Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hybrid car or carbon offsets?

I'm in the market for a new car, and strongly motivated by Tim Flannery's "The Weather Makers" I started to do the research on buying a hybrid car. Here in Australia that really means either the Honda Civic or the Toyota Prius, which start at $32,990 and $37,400 respectively. Since I particularly want a hatch, it's really the Prius. This is a fairly substantial margin over what I'd normally pay for a car - my current car is an Astra which my wife and I have found to be great value, and if we replaced that with the new model, which starts at $21,990. Not equipped to the same level as the Prius, but enough to keep us happy :-)

Fifteen thousand dollars is a pretty big margin so out of curiousity, and prompted by Marty's post on carbon neutrality, I decide to have a look at what it would cost me to offset my carbon emissions rather than use a hybrid vehicle. The results were a big surprise to me.

I used two different sites to calculate our family carbon debt. I assumed a new Astra manual, which uses 7.4 L / 100km (from the Australian Green Vehicle Guide), and that we do 20,000km per year. We already use green electricity, and we use an average of 150Mj of gas per day over the year (the vast majority in winter) for hot water, cooking and heating. I've also assumed that I do 3 business trips to Brisbane in a year, we take the family to Sydney once a year to visit grandma and to the equivalent of New York once a year to visit grandpa. The two sites gave comparable results, but the best breakdown came from Greenfleet. Our carbon debt is approximately:

  • 3.34 tons from the car

  • 3.51 tons from the house

  • 41.07 tons from air travel

  • 47.92 total

What surprised me is that the contribution of my air travel is over 12 times the contribution of my car! The conclusion is that I need to participate in some carbon offset program, but the interesting part was the cost - to offset all this carbon debt at CarbonFriendly (whose shop sucks, just by the way) was going to cost about $1000.00, and the car part of that would only be about $70 per year, so why should I go to the much greater expense of a hybrid vehicle?

I'm interested to find out of anyone else has gone through a similar decision process. Logic tells me that I should forget about the hybrid and pay for the carbon offsets, but part of me feels like this is somehow cheating. What do you think?

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