The Search for a Decent Carbon Calculator

I decided it would be a nice addition to the blog to start an annual or quarterly calculation of our carbon footprint in order to show in cold numerical terms the progress (or lack thereof) that we have made in our trudge toward lessening our impact on the environment. (Which is not precisely our goal, but the carbon footprint calculators are extant and I haven’t yet devised a method of calculating self-sufficiency.) There are, of course, problems. Being non-standard people we don’t quite fit into the standard calculations. Here’s my thoughts on the calculators I have tried thus far (just the first page of Google):
3Degrees: Not recommended. Calculates based solely on home size, heating method (excluding wood, of course), vehicles, and air travel.
An Inconvenient Truth: Only allows one vehicle, although it calculates the emissions from that vehicle using the year, make and model. Wood is not a heating option, although it does allow you to enter the percentage of your electricity that comes from clean sources. Waste disposal is not included in the calculation.
Berkeley Institute of the Environment CoolClimate Carbon Footprint Calculator: Calculates based on transportation (including vehicles, public transportation, and air travel); house size and heating method (excluding wood, of course); and expenditures on food, good, and services. My problem here is that while I do spend less than the average consumer on, say, clothing, this method of measurement does not reflect that the money I do spend is spent at thrift stores, and is therefore akin to reusing and recycling my clothing rather than buying it new.
BP: I don’t know that I trust the emissions estimates of an international petroleum company, but this is the first calculator I’ve found that allows wood as a heating option. Also allows alternative energy sources and public transportation.
Conservation International: “Detailed” version calculates based on household (including home size, heating method (wood is an option!), and diet), transportation by car, and air travel.
Carbon Footprint: Offers more options on heating than other sites, but still no wood. Allows you to calculate flights by exact take-off and destination points (including one layover). Calculates vehicle emissions by year, make and model, but it doesn’t have my 2000 Chevy Metro LSI listed under Chevrolet (it has a bow-tie on it), Geo (what you’d think it would be listed under), GMC (the emblem on my keys), or Suzuki (what the engine says). (I think that since they are based in the UK they only have UK car models listed) However, it does allow for motorcycles and alternative transportation. Not recommended. Calculates based solely on home size, vehicles, and air travel. Not recommended. Calculates based solely on home heating (excluding wood, of course), vehicle, and air travel.
EPA Personal Emissions Calculator: Wood is not a heating option. Waste disposal is included in calculation, but air travel is not. The section for calculating your current footprint is rather abbreviated, but there is an interesting second section wherein you can calculate your carbon savings should you green up.
Nature Conservancy, The : Allows multiple vehicles. Wood is not a heating option. Food is included in the calculation, as is waste disposal. Most questions are multiple choice, however.
SafeClimate: Not recommended. Calculates based solely on vehicles, air travel, and home heating (excluding wood, of course).
Yahoo! Green: Not recommended. Calculates based solely on vehicles, home size, and air travel.
In conclusion: screw this. What a waste of a lunch break. Some of these sites just want to sell you carbon offsets, some just want to scare you, and most are just pathetic. Why even offer this service on your site if it’s going to be so full of holes? And why do none of the calculators agree? And why do only some of them explain their math?
— Amanda


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