Fun with carbon accounting

By Bill Kaye-Blake 12/11/2012

It’s a provocative headline: ‘Carbon-footprint study examines solo mums‘. It’s not exactly right — the study looked at men and women, married and not. And who’s to blame? Why, those pesky women, of course:

At 22 kilograms of CO 2 emitted on an average day, a British woman’s carbon footprint is slightly higher than a man’s – at 20kg a day – because women spend more time doing non-paid work, eating up the clock with carbon-intensive chores such as cooking, cleaning, shopping and laundry, the study finds.

This is elementary carbon-accounting stupidity. It is the same problem that New Zealand has faced since Kyoto. Who has the responsibility for greenhouse gases, the producer or the consumer? From the producer side, New Zealand is a bad, bad country — all those methane-producing ruminants. From the consumer side, though, the responsibility lies with the overseas consumers who like the meat and milk those animals produce. Y’know, the consumers who buy 90-odd% of the pastoral production of New Zealand.

So, what, those women are cooking and cleaning for the sheer joy of it? And the men and children aren’t enjoying the home-cooked meals and benefiting from the clean kitchens and bathrooms?

This is the point of creating a price on carbon, either through an actual price or some kind of cap-and-trade system. It creates something like a tax wedge so that producers and consumers can arrive at a mutually agreed solution — how to use the carbon sink capacity of the environment efficiently. Both sides are ‘responsible’, if we have to point fingers. And both sides should bear the cost of adjustments.

I haven’t had a chance to read the actual study (it’s behind a paywall), just the news report. Hopefully, the authors say something intelligent on these points.

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