Zero carbon humans

I like our planet. A lot. But as a 2020 human, is it even possible to live on earth with a positive impact instead of a negative one? Turns out, yes. Living in a carbon neutral way is perfectly possible and doesn’t even require big sacrifices or a hippie mindset. So yeah, that must be expensive then? Not really, as I calculated below.

There is no excuse. So that’s why I am committing to living in a carbon neutral way starting in 2020. And by 2030, I want to be a zero carbon human, and lifetime carbon negative afterwards.

So what does that mean ?

What’s the goal?#

Net zero carbon or carbon neutrality means that any carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from your activities is balanced by an equivalent amount being removed or offseted in a given time frame. So that means that every year, the carbon you produce is offsetted by the same or higher amount.

When you’re net zero, you are still emitting a lot of carbon into the atmosphere. You are reducing it somewhere else by avoiding other people’s emissions, which is a step in the good direction but is actually not enough.

Furthermore, being net zero is only a statement on you current emissions - typically measured over a year - but does not take into account historical emissions.

That’s why I define the following new term:

Lifetime zero carbon: The next step - becoming lifetime zero carbon - requires a company or individual to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it has emitted during it’s whole lifetime.

Lifetime zero carbon means compensating for your whole lifetime, and not only by offsetting - where the carbon still gets emitted but compensated - but by actually capturing it and storing it. At 30 years old, this is a significant backlog to work through.

My commitment#

Starting in 2020, I want to be net zero with at least 50% of my carbon footprint being directly captured and allowing up to 50% to be offsetted by reducing emissions elsewhere.

By 2030, I want to have removed 100% of my total lifetime carbon footprint to become a zero carbon human.

Calculating my personal carbon footprint#

To get a better understanding, first you need to calculate an estimate of your carbon footprint.

I use the Carbon Footprint website which seems legit and based on science.

You can either make an educated guess, use your country’s averages, or make the calculation more exact by collecting:

  • utility bills (electricy and gas)
  • average distance driven per year (odometer divided by car age will do fine)
  • list of flights taken per year incl. destinations


According to my utility bills I consume

  • Electricity: 1364 kWh per year
  • Gas: 6024 kWh (602,4 m³) per year

That makes my total housing energy footprint 1.34 metric tons of CO2e per year. This does not account for the fact that I use “100% renewable energy” and we have solar panels (we only have two so the impact would be small in any case).


  • Flights (2018-2020):
    I will take the average of Jan 2018-March 2020 as the baseline, since after that there was artificially little travel due to COVID19. All flights are Economy class, direct and return unless specified otherwise.

    • February 2020 - from Brussels to Barcelona = 0.30 metric tons of CO2e.
    • October 2019 - from Brussels to Edinburgh = 0.23 metric tons of CO2e.
    • June 2019 - from Brussels to Barcelona = 0.30 metric tons of CO2e.
    • March 2019 (work) - from Brussels to Singapore via Hong Kong = 3.32 metric tons of CO2e.
    • November 2018 - from Brussels to Alicante = 0.41 metric tons of CO2e.
    • June 2018 (work) - from Brussels to Helsinki = 0.46 metric tons of CO2e.
    • May 2018 - from Brussels to Rome to Amman, and from Tel Aviv to Brussels = 0.95+0.45 metric tons of CO2e.
    • May 2018 (work) - from Antwerp to Munchen = 0.09 metric tons of CO2e.
    • January 2018 (work) - from Brussels to Rome = 0.16 metric tons of CO2e.

    So from Jan 2018 to March 2020 (25 months) I emitted 6,67 metric tons of CO2e. On average, flights cost me about 3.20 metric tons of CO2e per year

  • Car (2017-2020): between July 2017 to November 2020, I drove 65.000 km in a EU 2018 BMW 1 Series 5-door F20, 118d 16'' tyres, M6. Total Car Footprint = 8,32 metric tons of CO2e in 39 months = average of 2.56 metric tons of CO2e per year. This will likely be less in the near future because I live way closer to work than in 2017-2019. However, that is hard to estimate because corona changed commuting patterns and having to go to clients since March 2020 so I am keeping it as is.

  • Public transport: At most 24 trips Brussels-Antwerp (50km) would mean total Bus & Rail Footprint = 0.01 metric tons of CO2e

This brings my estimated total emission from mobility to 5.77 metric tons of CO2e per year

Secondary impact#

The most significant contributors are

  • 250 euro per month vegan food (0.92 tonnes CO2e per year) + 25 euro per month low meat food (0.12 tonnes CO2e per year)
  • 500 euro per year on clothes: 0.17 tonnes
  • 1000 euro per year on IT equipment: 0.99 tonnes
  • 400 euro per year on phone/tv: 0.40 tonnes
  • 1000 euro per year on manufactured goods: 0.27 tonnes

My estimated total emission from consumption is 2.92 metric tons of CO2e per year.

Historical personal carbon footprint#

It is a bit cumbersome to try to estimate your total carbon footprint since birth. Growing up we still ate some meat at home, mostly home grown chicken. I have traveled intercontinentally by plane in the past, including for work and living in a different continent. On the other side, I can only imagine that I ate less as a baby then I do now, and I lived in a house with 5 family members instead of 2.

I think just using my calculated footprint above for all 30 years is sensible. (If you have a different perspective, feel free to send me an e-mail at


Adding up Energy, Mobility and Consumption, I get to 10.03 metric tonnes of CO2e per year.

That would make my estimated total lifetime carbon footprint 30 * 10.03 metric tons of CO2e = 300.3 CO2e metric tons in total.

Cost of offsetting and removing#

Do it yourself? Expensive and time consuming!#

According to a meta-analysis by Project Drawdown, a growing forest can sequester about 3.3 tonnes per year. Given my annual footprint of about 10 tonnes per year, I would need to purchase about 3 hectares of land to cultivate it.

Note that higher yields might be possible using alternative reforestration techniques like the Miyawaki method or the Sharma algorithm, measuring capture rates of up to 5.5-11 tonnes of CO2e. per year per hectare.

At a cost estimate of EUR 15.000 (USD 17.900) per hectare in Belgium, this would be a one-time investment of EUR 45.000 (USD 53.600) to literally own your own carbon dioxide footprint. Note that this does not take into account the cost of planting and maintaining a forest, taxes, rising property values over time, …

Support specialists.#

First thing to note is that multiple competing certification standards for carbon offsetting exist:

Cost of offsetting

According to Gold Standard offsetting cost per technology type is

  • Clean Water: 12 USD / tonne
  • Biogas: 19 USD / tonne
  • Wind: 10 USD / tonne
  • Solar: 12 USD / tonne
  • Cookstoves: 15 USD / tonne
  • Forestry: 18 USD / tonne

I’m Belgian, so - for tax reasons - I am looking for an official non-profit that is recognized by the European Union. What I found so far is

  • plants trees for 12,5 euro (15 USD) per tonne. They are recognized by two official Dutch government agencies CBF and ANBI. They plant in Uganda’s Kibale National Park and in Bolivia in the Andes region. They don’t offer official credits.
  • plants trees. Currently planting in Peru which also combats desertification. Linked to They have no certifications that I can find, and the link to their annual reports are broken.
  • offers various offsets at 23 euros per tonne. They have projects in Rwanda, Nepal and India. Only select CDM and Gold Standard projects.

Summary: what it costs to be a zero carbon human#

Summarizing all of the above we can see that living in a net zero way costs about 125 EUR per year or 10 EUR per month.. In US dollars living in a net zero way costs about 150 USD per year or 12,5 USD per month.

To become a lifetime zero carbon human would depend mainly on your age. For a 30-year old, becoming a zero carbon human would cost a total of about 3750 EUR or 4.500 USD one time. That’s 31,25 EUR or 37,5 USD per month for ten years.. While that is a lot, I believe it is manageable and am personally willing to make that commitment.

Note that these gifts are tax-deducible. So at a marginal tax rate of 50% with a deductible amount of 60%, you would actually be netting only ~22 euro per month for 10 years to offset historical emissions, and 7 euros (~9 USD) per month after that to remain net zero. That’s three coffees to help save our planet. Don’t hesitate. Just do so.

In 2020, I offset 20 tonnes (187,50 euros) via, and 200 euros to You should do the same.


Want to discuss?#

I am an amateur who is just trying to do good based on DuckDuckGo searches. If you are more than an amateur, I would really like your input. You can reach me at

If this post inspires you to become a zero carbon human as well, make sure you let me know. Once 100 people do so, I will make this more professional with a dedicated website, free stickers and better calculators.

If you know git, you can edit this page and send me a pull request too on (GitHub)[]

Offsetting vs capturing carbon#

Offsetting carbon means preventing carbon emissions somewhere else that is easier than doing it yourself.

So for example while I cannot stop eating (I would die), I can sponsor and help to make cooking stoves in Uganda more efficient so they use less carbon. This reduces emissions by preventing new ones, but doesn’t do anything to the original emissions (from e.g. driving) that have already been made.

Removing carbon, sequestring carbon or capturing carbon means actually removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it somewhere else (sometimes called the “sink) like in the soil or in buildings. This is for example achieved by planting trees or by direct carbon capture. Professionals sometimes use the term CCUS: carbon capture, usage and storage.

Offsetting carbon is a way to reduce the total additional carbon emissions on the planet but should be seen as a temporary measure and not a solution. The mechanisms are well understood and are fairly “easy” to accomplish. but to achieve the 2050 climate goals, also some form of large scale capturing of carbon is needed. To read more on why offsetting is not enough, I recommend this article by atmosfair.

On the other side, there is no proven consensus on what the best way to remove carbon is. Afforestation is sometimes criticed because it requires long term commitments with no way to verify or enforce these. Direct carbon capture is fairly experimental. Some scientist even go so far as to call it a “distraction” of easier to reach ways to reduce carbon emissions that have the same impact. Clearly, more innovation and research is needed, and that requires investment.

Undoubtedly, the most climate friendly way is still to reduce your emissions, not offset them or capture the carbon after the facts.

Reducing your footprint#

I believe in eco-realism where - as much as possible - you make changes to your lifestyle that have a big impact on your ecological footprint, but not on your wellbeing. What you find easy depends on your personal preference.

Mostly plant-based diet

The meat industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change and of the biggest impacts individuals can have.

Together with my girlfriend, we follow a 90% plant-based diet. That means that 90% of the meals we eat are completely plant-based (“vegan” has such a bad connotation). We eat an average of 2,5 meals per day, so about once every four days we will eat something that is non-vegan: add cheese to a dish, eating out with friends or family that don’t cook vegan or eating in a restaurant that has no (decent) fully plant-based options.

Plant-based food is delicious and leaves me with tonnes of energy and concentration. The science seems to (mostly) agree that it is significantly healthier then diet with meat and dairy. For an overview, read How not to die by Michael Greger. It is a very activist and one-sided view on the matter, but it is mostly based in science and offers yummy recipe advice.

What I could still improve

  • flying from time to time
  • buying new things, especially technology

Uncertainty of estimates#

For general statistics, I tried to use scientific consensus or the average where possible. Even then, the range of possible estimates can vary significantly. For example, in an article by The Guardian, estimates for one flight range between 2.24 and 5 tonnes of CO2e.

For my personal numbers, I relied on actual consumption numbers where possible and made a reasonable estimate otherwise.

This is my earth.#

I like our planet. A lot. It is where I spend the vast majority of my time. It’s the place where I see my friends and family. I enjoy its seasons with the wisdom of autumn, the immaculateness of winter, the possibilities of spring and the completeness of summer. I long for the dopamine-free calmness of being in nature to decouple from the stresses of daily life.

I love our planet. And with loving comes caretaking. So I want to leave our planet in a better state when I go compared to when I arrived.

This is my earth

And I live in it

It’s one third dirt and two thirds water

And it rotates and revolves through space

At rather an impressive pace

And never even messes up my hair.

And here’s the really weird thing

The force created by its spin

Is the force that stops the chaos flooding in.

This is my earth and it’s fine.

It’s where I spend the vast majority of my time.

It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.