Browsing the webpages of Swedish electronic waste recycling companies, I happen to come across the climate wheel, an online infotainment tool that allows the user to balance human conservation with human generation of CO2 emission. Strongly resembling a fortune wheel, the climate wheel is divided in twelve wedges. Eight of them (colored in blue) show symbols of bottles, CRT screens, cell phones, newspapers, cables and batteries, and four of them (colored in orange) show different means of transportation, in this case, a bike, a car, a train and an airplane. Filling out the quantity of the user preference in kilos or entities, the climate wheel estimates the environmental effects of recycling bottles, CRT screens, cell phones, newspapers, cables and batteries. The user can then estimate the environmental effects of recycling in light of the environmental effects of different means of transportation.
With recent flights still fresh in my mind, I click on, and compare the different wedges in the wheel, and get to know that if I recycle:
10 CRT screens
33 cell phones
29 meters of cable
374 aluminum cans or
33 kg of newspaper
I have saved 56 kg CO2, something that allows me to:
drive my car for 280 km
take the train for 70100 km or
fly for 140 km.
While the above assessment is my own, I cannot help thinking about the underlying implications of this comparative approach, and the generous room for manoeuver that is allocated to humans through this. As if it would be solely up to us to save or savage the climate. Balancing human conservation with human generation of CO2 emission, the user is left with a picture of the climate as flexible, forgiving and compliant. The comparative approach also makes it difficult to conclude that 56 kg CO2 has been conserved (for what purposes?). The wedges featuring the bike, the car, the train and the airplane imply the answer: conserving 56 kg CO2 allows for generating an equivalent (appropriate?) amount CO2. However, the climate wheel does not question current consumption patterns, nor does it take into account the resource-intense production processes of, say, cell phones.
Hence, while the climate wheel meritoriously indicates the effects of current means of transportation, it assumes that it is still in my hands. As if this is a zero-sum game where my latest flight is rendered harmless or at least legitimized if I recycle an appropriate number of CRT screens, cell phones or aluminum cans, X meters of cable or X kg of newspapers.
It is not about numbers anymore. Don’t know if it ever was.