BBC Climate Change Quiz Asks: How Can You Cut Your Carbon Emissions?

And I ask, how could they get it so wrong?

BBC announcer reading quiz answers
BBC announcer reading quiz questions.

Hulton Deutsch/Getty Images

BBC News recently ran a post titled, "Climate change quiz: How can you cut your carbon emissions?" In it, the quizmasters ask "how can you play your part at home, and what changes would have the most impact?" Having recently written a book about this very subject, I thought I would give it a shot and expected to ace it.

I got two out of six right. I was shocked. A few people I know who are involved with climate or carbon in some way did the test and they also bombed. I thought it might be instructive and fun to look at these questions and The BBC's answers. Before you look at the answers here, go try the quiz yourself.

Recycling Question


I actually got this one right, as did a whopping 77% of respondents. That's actually surprisingly high, given how successful the packaging industry has been in brainwashing people about recycling. We showed one survey that found "the majority of people believe the most important thing they can do to reduce greenhouse emissions and fight climate change is recycling as much as possible." Another, which made me want to give it all up, found that 60% of Americans thought recycling was the top thing they could do "to live a longer and healthier life." So I was pleased with this result.

Question 2 insulation


Twitter was agog at question 2: What's going on here? Insulation and sealing can save a lot more than a ton of carbon dioxide. And yes, you can buy green energy, but that's not what's coming down your wire. As we have written so many times, we have to reduce demand before we can electrify everything and run all those heat pumps. The people blocking the streets are right; we have to Insulate Britain.

electric car vs public transport


Clearly, the quizmasters are not reading other BBC posts on embodied carbon or they would have considered the impact of building an electric car.

Duncan Tweet about marginal emissions

The electricity supply in the United Kingdom is not carbon-free, so an electric car still has operating carbon emissions. As for the alternative of public transit, it doesn’t all run on fossil fuels: the Underground, or subway system, runs on electricity.

Public transport or long haul flight


Coming after question 3, I voted for public transport again since I think it is the answer to everything, and because in researching my book I found that driving a gas-powered car was just about the worst thing anyone does. People who drive tend to drive a lot; according to the EPA, the average passenger vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. According to The Guardian, a round trip from London to New York is 986kg or just under a metric tonne. People in Britain drive less than Americans and their cars are slightly more efficient, but these data from the survey just feel wrong, mathematically and intuitively.

give up car or meat


Finally, I got another one right. We know that giving up meat makes a big difference, but very few things have the impact of giving up the car.

meat vs pets


Now I am confused. Furry pets come in all sizes, but question 5's answer claimed that giving up meat saves half a metric ton of carbon per year. In his book "How Bad are the Bananas," Mike Berners-Lee calculated that an average dog has a footprint of 770 kilograms per year, and a large dog, 2.5 metric tons.

But it also fails intuitively: Adding another creature to the planet feels like it is going to have a bigger difference than an incremental change in a person's diet. As Geographer Gregory Okin noted in a Treehugger post, "I do think we should consider all the impacts that pets have so we can have an honest conversation about them. Pets have many benefits, but also a huge environmental impact." Okin also noted that "cats and dogs account for 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the U.S."

Ben Adam Smith

According to The BBC, I would have a lower carbon footprint driving my big dog in my electric car from my uninsulated house that was powered by electricity fed into the power supply from some distant wind turbine that I bought renewable energy credits from.

Now to be fair to the quizmasters at The BBC, this is hard. The data on carbon are all over the map. They are often comparing apples to oranges, or puppies to vegetarians. I kept going back to my book and wondered: Are they right or am I? But then I realized the whole comparison format complicated the questions.

Have I just wasted my time writing and your time reading this? Perhaps. But I was so embarrassed about getting two out of six right that I had to justify it. Maybe I should have just kept quiet and not told anyone...

Did you do the quiz? Put your results in the comments.

View Article Sources
  1. "Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.