I’ve probably convinced several of you that our greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut substantially, that emissions depend directly upon wealth, and having to decrease our wealth would suck. So let’s focus on that second point there and ask – how do we break the link between wealth and emissions? Obviously, we need new definitions of wealth. Hedonic footprints are a new way of thinking about wealth, about the reasons why we want to be wealthy, and how we balance what we want with the impact upon the planet.*
For most of us, we’re living in a post-scarcity economy. We have all we need. Let’s ignore needs for now, and start thinking about wants, coz wants are discretionary and far easier to change than needs. Rather than thinking about emissions per dollar of economic wealth, we can start thinking about emissions per unit of pleasure (however that might be defined). For example, if we’re after a given amount of fun, we could choose to gain that by several different methods. Let’s think about two different options, and I’ve deliberately chosen two extreme examples.
You could hoon around a track in a Lotus 2-Eleven. There is precisely one of these in NZ, it looks like fun just sitting there. I reckon for one hour, 10 kilos of petrol so carbon emissions in the tens of kilos per hour.**
Alternatively, you could take some LSD.
In an hour you will metabolise about 0.01 milligrams. What’s the carbon footprint? Strangely enough, there seems to be limited data. Instead, I found some data on P labs suggesting that production of X grams of P tends to leave a residue of 100X grams of waste chemicals, so we’ll chuck those figures at this very half-arsed analysis. Carbon emissions of around 1 milligram per hour.
End result, you are looking at a hedonic footprint of about 10 million times less. Not that I’m recommending either option.**** But this makes the point, that considering your hedonic footprint is one way to reducing your emissions without having less of whatever it is you are after, and to do so by the necessary orders of magnitude.
Where else can we apply this idea? If you’re after a particular sensation, you can get it by various routes. If you’re after the pure sensation of speed, then you can push yourself to your limit of ability whether hooning down the road on a motorbike, or hurtling down a mountain on a snowboard, or trying not to wrap yourself around a tree whilst mountainbiking. The motorbike has direct emissions from the fuel you’re burning, the snowboard has emissions from getting to, then up the mountain, the bicycle? Ah look, just go and get on a bike ok, it’s pretty much the cure for everything.
* – I’m not the first to come up with this idea, but I don’t know who was. Here’s an earlier blog post looking at the hedonic footprint of pleasure boats. Sail boats may well come out ahead of many other leisure activities, although I think you’d need to take construction and maintenance into account.
** – Yes, I’m ignoring the emissions cost to make it, and to repair it when you bounce it off the track barriers.
*** – Incidentally, Marco Braun has some awesomely trippy images.
**** – I mentioned this as part of my talk at Foocamp. Yes, I showed up at a high-level networking event and said something that could be interpreted as “hey everybody, drugs are great”. Luckily, the rest of my talk was on climate change, so by that point I’d depressed everyone enough that only five people where left in the room. In fact, we were so depressed we decided to stop talking and go and get pissed.