Why A British Photographer Is Tracking People's Carbon Footprints

Air travel and hamburgers rack up carbon emissions fast.
"tCO2e (tons of greenhouse gases) is a term used by climate scientists to describe the gases that enter the Earth's atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect and climate change." -Neil Baird
"tCO2e (tons of greenhouse gases) is a term used by climate scientists to describe the gases that enter the Earth's atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect and climate change." -Neil Baird
Neil Baird

Bev, a stern-looking man with white hair, is an environmental protection officer. By day, he works with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to, well, protect the environment. So, you'd think his carbon emissions would be relatively low.

But, Bev spends much of his free time riding motorcycles. While the little vehicles aren't exactly 18-wheelers, zipping around in one of his four bikes puts Bev's carbon footprint at around 17.2 tons of CO2e per year -- just under the average-sized footprint for an American, but above the average 9.7 for a U.K. citizen like Bev.

Bev's "number" was determined by photographer Neil Baird, who has been cataloging carbon emissions for myriad British citizens. Though many of the subjects of Baird's resulting photos series had relatively low carbon footprints -- Annie, a student, was well below the national average; while Mike, a retired gardener, emits around an average amount of carbon -- many didn't know anything about their own CO2e output until they were approached by Baird.

"I was surprised that most people did not know what their national average and global averages are, and where they might be placed against the average," Baird said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "I was also surprised that although most people expressed concern about climate change, many were not making personal choices that could reduce their own footprints."

"Last year after reading Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything, I began talking to people about climate change and realized that the enormity of the subject along with a general lack of basic understanding of the science and the issues involved was preventing ordinary people from understanding the part they play, or that we play as a society," Baird said.

In the below photo essay, Baird captures the lifestyles of a range of subjects, with an equally broad spectrum of environmental habits. One subject, Roger, lives in an "ecovillage," in a house he built himself out of a giant whiskey barrel. Of course, such a conscientious choice can't be afforded by all of us; Roger's emissions are one-sixth the amount of Katie's, who runs a small importing business.

Below, you can compare your own lifestyle choices and carbon footprints with a handful of environmentalists and average citizens across the Atlantic.

Neil Baird
15.4 tCO2e

Alice is a curate in a rural English parish. She lives with her husband in an old rectory which is not insulated to modern standards.
Neil Baird
4.2 tCO2e

Roger is a long term resident of the Findhorn Community, an ecovillage in the north of Scotland. He lives in a self-built house made from a whiskey barrel.
Neil Baird
17.2 tCO2e

Bev is an environmental protection officer with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). He loves riding his motorcycles, of which he has four. He lives alone.
Neil Baird
4 tCO2e

Jo works at Edible Landscapes London, a sustainable communities lottery-funded project helping to protect vulnerable people against the effects of climate change. She doesn't own or drive a car.
Neil Baird
9.1 tCO2e

Mike is semi retired and works part-time as a gardener. He lives with his wife in an old house in a conservation area. They heat the house with oil, coal and wood. This accounts for a third of his footprint.
Neil Baird
5.5 tCO2e

Alex runs a small business making raw vegan snacks which she sells at local markets. She lives with her mum and brother and the various friends who seem to frequent the house.
Neil Baird
6.2 tCO2e

Annie is a student. She is currently on a gap year, traveling through Europe.
Neil Baird
58.5 tCO2e

Avia is a business woman and owner of a yacht club and marina on the south coast of England. Her carbon footprint is high, in part due to the transatlantic flights she has taken this year.
Neil Baird
24.5 tCO2e

Katie runs a small distribution business, importing products from different parts of the world including China and the U.S.

Also on HuffPost:

World Photography Awards

Popular in the Community