“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.” (African proverb)
It all started in 2006 when Sheila and I were hit by a car while riding our tandem. Sheila suffered quite a bit of damage, the driver was DUI. The end of 2007 we received a generous settlement check and wanted to do something special with it.
We decided to fly to New Zealand for a 2-week tandem bike tour. We began planning and stretched the vacation out to a month to make sure we got to Australia for a couple of weeks, too. There was so much to see and do if we went Down Under. We didn’t want to miss any of it.
Planning was going full-bore until mid-May 2008 when Sheila made an off-hand comment wondering what the carbon footprint of our flight would be. So we looked into it. And what we found amazed us.
Using a calculator provided by the City of Seattle (www.zerofootprint.net) we learned that our joint base footprint, without the trip Down Under was about 6.8 tons of CO2/year. For comparison, the average Seattleite is at about 10.7, the average US citizen is at 12.6. Adding in just the round-trip flight to New Zealand, our footprint ballooned to 21.5 tons. If we added in the flights to and around Australia, we were over 25!
Here are two charts that show our annual carbon footprint, first without and then with the trip Down Under. (NOTE: to be fair, we learned later that there are a lot of different footprint calculators and not all of them made it THIS bad.)
This stunned us. We were going to quadruple our annual CO2 output with just one vacation. We had long discussions with friends and eventually decided to cancel the trip and lose our deposit. That wasn’t enough. As several people told us, “The plane is going anyway.” We decided to do something to educate people about the impact of flying, hence this page.
What can you do?
If you agree with our bedrock value that we need to be good stewards of our planet so our grandchildren and great grandchildren can have quality lives, then you already know it requires individual action. Fortunately, there are many ways to start. Like us, you are probably well past the standard Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and are willing to make more changes. Carbon Conscious Consumer (C3) has listed six things you can do including:
- Eat locally
- Downshift your driving
- Junk your junk mail
- Break the bottled water habit
- Wash in cold water
- Bring your own bag
We were already doing ALL those things and more. Yet until now it hadn’t even occurred to us what a HUGE impact flying has. Below we talk about a lot of the things we’ve done and recommend. Our newest thrust though is spreading the word to FLY LESS!
First off…your food choices make a difference. Every day when you sit down to eat, what you choose makes a difference (good OR bad). Are you making conscious food choices that are healthy for you and the planet? When we explored this subject in 1990, we decided to eliminate animal products from our diet. The savings in production energy alone are incredible before you factor in values for transportation of cattle, meat to stores, or methane produced by cattle. Best of all, you can move as far along the meat –> no-meat continuum as you are comfortable right now and it will help. That is the main message of EarthSave International, which grew out of John Robbins’ best-selling book Diet for a New America. A more recently published and equally compelling read is Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.
If you’re not ready to cut back on animal products, and even if you are, consider eating more locally. Transporting kiwis from Australia to Washington is almost as bad as our flying there for vacation. Instead of a tomato grown in California, find one at a local farmer’s market. Join a CSA (that’s Community Supported Agriculture). As with all foods, organic foods are better for your health which is personally as dear to us as the planet’s health. If you’re in the Seattle area this article called Miles to Go Before I Eat is interesting. You can also pickup a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal Vegetable Miracle and/or check out The 100 Mile Diet.
Look to your home energy use. Can you find places to use compact fluorescent bulbs? They last longer and use less energy. Can you unplug some of your chargers? Turn down the thermostat. Turn off lights if you don’t need them. Increase your insulation. Try the Natural Resources Defense Fund’s website for tips.
And here are a couple of links to help you address two of C3’s suggestions. You can greatly reduce those unwanted catalogs in the mail at Catalog Choice. And Small Steps is a wonderful resource for cloth shopping bags. They are “a campaign to change our throw-away plastic bag culture” and run by volunteers.
Part of the reason we downsized from our 4 bedroom 2500 square foot house to a 1000 square foot condo was to have a smaller carbon footprint. The building was “built smart” so it’s energy efficient. We can walk to the local natural foods store, yoga studio, and just about everything else we need.
Our personal transportation is a great place to reduce, too. Auto emissions are bad, but made worse when the trips are single-person and short. Consider walking, biking or using the bus. Consider trains instead of planes or cars for long trips. We chose are car based on the results of research on the Live Neutral website. You can see the comparison between a gasoline car, a hybrid and a biodiesel car here.
And then there’s flying. The Resources page is particularly focused on information about the impact of our flying. Please consider taking One Less Flight each year. And if you must fly, purchase carbon offsets.
We think of this as a sort of “sin tax”. We’d prefer not to commit the sin, however, in the real world sometimes we must fly. At those times, buying carbon offsets makes sense. In most cases what they do with the money really is making a difference in the right direction. Here’s what the Terrapass website wrote about them.
More and more people, small businesses and large companies are becoming hip to carbon emission offsets and the carbon-neutral lifestyle. We a comprehensive comparison of the nonprofit and for profit organizations providing carbon offsets that is no longer available online. The survey found that most companies provide nearly identical service (offsetting carbon emissions) using a couple different means (tree-planting or investment in renewable energy, or both) but varying wildly in price. Carbonfund.org checked in with the lowest price, at $5.50 US per metric ton of carbon dioxide, while other companies like Terrapass (about $10/ton) charge more for their offsets that can be calculated for more specific activities, like traveling by car or airplane. The growing number of companies that offer such service seems to indicate a growing market for carbon credits, which, no matter how much you pay, is a good thing.