model for future carbon calculators, Bloom offers a wide array of carbon actions which visualizes how little actions can add up to something pretty.