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What’s Your Carbon Footprint?

Two weeks ago I discussed my reluctance to travel by air because of its disastrous impact on the environment. I concluded “If we calculate our carbon footprint and what actions are likely to increase or decrease it, at least we can make more informed decisions. And while I am far from overcoming my own need of flying, for me, confronting this dilemma is a necessary first step. I hope that engaging in a constructive discussion of this issue will provide some insights and I welcome your input.”

A number of you responded. One person pointed me toward an article by meteorologist Eric Holthaus entitled “Why I’m Never Flying Again.” He wrote, “I didn’t comprehend quite how big an impact all those flights were having on the climate until I crunched the numbers with UC Berkeley’s excellent carbon footprint calculator (see link top left). I was shocked to discover that air travel comprised almost half of my household’s emissions last year, or 33.5 metric tons of CO2.”

I took my own advice and with Elli’s help used the UC Berkeley calculator. First, while helpful, I didn’t find it “excellent.” There was no way to determine the impact of our solar panels or honeycomb shades on our footprint, and all we could do was to give best-guess answers to some of its questions. Still, it gave us a better idea than we had before.

It calculated our footprint at 33.7 metric tons of CO2, and I suspect that it overestimated the footprint of our home’s heat and electricity. While this is well below the US average (25.9 metric tons per person or 51.8/couple) reported in THE ROUGH GUIDE TO CLIMATE CHANGE (2011), it is more than triple the 2010 global average of 9.4 metric tons per couple, and above the Western European average. Even though it was not perfect, it focused my attention more on the environmental costs of my lifestyle.

Unfortunately, even if all of us reduce our individual/household carbon footprints, we will do little to reverse or even significantly impede global warming. As Barry Sanders notes in THE GREEN ZONE, “even if every person, every automobile … suddenly emitted zero emissions, the earth would still be headed…toward total disaster…. The military produces enough greenhouse gases, by itself, to place the entire globe, with all its inhabitants … in the most immanent danger of extinction.”

We can’t turn this engine of destruction off without transforming our system that requires continuously increasing production and consumption, and a global military presence to procure the resources to fuel it. But we must still do what we can to curb the most destructive aspects of our behavior. As we educate ourselves and our communities to become more acutely aware of our carbon footprints, we are more likely to turn against the voracious consumption at the core of our multi-national corporate controlled economy.
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