The EPA estimated that on average each home is emitting 8.35 metric tons of CO2 just from energy consumption. In fact, EPA developed its own “Greenhouse Gases Equivalencies Calculator” comparable to GHG Protocol tools that allow to determine proxies for carbon emissions for various emitting units, for ex. “electricity use per home” and “energy use per home”, and across different industries for accounting and reporting purposes. One may ask how was this calculation actually done? According to the EPA report in 2017, on average, in US each home consumed 11,764 kWh of delivered electricity (EIA 2018a). The national average carbon dioxide output rate for electricity generated in 2017 was 998.4 lbs CO2 per megawatt-hour. Annual home electricity consumption then was multiplied by the carbon dioxide emission rate (per unit of electricity delivered) to determine annual carbon dioxide emissions per home. Nationwide household consumption of natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, and fuel oil was taken into account (EPA, 2018).
The amount of 8.35 tons of invisible gas doesn’t impress anyone, unless we attach a monetary value to it that covers the environmental and social costs all together.
46 countries and 26 cities, states and provinces already use a carbon pricing system, either carbon cap-and-trade (known as ETS) or carbon tax, and effectively address climate change (World Bank, 2019). Under these carbon pricing schemes 51% emissions are priced at less than US $ 10/t CO2e. Yet in 2018 the prices started rising and climbed steadily to just under US $ 33 at the moment. Analysts predict the price will reach as high as US $ 60 by 2030 (Ethical corporation, 2019).
Now if we materialize the dream of all pro-environmentalists and climate change supporters, we get an effective carbon trading system all over the world. The idea is not just offsetting our carbon footprint by planting trees, but actually living carbon-free life. In order to do that we will have to stop emitting GHGs completely or taking the responsibility for unavoidable emissions. Today the technology exists to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and it’s called Direct Air capture. It is not a scientific miracle anymore. It is technically feasible but still not economically viable. Let’s look at the price history of direct carbon capture. Few years ago, scientists estimated it to be thousands of US dollars for a ton of CO2 taken from the air and the price of extracting carbon today is nearly US $ 100 (Global Thermostat). The price is expected to go down with further technological development of direct carbon capture and economies of scale.
Supposedly we are forced to pay for all carbon we emit at home and subscribe to direct carbon capture services. This will cost us US $ 835 a year. Additionally, we will continue paying our electricity bills. At the cost of 12.57¢ per kWh (Statista, 2018), the average American’s electricity bill rounds up to US $ 1478 per year.
Looking into the future let’s assume that the technology cost of extracting CO2 from the air reaches nearly US $ 60 estimated value of carbon price, and we are entering the new era when we can’t emit any carbon for free. Now that we got a carbon tax to pay the alternative of solarizing our homes and buying EV seems even more attractive. The cost of solar energy in 2019 dropped as low as 2 cents per kWh (Solar Power Europe, 2019). So powering one’s home for a year costs around US $ 235 (excluding the initial investment in solar home system), which is a way cheaper than paying US $ 2313 for fixing the mess.
“A world in which carbon is priced high enough for air-to-fuels to be competitive will be a world in which the oil sands get hammered and eventually go out of business” says David Keith, the man behind Carbon Engineering and his carbon capture technology. The World Bank calculates that carbon prices need to be in the range of US$40-$80 a ton by 2020, and between $50 and $100 a ton by 2030 to meet the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement (World Bank, 2019).
Climate change has solutions, it just takes courage and accountability to make a step, another one and another one..