The latest project from NYC art/tech lab Eyebeam is Michael Mandiberg’s Real Costs, a Firefox plugin that aims to show web users the carbon emissions associated with whatever it is they’re looking up. If you were searching for driving directions from Long Island City to Tribeca, for example, Real Costs might tell you that the planned trip will cost you four pounds of CO2 in addition to parking, gas, and the $8 congestion charge. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work – so far, the plugin only calculates emissions from certain air travel sites like Orbitz and Expedia. The plan is to expand functionality for maps, car rentals, and shipping – and the potential for even more applications is limited only by the available info.
Like Personal Kyoto, another eco-conscious Eyebeam project, Real Costs is an exercise in changing behavior through awareness. As Mandiberg explains on the site, “the objective of Real Costs is to increase awareness of the environmental impact of certain day to day choices in the life of the Internet user. By presenting this environmental impact information in the place where decisions are being made, it will hopefully create an impact on the viewer, encourage a sense of individual agency, and provide a set of alternatives and immediate actions.”
As we work towards constructing a carbon economy, where greenhouse gases are “spent” with as much care as dollars, we need to become more adept at quantifying and understanding the CO2 emissions associated with our day-to-day activities. Ideally, we wouldn’t need to download a plugin to show us these impacts online – they would be integrated into every site, right next to the price. But until then, tools like Personal Kyoto and Real Costs can set an example, adeptly using technology to decrease rather than inflate our ecological footprint.