“We’re running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere… can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.”
– Elon Musk
Bloggers note: the license plate on our road trip vehicle is CO2E 0. What appears to be a cryptic message is actually a term used in carbon footprinting (CO2e stands for “carbon dioxide equivalent”—the standard measure of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions expressed in terms of CO2 based on their relative global warming potential (GWP) over a 100-year time horizon). So, our license plate, CO2E 0, signifies a zero-carbon footprint, essentially “carbon-neutral.”
Anthropogenic climate change is entering a perilous phase. Emissions of heat-trapping gasses have impacted the delicate balance we humans have lived in for the roughly 200,000 years we have occupied this planet. According to measurements from Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii this April, the average concentration of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere exceeded 410 parts per million—the highest CO2 level in 800,000 years (according to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography). The last time CO2 levels exceeded 410 parts per million was in the Pliocene (2 million to 4.6 million years ago) at which time sea levels were 60 to 80 feet higher. Sea level rise is already a thing. We have observed regular sunny day flooding in Miami, Florida neighborhoods and at least five Pacific Islands have been lost to rising seas.
The potential for catastrophic impacts on Earth’s precious ecosystems and human health is significant, not to mention impacts on our economic infrastructure. Our industrial revolution began during a time that we did not understand the impacts our emissions would have on our planet. We know now.
WHAT WE CAN DO
One of the goals of our summer road trip is to be decidedly carbon-neutral.
Carbon Neutrality means taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to as close to zero as possible and then offsetting any residual emissions.
One way we could all reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere is to stop burning fossil fuels in the various modes of transportation we use. On a personal level, this means driving a zero-emission electric-only vehicle (ZEV), which means that the car itself has zero emissions. Our road trip vehicle is a 2018 Tesla Model 3 Long Range ZEV, and when fully charged, has a published range of 310 miles (499 km). Ideally, if you have rooftop solar on your home or buy guaranteed renewable energy and do all of your driving locally, you can claim carbon neutrality. But if you do not have access to a reliable source of 100% clean energy or are on a road trip, the carbon intensity of the electrical grid that supplies energy to electric vehicle chargers across the route comes into question. The good news is that electrical grids are greening almost everywhere and as oil and coal-fired power plants are replaced in the energy matrix with solar, wind and natural gas, the carbon intensity of grids decline. So, we need to calculate, as accurately as possible, the carbon footprint for our road trip.
According to WattTime, a nonprofit subsidiary of Rocky Mountain Institute, the carbon intensity of the power grid changes every 5 minutes. WattTime is providing us with two technologies for our road trip—a website that gives an indication of where and when the cleanest times and places are to charge so we can actually choose cleaner power up front rather than just measure better, and the WattTime API, a cloud-based analysis tool that is able to track our emissions in real time. All we need to do is to supply their team with the real-time data every time we charge our EV.
Since we likely do not have time to install the WattTime API for our Model 3, we will be using data supplied to us by Teslafi, a third-party Tesla data logging tool. Teslafi is able to supply us with all the information that WattTime needs to produce accurate calculations for each and every charge—address of charger, time charging begins, time charging ends, total charge time, kWh added, average and maximum voltage, average and maximum amps, charge efficiency, estimated completion time, and rated miles added. We will collect the charging data from Teslafi and export it into an Excel file and send it to the WattTime team twice—once mid-trip so we can talk about it real time and at the end of the trip, so the aggregate data can be compiled for our final report.
We can still be carbon-neutral by voluntarily offsetting the emissions from the power we buy from the grid the same way many businesses like Microsoft and UPS do—by purchasing verified carbon offsets that are reducing GHG emissions. To offset our residual carbon emissions, we can purchase RECs (renewable energy credits) or verified carbon offsets (which can be generated by a variety of projects, including renewable energy projects but also forest or land conservation, methane capture from landfills or pig farms, etc.). For example, see https://carbonfund.org/individuals
In our case, we will purchase verified carbon offsets. To do so, we would like to crowdsource our carbon offsetting project. We are seeking a high-quality project, which must be audited and certified by a reputable certifying agency.
Please comment here or send a suggestion to my email at email@example.com. The project must be audited and certified by an independent certification program for carbon offsets.
- “Even More Evidence That Electric Cars Could Save the Planet,” from Wired, explains how the grid is changing based on how the energy is generated.
- “The Top 10 Trends Transforming the Electric Power Sector,” by Gavin Bade, from
- “A Guide to Offsetting your Carbon Emissions,” by Erica Gies, from
“Goodbye Miami” – by Jay Leonhart