The hidden price tag we all pay

Every dollar we spend has a price tag on the environment

The price tag is carbon dioxide (‘CO2’ in science speak), one of the environment’s worst enemies and a key contributor to climate change.

On average, each dollar we spend is responsible for around 300 grams of CO2, about the same as the weight of two iPhones!


Why is CO2 so bad?

CO2 sits in our atmosphere insulating us from the chills of space, while also keeping some of the warmth from the sun in, so plants, animals, and us humans can live a comfortable life.

But if too much CO2 builds up this insulation blanket gets thicker and keeps more of the warmth in, resulting in the phrase we’re all tired of hearing – “global warming”.

Think of it like this: the more CO2 in the atmosphere, the hotter the planet becomes, the more difficult it is for life to exist (imagine doing everything in a hot yoga studio 24/7).


How is a dollar responsible for 300g of CO2?

Well, to be fair, this is just an average across all the things we buy and use. Different goods and services produce different amounts of CO2 because they are created and delivered in different ways, using different amounts of energy.  

Coming back to the iPhone, vast amounts of energy are required to produce the metals for its circuits, make the plastic frame, convert sand into the glass screens (that always smash!), operate the printer that prints the packaging, assemble it all and have it shipped by truck to you.

Or what about that cool shirt you picked up last week? Here’s it’s journey from a humble cotton farm to that trendy little store where you love to shop, and all the energy that is used to get it along that path.

CO2 supply chain of a shirt

Again, every step of this journey needs energy, mostly dirty energy.

The reason we say dirty energy is because 83% of electricity generated here in Australia is created by burning fossil fuels (think coal, gas and oil), which when burnt emit huge amounts of smoky CO2.

Just like when you burn wood on a bonfire and fill your campsite with smoke, burning coal and oil releases a bunch of CO2 smoke that thickens the earth’s insulation blanket, keeping more of the sun’s heat in.


the hidden price of carbon is all around us

So how much CO2 are we pumping into the atmosphere?

While 300 grams per dollar may not sound like a lot, every year Aussie consumers spend close to $700 billion. Now that adds up to a LOT of grams!

Bringing this back to you and me, our consumption is responsible for about 21 tonnes (about 2 city busses!) of CO2, and this is what is known as our carbon footprint.

The lower we all get our carbon footprint, the less CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere, and the faster we can reduce the effects of this thick (and invisible) blanket of smoke around the planet.

What does this mean for me?

We all buy different things, and therefore have different carbon footprints.

Thankfully, many smart people around the world (and we’re lucky to be working with some of them!) have worked out the amount of carbon associated with most of the things we buy.

It’s so complex it would do Einstein’s head in, and that's the simplified version!

So let's leave it there for now, and next week we’ll dive a little deeper into what makes up each of our 21 tonnes so we can figure out ways to reduce it!

Keep it clean, keep it green 🌱



Footnote for the scientists

By CO2 we actually mean CO2e. There are many greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is one of them. Importantly, different greenhouse gasses exist in different quantities and have different impacts on the ‘thickness’ of the earth’s warming blanket. But because carbon dioxide is the most abundant, it is common to refer to greenhouse gases in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e.

Neil McVeigh