Wild About Africa

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In a previous post I was disgusted with the size of my carbon footprint. Do you know the sources of your carbon footprint?

Based on a little research I figured out that it’s easy to calculate your own footprint with out using those web based black box carbon calculators

  1. Air Travel is pretty bad- for every km you fly you emit 0.119 kg of CO2 – the good news is that it’s half or less per km of what you emit from your car, but the bad news is that you tend to fly long distances. This Carbon emissions website helps you to calculate distances you travel and will even calculate your emissions for you.
  2. Fuels – In Kenya we use fuel primarily for transport, cooking and lighting. Our electricity in Nairobi is mostly generated by hydro and thermal power so I’m leaving this out for now. For people in Mombasa where power is generated from diesel and heavy fuel oil and where we tend to use the air conditioners the carbon impact could be significant. 1 kilowatt hour is equivalent to 1 kg of Carbon dioxide emissions.
  3. HOLY COW! I’ve included cows because they are especially bad news. Each cow produces 90 kg of methane per year in form of farts. Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon Dioxide as a Green House Gas. This means that every cow you have contributes 1,890 kg of Carbon Dioxide equivalent per year.
Fuel and carbon emissions

Carbon emissions by fuel type

*1 Based on how charcoal is produced, I’ve assumes that for every 1 kg of charcoal produced is equivalent to 3 kg of raw wood. Charcoal and wood are both carbon neutral as they are not fossil fuels – but unless you are harvesting them sustainably their use is contributing to carbon in the atmosphere
*2 See Holy Cow! above

(Note that different websites give slightly different rates of carbon emissions for things like petrol/diesel)
Based on the above rates, here are my calculations for my carbon footprint.

Sources of my carbon footprint

Ok despite the fact that I mostly use cotton bags at the super market, I generally don’t buy water in bottles, and I compost my garden wastes, I’m still pretty disgusting – my carbon footprint is nearly 16 tons!!! I’m weeping..… despite everything I’m doing, compared to the global average of 4 tons, my footprint is truly massive (though I should indicate that this is the combined feetprints of me and my partner ;}
How do I compare with carbon emitters elsewhere?

Some Australians on average spend 14 tons on household energy in warming homes alone!
The Average American uses 11 tons of carbon per year  – the range is vast
The Average Kenyan uses .31 tons (but I don’t think the average estimates include all those farting cows, burning of fields and all the firewood burned every day).

Looking at the figures it’s easy to see that my massive footprint is because I travel too much and drive a 4×4. But it’s all necessary for work. Thank God I don’t have a cow! Turns out cows may be worse for the planet than car and this article tells you why. Well, surely I can offset these emissions fairly easily?
Options for offsetting my Carbon Footprint

Planting trees – everyone is doing this it’s a treeplantingmania in Kenya. But to me it seems futile, most seedlings aren’t cared for and just die….while more and more trees are being felled daily.

Take into consideration the fact that  seedlings hardly absorb any carbon at all…they are just too small with too few leaves. I’ve calculated how many seedlings I need to plant if we estimate that the survival rate of my seedlings is likely to be about 75% (feeling confident here).

They will need a liter of water every few days – that means I need to find about 150 liters of water per seedling per year to achieve this rate of survival. I must not use pesticides or fertilizers as these are carbon emitting products.

After 5 years or so these seedlings will be absorbing about .5 kg carbon each per year. At this rate I need to plant 15064 x 1.25 (survival rate) x 2 (kg of carbon) = 39,160 seedlings and sustain them for the next 100 years.

For this I need to find 5.9 tons of water every year for their first 5 years or so – that’s 804 20 liter jerry cans per day! That’s just a rough estimate.

As if that’s not bad enough, for these trees to survive I need to find a place to plant them ..lets see for a tree to do well and grown into a giant carbon sucking machine, they must be at least 5 m apart – that’s 400 per hectare so I’ll need 94 hectares and I’ll have to keep these tree alive.

If these calculations are right, then planting seedlings seems totally ridiculous! Where on earth will I find that much land?

Ok, let me look at the alternatives

If I don’t have ninety something hectares I could invest in grown up trees as they are more efficient at absorbing carbon. A mature tree absorbs between 1 – 1.2 kg of Carbon Dioxide per year and will live for approximately 100 years.
What if I just save grown up trees that are already massive carbon sucking machines rather than invest in all that water and care to seedlings that spend their first five pathetic lives doing very little to offset my footprint. It will mean that to offset my footprint I must ensure that 15,000 trees are protected each year. That’s 37.5 hectares of forest land. I know that I can’t afford that!

What else can I do to mop up my mess? Can I sequester my own carbon?

You’d be surprised. I’ll let you in on a secret in my next post …keep reading


November 30, 2009 - Posted by | carbon emissions, carbon footprint, Climate change, Conservation, green house gases


  1. Thanks daktari for another interesting post on our Bigfoot Carbon Footprints!

    In general, my village mates find your calculations too complicated. And what new have you learned since your last post, apart from the cow emissions? It’s still international air travel and your 4×4 that are causing all the trouble… So I am arguing that we need to come up with a very simple and easy to use system for common wananchi to calculate their carbon footprints, adapted to the Kenyan situation. Any volunteers around?

    And I am not convinced that you really really really need the air travel and the 4×4 for your job… Why does managing wildlife blogs require a 4×4? And can some of these international meetings be done through videoconferencing for example. Am just thinking aloud, so maybe just ask yourself these questions, since these are the areas where you can make the biggest gains.

    Am still into planting trees. I see the (relatively small) carbon benefit of planting trees as just another side benefit of the multiple benefits of planting (indigenous) trees. So carbon is not the main reason for my tree planting, it is just one of the reasons. Others include biodiversity, soil and water management, beautification, nutrition (fruits) and economic benefits. You are also estimating the carbon benefit of a tree very low at .5 kg per year. Have a look at http://www.treesftf.org/resources/Calculating%20CO2%20Sequestration%20by%20Trees.pdf for instance .

    All this is just ‘food for thought’. Thanks again for highlighting the importance of these issues. Many of us have started thinking and reflecting about this thanks to you. Keep it up!

    Oh, and last but not least, some good news maybe. Carbon is apparently not the same unit as CO2. One metric ton of of carbon would be equivalent to approximately 3.66 metric tons of carbon dioxide. So your footprint in tons of carbon will be substantially.

    Wow, what a long comment! Need to go now and check on my farting steers…

    Comment by Rafiki | November 30, 2009 | Reply

    • Hey I live in the bush and I often have to visit the wilderness places to evaluate the projects. I only travel for work – fund raising, conferences and board meetings… on my part I do save lots of trees, grow my own organic veggies, use energy efficient bulbs, turn off lights, am 99.9% vegetarian,

      Comment by paulakahumbu | December 1, 2009 | Reply

  2. Incidentally, cows are ruminants, so are wilderbeast and a whole bunch of other wildlife………the migration must be a carbon emitting disaster…………..just food for thought………….I agree with ‘Rafiki’ the caluclations are far too complicated and vary whereever you look. In a nutshell the more one becomes industrialised, the higher the carbon foot print thus to mitigate this we should stay pretty primitive………….and we’re doing a good job at this anyway, but………….the grass is always greener on the other side…….yes due to the ‘bullshit’ (literally). What would the figures look like if we compared entire countries given the ruminant angle? Would East Africa with it’s migration turn aout to be the worst offending block and if so, what would be the solution? From a wildlife perspective?……….my thinking is at least we eat cows and somehow try to manage them as well as recycle their waste into systems that sequester carbon i’e via compost. …………..tough call………

    Comment by su | December 1, 2009 | Reply

    • I can just see it – one big fart cloud in the Serengetti…

      Comment by paulakahumbu | December 1, 2009 | Reply

    • Damn you and your smart answers …i’ve posed that one on Twitter – lets see what ppl say

      Comment by paulakahumbu | December 1, 2009 | Reply

  3. […] So you see, even a relatively poor person has a carbon footprint of 4.5 tons which is 500 kg of CO2 more than the global average and more than twice the global target! THIS IS SHOCKING! Thank God she doesn’t have a cow! […]

    Pingback by Shocking – even poor Kenyans have a huge carbon footprint! « Wild About Africa | December 1, 2009 | Reply

  4. At Paula thanks for the post sorry for sounding obessed with this topic but the ramifications of Climate Change Legisation are serious for Africans.

    Co2 cannot be bad because its part of the life cycle yourself have documented how animals emit all sorts of Co2 LOL which in turn plants,plankton,algae,fungi utilize and convert that back to O2 for the animals.

    Burning fossil fuels ensures that we get cheap energy in the short term and develop our economies to a level in which each individual has enough economic power and education to start producing sustainable solutions.

    This what China has been doing buying off energy resources to develop itself ASAP so that its richer and better placed to TAP sustainable resouces.

    My beef is climate change hocus pocus which has recently been shown to be fraud in CLIMATE GATE email scandal will ensure that the poorest continent cannot use these fuels which have developed everyone else and get to a level where they can finance research and therefore become DEPENDENT on western technological transfers which will not happen and AID.

    This will make coming famines more severe and increase Human Animal conflict as they compete for dwindling forest resources.

    Comment by John Karanja | December 1, 2009 | Reply

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