Can someonr explain thr math of how someone is supposed to be able to be even close to net zero carbon footprint?

I just got a CO2 meter and checked the levels in my house and went down a rabbit hole trying to address the issue. Apparently it would take 249 areca palms to offset the carbon RESPIRATION of one adult.

So okay 249 trees just for me to breathe, not to mention the rest of the bad things we all do.

So how can this math ever balance? 249 trees just to break even seems like an impossible number. Then all the flights I have been on, miles driven, etc.

I feel like that’s… Way too many trees. Is it hopeless or am I missing something?

beaubbe, (edited )

Breathing does not create Carbon, it is only transformed.

There are basically 2 pools of carbon. The carbon already in circulation in the athmosphere, plants, animals and so on, roaming at the surface. That Carbon can be CO2, or other mollecules, but there is always a fixed amount. You breathing is simply borrowing the carbon for a bit and putting it out again in the air when exhaling.

The second pool is carbon locked away in the ground, as coal, oil and whatnot. That carbon is OLD and is not supposed to be in the first pool. When you burn oil, the carbon from the 2nd pool ends up in the 1st one. You cannot really offset it because even planting trees just transforms it as wood for a bit, but if the tree burns or rots, the carbon goes back in the air. The only option long term is to send the carbon back in a locked state in the second pool.

But for you, just reduce the amount of carbon you move from pool 2 to pool 1 to help the earth. Cut on oil, gas, coal as much as you can. The rest is basically irrelevant.

You can compare it to the water cycle. You are at a lake with a pump, and pump the water from the lake back into the lake. You can keep going forever and will not cause the lakes to rise since the water is pumped from there anyway. BUT, if a mega corporation starts pumping from underground sources and dumping it in that lake, it would overflow for sure. And they would blame you for all the water you are pumping.


Is there any way to bring carbon from pool 1 into 2? Or we already fucked up and have to live with it now?


Yes, carbon sequestration is the term for it, but none of them are currently practical to do on a scale that would mitigate the effects of the fossil fuels we burn. Growing trees is an example of this, as they do lock up carbon in the process of growing, but they're kind of a risky prospect since if the tree dies and rots or is caught in a wildfire then it releases the carbon again. Another option is literally just sticking it back underground in mines or oil wells, but of course that takes a lot of energy to do and then whole point of burning fossil fuels is to get energy so this one is currently a bit self-defeating. They're things that might be helpful to do if we succeed in transitioning to clean energy and have an excess of it available


If we can get nuclear fusion to work, that would be the kind of things that would then make sense to do. I can only hope that we figure it out as soon as possible.


Absolutely. Or even just excess capacity of wind and solar, to be honest. Whatever works, so long as we don't need it to replace fossil fuels and it isn't itself making more CO2 to lock away the CO2


Breathing does not create Carbon, it is only transformed.

Yet somehow when cows do it this is not the case.

Your premise is that the only carbon that’s new is from fossil fuels, which I can agree with (to a point; it came from biomass originally so is not truly new, just reintegrated after a billion years) but the problem is your view, the view we had for a few decades until very recently, is not the most common view. People talk about carbon in biomass going through the carbon cycle as if it’s a bad thing now, and you get called a fucking denier of all things if you point out that that is ridiculous.


Cows fart which creates methane. Methane is a much worse greenhouse gas than CO2. Like 25x worse. Add on to that we artificially increase the bovine population by orders of magnitude than they’d naturally attain so we can consume them. They contribute a lot to climate change.


I just responded to this here


Cows do not create carbon. They turn it into methane which is a worse form of carbon.

The same way you can turn carbon in biomass to “lock” it from the atmosphere, you can turn it in worse forms of gas that cause even more heating like methane. The methane will turn back in CO2 form once it burns or degrade naturally (a dozen years or so) but while it is under methane form, it will make it worse, accelerating the heating effects. But even stopping all methane emissions is only a temporary solution as carbon from pool 2 keeps moving in pool 1. It may give us more time before reaching the same level of greenhouse effect but we will reach it anyway.


No one is complaining about the carbon a cow is breathing in and out. It's the methane they produce, which is a very potent greenhouse gas, about 80 times the warming power.


Methane has a half life of 8 years, and is produced from carbon dioxide and water, specifically it is produced into carbohydrates by plants which are then broken down into methane by certain bacteria in animal digestive systems. It degrades back into carbon dioxide and water through oxidization very quickly in the atmosphere. It’s effect on global warming is miniscule compared to carbon dioxide, by measure of the volume of each produced and their persistence in the atmosphere. Methane is a non issue, and is easily made up for by the fact that cows, and the humans that eat them, are carbon sinks also. Imagine if you stopped cattle production and destroyed all those cattle to stop them from creating methane, how much carbon dioxide do you think they’d create as they biodegrade? This would have a significant impact on warming, way way more than the methane does. The existence of cattle (and any and all biomass in general since they’re all carbon sinks) is a net positive for warming, by far.


Just no. Not sure where you are being fed your information, but methane is worse than CO2.


Just no huh.

The article you link shows carbon dioxide having a stronger impact on warming than methane in aggregate, which is what I’m talking about and what matters.


Methane in the Earth’s atmosphere is a powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential (GWP) 84 times greater than CO2 in a 20-year time frame.

You were crying about people bemoaning the impact of cows breathing. You were wrong.


potential. Do you even understand what you’re citing? There are graphs in the article if words are hard. Do you know what radiative forcing is? You should read about it.


The fact that you are isolating the word "potential" suggests that you don't realise what "global warming potential" actually is. It's a measurement for comparing the effect of greenhouse gases to carbon dioxide, not the top of an error bar


I understand this, but it’s a comparison between the two compounds, not a comparison of the effect each are having at the volumes they get released.

Cows uptake a lot of carbon dioxide just by existing as biomass. This more than offsets any methane they fart out.


Is that second sentence something you have numbers for or a guess?

beaubbe, (edited )

For fun, a rough estimate is 20% of an animal’s mass in carbon. A cow is around 600kg (1000 pounds). That means 120kg of carbon. Carbon being 12g per mols, that is 10’000 mols of carbon. Turn that all in CO2, that makes 10’000 mols of CO2 which is 44g per mols, so 440 kg of CO2.

As methane (CH4), it is instead (16g per mols) : 160kg.

A cow produces 100kg of methane a year so a cow’s biomass is not sufficient to compensate for it’s methane production over its life.

Plus, when you eat the cow, you are the one farting that carbon back in the athmosphere anyway.

Still, cattle is 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.


This is a really important insight. To add to it: back when the carbon from Pool 2 was in the atmosphere, dinosaurs were roaming the earth and it was a lot hotter than it is now.

This is obviously a simplification, it but it drives home the point that once the carbon is out of Pool 2 it will cause global warming. The only way to stop that is to stop moving carbon from Pool 2 into Pool 1, ie stop fossil fuel mining.

Of course we could try to move carbon from Pool 2 to Pool 1, but it took the Earth millions of years to do that, and many of the plant species that did it are now extinct. Perhaps once we’re exinct, they might evolve again.


Re trees: It follows that growing some trees doesn’t help much, but growing a forest on otherwise bare land will act as a carbon sink as long as it’s not cut down - dead trees will be replaced without human intervention


Check this out:

As others have pointed out, this is an industrial-scale problem that can’t be solved through individual consumer choices, but if I understand your post, you’re asking more genuinely how we are ever supposed to make the math work.

This is a simple, user-friendly research-grade tool for analyzing the projected effects of various interventions. The answer to your question is:

  1. We decarbonize energy generation
  2. We decarbonize transport
  3. We stop generating methane (from industry and farming)
  4. We stop deforesting and start reforesting

Doing all of these will stop the increase of heating, which will keep us to around 1.5 degrees of warming. The last step required would be industrial direct-air carbon capture.

That’s currently the best plan that physics and engineering offer us.


Build nuclear power plants, problem solved.

Uranium3006 avatar

The most dangerous part of nuclear power is not using enough nuclear power


You’re missing something: it’s all a bunch of bullshit. So in a sense it’s hopeless, but you’ve got to ask yourself why even existing makes it hopeless? Because the feeling of hopelessness you get is a lie. Someone wants you to feel like nothing is ever enough.

I’m not saying fossil fuels are not releasing CO2 and all that, I’m not a denier. My point is only that these new ideas about your carbon footprint, that come from eating food and breathing, are absolutely ridiculous bullshit. Carbon in the carbon cycle already does not contribute to your footprint. It’s a lie to make you guilty when you didn’t do anything. Youre being gaslit.

The only carbon that counts towards your carbon footprint are 1) fossil fuels that you consume, 2) plastics from fossil fuels that you dispose of (they may not be atmospheric carbon now, but they’ll inevitably end up in the carbon cycle) and 3) your economic choices that lead to the destruction of natural carbon sinks, such as buying palm oil or products that contain it, Brazilian beef raised on torched amazon land, etc. You should not be concerned whatsoever about breathing and eating meat if your concern is carbon output.


Yeah, most people don’t know that the carbon footprint concept was invented my BP… an oil company. Trying to push blame off them and onto the individual instead.


Oh that first sentence had me thinking you were going a completely different direction! 🤣

mister_monster, (edited )

Yeah, most people just assume you don’t believe in climate change if you disagree with any part of the narrative, it’s cult like. I believe in climate change, fossil fuels cause it and all that stuff, but I have to reassure people of that every time I talk about this because I don’t just not my head when the topic comes up, I try to think about it critically.


It’s not going to happen.


Net zero is less of a number and more like a notion. Is existing in our environment with the least climatic influence a good thing? One way to achieve that would be lethal pandemic. We don’t know what our true impact is and may never know. Net zero in practical terms means reducing energy consumption and pollution. It inevitably implies reducing the population and finding an alternative to capitalism. We may have to revert to a more primative life whether we want to or not.


Overpopulation is an issue that has to be aknowledged but the earth would be able to sustain a lot more people if we wouldn’t pollute as much.

  1. Folks generally don’t consider offsetting their own breath, that’s extreme.
  2. The vast majority of oxygen comes from phytoplankton in the ocean.

Offsetting your own breath seems unnecessary. A human being does not produce CO2 out of nowhere. It comes from oxygen, which we breathe in, and carbon which we eat. The food absorbs the carbon from the atmosphere when it grows, so taken in total the whole cycle is completely carbon neutral.

The reason CO2 concentration is increasing is because we’re digging it up from the ground and releasing it into the air. Taking CO2 from the air and then putting it back a short time later is not really an issue.

Also, I’m really questioning OP’s numbers here. The CO2 a person produces should be absorbed by about 15 trees, from what I can find. Or is he trying to solve the global climate problem with only potted plants?

rm_dash_r_star, avatar

CO meter for sure, but a CO2 meter? It’s actually a good idea to have CO alarms in your house if using natural gas powered appliances. However CO2 is only a concern if you’re in a hermetically sealed environment like a submarine or space ship. I suppose it could be useful to check proper ventilation in the home, but normally you can just open a window.

Anyway the Earth has a carbon cycle, in other words it filters natural CO2 emissions through environmental processes. The problem is the amount added by industry is more than the natural carbon cycle can process. So levels are steadily increasing.

When we talk about zero carbon footprint we mean sources from industry like driving gasoline powered cars, generation of electricity, and production of consumer goods. A good amount already comes from natural processes like volcanos and erosion so we don’t actually need a zero carbon footprint, just need it low enough to avoid overwhelming the natural cycle.

At a personal level it would be just about impossible to have a zero carbon footprint. If you had a solar and wind powered home off-grid and used it to charge an electric car you could be well below average. However any consumer goods you use put carbon in the air to produce them. Even if you went full native you’d still be putting carbon in the air burning wood and candles.


Most people use CO2 meter at home to measure air quality. If you’re in room that is not well ventilated, depending on the size of the room, CO2 will reach pretty high levels within minutes. Unless it’s really bad, it’s not high enough to kill you (which is why people have CO detectors) but spending long time in the environment (hours) might cause issues with how well you can focus, trigger headache or migraine, cause tiredness if this is your bedroom, etc…


Actually the CO2 meter showed levels in my home during the day at 1350 (I think over 1000 is bad - 10% cognitive decline I think occurs at 1500) and in the morning over 2100 in my bedroom! The AC turns off and the CO2 just builds up I guess.

I did the research to see if any amount of houseplants could offset it (nope), but yes, opening a window is exactly the solution. Problem is I live in Florida and it is way too hot to do that. So I compromised and turned on a bathroom vent all day and it is keeping the levels to around 800 per day. It basically is slowly sucking air through the not perfectly sealed home and expelling it through the roof.

But I recognize now my AC will have to work harder to cool the incoming air and make my home less efficient, thus doing worse overall. Happily we have a nuclear power plant here but still.

WhoRoger, avatar

There’s a lot of greenery on Earth - seaweeds recycle a huge amount of CO2, as are all the plants we use and eat. It would be completely enough, especially as we keep killing off all the other animals that produce CO2.

It’s just unfortunate that we’re destroying the oceans too, and agriculture is a heavy industry with more polution. And while we kill off the harmless or useful wild animals, we replace them with livestock, and you know where that is going.

As individuals, we really can’t do much in this regard. I guess you can do more biking instead of driving, reusing older products, buying local, stuff like that, but this really won’t make a dent when industries keep using the dirtiest possible processes to save a cent, or if nuclear power keeps being lobbied out.

lasagna, avatar

The world has its own CO2 cycle so it’s not that we need to reach 0, we just need to reach a balanced emission threshold. Though at this point we will also need to aid this process with further removal.

The issue is mostly that we are outputting too much. Shipping industries, energy production, other transport such as cars and planes. These industries are a big part of the problem and the ones fueling (e.g. oil) them are the ones most interested in your feeling of hopelessness, as then they have free reign over their actions.

The world has and will get hotter. There will be more disasters. But it’s unlikely to be the end of civilisation. The more we act now, the fewer people will suffer.

It’s not a hopeless cause at all. Look at our tech now vs 100 years ago. Humanity has the means to do it.

JWBananas, avatar

How many extra trees do you need to offset the manufacture of that unnecessary CO2 meter?


That’s why you buy a second CO2 meter and go measure at the factory the first one was built in. That way you’ll know how many trees to plant for the two CO2 meters.


Last estimate was something in the range of three trillion trees, palms are probably not the most carbon dense tree for removing CO2. But all kinds of organisms help break down CO2 including Algae.

But don’t think that your breathing is to blame for CO2, it’s deforestagion, shipping, fossil fuels, war and bushfires are.

Make things, buy local and travel local.


As others have pointed out, individuals are not the problem nor are they the solution. How we produce energy and manufacture goods are the issue. The corporations producing energy and manufacturing goods don’t want to change to sustainable alternatives because it will cost them money. So they’ve invented the idea of a carbon footprint to make it seem like it’s your desire for electricity that is the problem and not how they generate it.


If we were actually net zero, humans would still reproduce until we aren’t anymore.

Overpopulation is an unsolvable problem.


Don’t say we because you’re not part of it. You’re the victim of it.


You’re part of it if you use electricity or consume anything you didn’t grow in your own garden.

Everyone likes to say “it’s the oil and gas companies” but like, no shit, we burn oil and gas, and billions of people die if we just suddenly stop.

Corporations aren’t giggling madmen burning gas for fun. They’re shipping things across oceans and powering cars and buildings, they’re making shit you buy.

Every single person contributes to climate change and it is by changing spending and investment habits (which is ongoing and has been for a while) that we overcome climate change.


I’m the victim of it. I can’t save the planet by not using electricity, by not drinking water, or by not going to the grocery store. The only viable hypothetical way of me saving our planet is becoming a mercenary which is, you know, GOD DAMN STUPID. I would GLADLY be more ecologically responsible if I could afford it AND if the opportunity was presented to be(because OBVIOUSLY that option is not always available even), and you know that prices for basic needs are NEVER EVER EVER regulated by consumers because the demand for these things never goes down no matter the price because ITS A BASIC NEED.

You also know that corporations are maximizing their efforts to get maximum profit, which means they neglect safety of their employees and THE ENTIRE PLANET. Oil ends up in the rivers, seas, oceans ALL THE GOD DAMN TIME. Are you trying to tell me that I’m to blame? Don’t you realize that for me, by your logic, to not responsible for it I’d need to quite literally just kill myself? Are you telling me I should be thankful for it? You are batshit crazy

P.s. fyi the rich does burn the oil for fun, when they decide there’s “too much of it”. Don’t remember the negative oil price a few years ago? There’s not just one instance of it. You know what they don’t do? Push themselves to be as ecological as possible. They’re too busy experiencing record profits that are unproportional relative to yearly us dollar inflation.

Get. Lost.


Did a child write this?


“🤓” type of comment


By the way it’s very interesting that you perceive a thought out, fact checked pre publication comment, as “something a child would write”. You should think about your place in society for a bit LMAO


Lol it’s so weird you described your comment that way.


This is so pathetic and embarrassing for you bruh


Keep trying to gaslight bud


You do not understand what that word means lol


Try another way. This isn’t working well. It’s even more obvious now

Bizarroland avatar

One thing that the carbon neutral concept overlooks is that the world is perfectly capable of absorbing the carbon output of a single person.

For average individuals we are not able to overwhelm the world with our carbon output. There is a carbon cycle and as CO2 increases in the atmosphere, plants grow faster and bring it back to a stable median.

It is massive industrialization that has overwhelmed the capacity of the earth to absorb the excess carbon dioxide created by humankind.

What you should do is spend your money on companies that have embraced carbon neutrality or being carbon negative, purchase items from low carbon companies, and be reasonable and responsible with your use of energy, including fuel and electricity.

When you have opportunities to vote for environmental initiatives, you should vote for them.

While you should be conspicuous of your carbon footprint in the environment that we have, you should also know that your ability to actually fix the issue is practically non-existent. The only thing that is going to fix the issue is government ruling that forces industries to stop polluting the environment at the rate that they are doing even if it causes our economy to decrease.

The only way for such initiatives to ever happen is if the population becomes carbon conscious and pushes for such initiatives. If enough of us do enough then the people in power will move to come towards us and make changes that will help keep them in power.

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