Reporter's Notes: Tracking Carbon through Your Cell Phone

A carbon-tracking cell phone. Credit: Nokia
"Do I get to keep the phone?"

Not exactly the environmentally-conscious line of thinking that organizers were hoping for, but understandable for those high-schoolers holding a brand new, latest version of the Nokia in their hands.

The way the San Francisco pilot program works is like this: students get a mobile phone equipped with a GPS maps application. They fill out a profile with the make and model of the cars they use. The cell phone monitors movement, so it picks up when that student is making a car trip. The server factors in the time of day, the weather and humidity, and the type of car the student is riding in – and then calculates the amount of carbon output that trip represents.

The program currently doesn't differentiate between cars and other forms of transportation – bikes, ferries, trains, carpools, buses – so students may need to note when those trips were not regular car trips. The final number is their carbon rating.

When the program expands to three other San Francisco schools at the end of March 2009, a competition will be formed between the high schools to see which group of 25 students can cut back the most on their car trips and carbon output.


That will help answer the question of how much pollution people can save just by altering transportation behavior. And hopefully, the participants here are young enough that those transportation choices might continue after the program has ended. Once they get used to walking or biking, for instance, maybe they'll make that a regular form of transportation.

That, of course, doesn't ameliorate the answer to the other burning question – that, yes, the cool phone goes away when the pilot program ends.

Listen to the Tracking Carbon through Your Cell Phone radio report online.

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