What is your Carbon Budget?

Your carbon budget is defined here as the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the earth's atmosphere by your activities that are under your direct control.

There are sites on the net that calculate carbon budgets (use Google to find them). However, none of them have a power mix anything like Canada, nor do they use Canada's metric units. Here's how to calculate a carbon budget for an eastern Canadian household. Divide by the number of people in your household to get a per-capita budget.

Natural Gas

Check your utility bills to find how much your household uses per year. The gas supplied to eastern North America produces 1.94 kg-CO2/m3 (EPA). Multiply your cubic meters by this to get your gas carbon budget. For me, an empty nester living in a detached house to be close to young grandchildren who visit a lot, this is a big weak spot: 1537 m3. So, my home heating produces 2976 kg per year even with a high-efficiency furnace and keeping the temperature at 20C.

Home Heating Oil

Regular home heating oil produces 2.6 kg/l CO2 (EPA), so multiply your liters delivered by that.


Check your utility bills, in my case, 5600 kWh. In Ontario, electric power produces 309 g/kWh. That adds 1730 kg per year to my total.

The Canadian average for electricity is 257 g/kWh. Hydro Quebec produces almost all its power from hydro, their average is only 40 g/kWH. (The average USA figure is 641 g/kWH.)

I use fluorescent lighting everywhere, and have new relatively efficient frig and furnace. But, my old air conditioner guzzles electricity, and as for my pottery kiln...

Vehicle fuel

First, check your fuel efficiency by keeping your fuel receipts for a while: my car gets 9.8 km/l. Regular gasoline in North America produces 2.3 kg CO2 per litre (EPA), diesel fuel 2.7 kg/l, propane 1.6 kg/l. So, my car gets 9.8/2.3=4.26 km/kg-CO2.

Next, find out how far you drive your vehicle each year from its odometer; I did 4884 km last year. Divide to obtain kg CO2: 4884/4.26=1146 kg per year.

I wouldn't mind doing better, but there is almost no shopping within walking distance, no bike paths to use even if my bent back would let me use them, and public transit here is so circuitous except to downtown that my car is more carbon friendly than the bus for most of my trips. Plus, my children are scattered from Toronto to St.Faustin (no bus or train) to Pennsylvania (bus only via New York City).

Vehicle ownership

It requires 120 GJ to manufacture a typical North American personal automobile and 3.8 GJ/yr to repair and insure it (ILEA Carnegie Mellon). Using natural gas to generate the energy, the average annual CO2 emissions due to car ownership, for each vehicle, may be estimated as:
age at sale yr2520181614121086
annual cost kg4304905205656206907909401190

My car is 22 years old (but still meets current pollution standards), so that adds 490 kg to my total.

Public Transit

OCTranspo buses get 7.78 passenger-km/kg. That's only double that of a compact car with one occupant. The average passenger trip is 8.8 km. If you commute to full-time work, find the distance between home and work, multiply by 61 (the number of trips per year assuming 3 weeks holiday and 12 statutory holidays, divided by 7.78) to get your kg-CO2 per year. Or, count the number of trips and use the average trip length.

I take about 20 round trips per year, mostly to City Hall (downtown) and the Riverside Hospital (on the Transitway): 20*2*8.8/7.78=45 kg-CO2. There's no public transit to my car repair garage or to any of my forestry projects. A bus trip to the local veggie store covers four times the distance my car requires, so generates more CO2 than travelling alone in my car. Diesel public transit is rarely a carbon friendly alternative to modern compact cars. And, as long as the Ontario Municipal Board overrules cities who try to plan transit-friendly cities, the city of Ottawa can't afford to provide public transit to sprawling suburbia.

Long distance Via Rail (diesel power) is a bit more efficient than buses, 11 km/kg (Environment Canada). Electric rail is far more efficient. The Montreal subway gets 10.9 km/kWh. Even using the average for Canadian electricity, that's 42 km/kg; using Quebec Hydro electricity as they do, 270!

Air travel

Determine your air travel distance in kilometers per year, then divide by 5 to estimate your kg CO2 per year. The efficiency of jet travel varies greatly with distance: short flights such as Ottawa-Toronto get only 3 km/kg, while non-stop overseas flights get 8 (OECD).


Here are some estimates of the carbon costs of Canadian food:
Canadian food carbon cost
beef20 kg/kg34 kg per capita680 kg per capita
greenhouse veggies2.7 (tomatos)78211
poultry1.8 (chicken)4785
fish6 (salmon)9.155
wheat flour0.58442
field veggies0.2 (carrots)10020
fruit (est)1133133

To use this table, substitute the weights bought by your household (including restaurant meals), add up the figures and divide by the number of people in your household to get your food carbon cost. If you don't have data, use the average figure. I'm a vegan plus fish so my usage is a lot smaller, about 700 kg-CO2.

Waste Reduction/Recycling

Here are some estimates of the carbon costs associated with household consumables that usually end up in recycle bins or landfill, in kg-CO2 per kg of material:
materialrecycled costlandfilled costkg/person-year % recycledavg.kg-CO2
aluminum cans2.115.725018
other cans/metals1.93.7135036

To use this table, substitute the weights and recycling percentages of your household, add up the figures and divide by the number of people in your household to get your waste carbon cost. If you don't have data, use the average figure.

I recycle about 80 kg paper/cardboard (mostly packaging and municipal reports I get as president of my community association), 7 kg glass, 2 kg cans and 1 kg plastic, and landfill 50 kg miscellaneous and non-recyclable plastics. My total is 160 kg-CO2 (Here's how I do it)


Propane produces 1.6 kg/l CO2. A standard BBQ tank contains 18 l propane, 29 kg CO2.

Adding It All Up

In my case, 7247 kg, 7.2 metric tonnes/year.

The Canadian average for 2004 was 20 tonnes CO2 per capita (US DOE). Personal uses as defined above above account for a bit less than half of this (USDE), 9 tonnes; the other 11 goes to produce energy (the oil sands projects in particular), to build our cities, roads and consumer products, to grow our food, and to transport them all the width of our large country.

So, despite all my efforts, I'm still responsible for 80% of average Canadian household CO2 emissions.

A great deal of this is due to the lack of single-person housing in so many urban areas of Canada. I should be able to find a house half the floor area of my current one where I want to live. I can't. More is due to the poor insulation of most Canadian homes. When I built my own home in rural Cumberland, it required so little energy to heat compared to standard construction of the time that Ontario regulations required me to install three times the capacity I really needed. But, few homes in Canada are built by the people who will live in them, they are built by developers who build solely for sale price, and who therefore ignore long term heating costs. An individual can't change either of those factors. Government regulation is needed, and so far that is inadequate, especially at the municipal level where small homes are prohibited by zoning bylaws.

Much of the rest is also due to government inaction. Municipalities in Ontario can't design efficient housing areas centered on public transit because the provincial municipal board overrides them if they result in lesser profits for developers. Inefficient community design requires the use of flexible low-use diesel public transit with its huge CO2 emissions instead of electric rail, the CO2-friendly mass transit, and it requires people to have individual cars. Our choices as individuals are very limited.

John Sankey
What is your Landfill Budget?
other notes on community matters

Montreal subway270 passenger-km/kg
diesel rail11
long-haul air8
city bus7.8
solo compact car4.3
short-haul air3
sugars9923 calories/kg-CO2
wheat flour7220
field veggies1750
greenhouse veggies67
compact fluorescent233 lumen-hr/g
incandescent dimmed to 50%37
incandescent dimmed to 10%11
paraffin candle0.52
Quebec25 kWh/kg
Canada average3.9
USA average1.6
Quebec electricity89 MJ/kg
natural gas20
Canada electricity14
heating oil13
Ontario electricity12
USA electricity5.6


In Ontario 51% of our power is generated from nuclear and 23% from hydro (Energy Ontario). For electricity, provincial-scale life cycle data including infrastructure and all greenhouse gases is available from Quebec Hydro for many generation fuel sources: coal 1022 g/kWh, oil 999, natural gas 499, battery storage for photovoltaic or wind 78, hydro 33, photovoltaic (UN report) 30, nuclear 16, wind 15. The Canadian average is 257 g/kWh. Hydro Quebec produces 96.57% of its power from hydro and nuclear.
To provide 789.9x106 passenger kilometers in 2006, OCTranspo buses burned 37.6x106 l diesel fuel (OCTranspo). OCTranspo is converting to biodiesel fuel in the belief that this will reduce its effective greenhouse gas emissions. However, growing and converting soybeans to liquid fuel uses a significant amount of fossil fuels, especially to make the fertilisers used. Also, the potential of North America to make biodiesel is only a few percent of the demand. So, I recommend ignoring this factor when analysing public transit.
The Montreal subway system uses 162.5 GWh per year to provide 1.77x109 passenger kilometers, 10.9 km/kWh (personal communication from the STM).
Attribution of food carbon costs is complex, in its infancy, and is widely confused by advocacy issues. Studies by Weber&Matthews in the USA conclude that there, 83 percent of emissions came from the growth and production of the food itself. Only 11 percent came from transportation, and only 4 percent came from the transportation between grower and seller (the part that eating local helps cut). So, the type of food is much more important than where it comes from. The figures here are derived from data from the UN FAO (carbon costs), the USDA (calories) and StatCan (2004 consumption). The diet totals 2360 calories per day, the Canadian average. The division of total vegetable consumption between greenhouse and field sources is my best estimate based on local surveys. Figures for the cost of frozen vs. fresh vary impossibly depending on assumptions about transportation and packaging. The only consistent theme is that the major energy expenditure is in the home to store them in a freezer, which is already included here under electricity usage.
Carbon costs of waste are from the EPA, the average residential amount generated per capita in Canada during 2002 from StatCan, the average percent recycled in Ontario from Waste Diversion Ontario. Figures for recycling vary considerably due to the different definitions of recycling used. No one has any idea about how to impute a carbon cost to organics waste. In Canada, paper products have come almost totally from renewably-managed forests for many years, so there is no net change in carbon sequestration from paper produced from trees in these figures.
A standard candle burns 7.78 g/hr spermaceti oil to produce 12.57 lumens. The figure given assumes that average paraffin wax is C25H52 and that it produces light with the same efficiency as spermaceti oil. Electricity CO2/kWh is the average for Canada. Further lamp data is at Towards a Plant Growth Lumen.
A recent StatCan study attributes the carbon cost of manufacturing all goods and services households directly and indirectly use to households, including imported goods that are charged to the producing countries by the EPA. StatCan concludes that 46% of national carbon-equivalent emissions are attributable to households, consistent with the EPA-derived portion (9 out of 20) used above.