UC Berkeley researchers devise challenge for lowering carbon footprint

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After releasing research that examined household carbon footprints nationwide, two UC Berkeley researchers are encouraging city and suburban residents to measure and make efforts to lower individual carbon emissions.

Led by Daniel Kammen, a director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory on campus, the research, which was published in December, focuses on accurately evaluating the carbon footprint of homes by approximating emissions from categories such as transportation, energy and food. Research findings indicated households in the central cities of large metropolitan areas were found to have smaller carbon footprints on average than suburban households.

Additionally, the centers of large metropolitan areas or suburbs had smaller carbon footprints relative to the outskirts of these areas.

In large metropolitan cities, the center tends to be greener because of shorter travel distances, greater access to public transportation and lower household income, said Christopher Jones, lead researcher at the CoolClimate Network on campus, who worked with Kammen on the research. He added that lower incomes indicated less consumption and smaller homes, translating to a smaller carbon footprint.

The release of the research comes with a sense of urgency, Kammen said, as greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 90 percent by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“To do this, entirely new methods and tools will be needed to examine the carbon emissions impacts of our current and future potential lifestyles,” Kammen said in an email. “The fact that this new paper has been getting over 100,000 maps views per day attests to the interest we are seeing in the sort of analysis and data.”

The researchers compiled their data on the CoolClimate Network website, which also allows users to approximate their household carbon footprints.

Another element of the research is the launch of the CoolCalifornia Challenge, a statewide competition that allows cities and their residents to compete for the title of “Coolest City in California.” The competition is headed by the researchers and offers a prize to the city with the most residents actively reducing their household carbon emissions over a year.

Starting Monday, city managers can nominate their cities for the challenge by sending a letter of intent to UC Berkeley.

According to Timothy Burroughs, climate action coordinator for the city of Berkeley, the CoolCalifornia Challenge is similar to the city’s existing Climate Action Coalition, which produced an action plan in 2009 dedicated to energy reduction by promoting transportation alternatives for automobiles. Because the plan is already consistent with the efforts of the competition, Burroughs said Berkeley would not participate in the challenge.

“The CoolCalifornia Challenge is an exciting program because it’s designed to mobilize action at the community level,” Burroughs said. “Berkeley and many other communities have ambitious targets, which will need a significant amount of community engagement.”

Lydia Tuan covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @@tuanlydia.