The Swedish One Tonne Life project got a lot of fanfare, on this site and others. And why not? Who wouldn't want to keep most of the aspects of Swedish (or American) lifestyle - the single-family home in the 'burbs, the kids, the car - yet emit only one ton (tonne) or greenhouse gases per person per per?
After a closer look at the final numbers, one critic says the One Tonne Life, in spite of its carbon diet, ended up overweight.When we first wrote about One Tonne Life, we were pretty enthusiastic, despite the participation of Vattenfall, the Swedish utility that is Europe's third largest greenhouse gas emitter, and personal car company Volvo.
We said the One Tonne project was: "a ground breaking R&D; project for everyone involved."
In many ways, that is stlll true. While lots of the technologies to make our lifestyles lower in carbon emissions are already readily available, there's a problem getting emissions reductions solutions to cost less and be widely adopted. Projects like One Tonne Life make CO2-saving technologies to avert excessive climate change seem, well, normal.
At the heart of One Tonne Life is the house the 4-person Lindell family lived in for the past six months.
Located in the Stockholm suburb of Hässelby, the One Tonne prefab house has also been called the Thermos house, because of its front facade of solar panels, and its fantastic insulation and array of efficient appliances.
When the Lindells started their One Tonne Life experiment in January this year, they also got the use of a Volvo C-30 electric hybrid five-seater car, which they plugged in and charged from the house's solar panels or standard electrical plugs By learning about the house and using its efficient appliances from Siemens, buying smart at the supermarket and watching their carbon emissions on their home monitors, the Lindells were supposed to reduce their emissions from the Swedish average of 7.3 tonnes of CO2 emissions per person per year to just one tonne per person per year.
At first, the Lindells were definitely on the road to reduction. Their transport emissions dropped drastically from using the C-30 instead of their own gas-powered car. They also dropped their home-based emissions from power use by more than half, when compared to their own single-family home. Without altering their lifestyle much, they were able to maintain a "three tonne" life.
Then, in the final weeks, the family "sprinted" to try to get their CO2 weight down to one tonne. To get their food emissions down, the family cut out eating meat, first gradually, but then completely, and switched from dairy products to alternative milks and cheeses from soy and oats. In the final week (end of June), the Lindells even closed off a room they rarely used, went without TV and shopping, and stopped eating out.
By becoming vegan and eschewing many pleasures, they were able to offiicially drop to 1.5 tonnes per person per year.
However, at least one critic says those final numbers aren't realistic. Johan Erlandsson, who leads the Ecoprofile blog site, says the calculations of the Lindells' emissions should have included not wind and water power, but what is called the "EU-mix" of sources for electricity consumption, because generally consumers get a mix of sources in their electricity, including Vattenfall's own coal-generated electricity.
More important, according to Erlandsson, is the fact that calculations on the family's emissions don't include either an airplane-based vacation, which nearly all Swedish families take, nor do the numbers include the "communal annually emissions" of about two tonnes per person that all Swedes, including presumably the Lindells, are responsible for each year.
"It is difficult to argue that one should count on Swedish power," Erlandsson writes, "when that is not what is available on our electricity network." It's misleading to make it seem like wind and hydro could be available to all mainstream electricity purchasers, he means, when they constitute a tiny portion of total production. In addition, Erlandsson seems to disagree with the project's main point, which seems to be that we can have our suburban homes and electric cars and be low carbon, too.
When factoring in the extras, the Lindells, say Erlandsson, have closer to a 5-6 tonne per person lifestyle (3 tonnes without lifestyle changes plus those two communal tonnes and some plane travel). That's a reduction from the 7.3 tonne average, but by less than 25%.
In spite of the criticism Christian Azar, a climate researcher at Chalmers in Gothenburg, said that One Tonne Life is important because it makes necessary lifestyle changes seem "less scary" to the average consumer.
More on low-carbon living:
One Tonne Life: Test Driving the Volvo C30 Electric Family Car (Interview)
Low Carbon Living Experiment Ends: Did the Lindell Family Achieve A One Tonne Life? (Video)
One Tonne Life: Interviewing Project Architect Gert Windgårdh