By: Chris Boeckx
Several months ago, I found myself standing at the super market surrounded by, of all things, an aisle of Christmas decorations. Well, it was really only a portion of an aisle at that point, but it was more than enough to garner a grumble from a grinch like me. September, our nation’s retailers have decided, is just the right time to start celebrating the holiday season. I couldn’t disagree more. However, my humbuggery will have to take a back seat in this post because I’ve decided to join forces with all of the overzealous holiday revelers among you by making my New Year’s resolution – in November. So take that!
Cutbacks on extra weight, extra smokes and extra nightcaps are the tried and true targets of resolution makers. This year I’m joining the reductionist parade and promising here, in front of God and everyone, to cut back on carbon.
I know it’s not a novel idea. Carbon cut backs are as popular as knee-high boots this year – and my fiancé’s shoe collection is evidence of the super-powered nature of that trend. Nonetheless, I’m intrigued, especially in a forum as high minded and big picture oriented as this one, by ways in which each of us can take baby steps towards our collective environmental goals. Thus the resolution.
But where to begin? I’m a former Peace Corps volunteer, a law student bent on plying my skills in the eco-marketplace, and a bit of a snob – so you can bet that many measures are already in place to reduce my carbon footprint. I take the bus even when I don’t have to. I eat local, organic veggies instead of long distance meat whenever possible. And, get ready – I own a reusable coffee filter. So, when I started my research at www.nature.org, I was hoping to resolve my resolution right then and there with the website’s handy carbon footprint calculator. With a rough estimate of my annual carbon emissions in hand, I felt confident I would feel even more superior than normal. I was wrong.
The good news: the calculator says my fiancé and I are pumping out about nine tons less carbon per year than the average American two-person household. Most of that difference can be attributed to our bus rides, efficient light bulbs, and local food when we can afford it. The bad news: at 44 tons of carbon per year we’re still more a part of the problem than we are a part of the solution, and we’re 33 tons behind the global average for households like ours. Ouch. It looks like we’ve got room to reduce.
More good news: the carbon calculator asks leading questions that provide you with some direction even before the results are in. My first twinge of concern came when I was asked how many flights I took last year. It was a busy time preparing for law school, visiting campuses across the country, and flying from Bangkok to Denver when I finished my Peace Corps service. It turns out that my domestic flights were adding just about half a ton of carbon to the atmosphere per round trip. And that Bangkok trip I mentioned: 7,433lbs (calculate the carbon footprint for your flights at www.terrapass.com/carbon-footprint-calculator/#air) Staying local next year can reduce my footprint by more than 10%. Of course, now that I’m actually in law school, budget and time limitations should help take care of this one for me. I’m going local next year whether I like it or not.
The carbon calculator also encouraged me to unplug my electric appliances when I’m not using them. I had no idea that cutting down on “phantom power” usage can cut my energy usage by up to 10% (http://www.buzzle.com/articles/unplugging-appliances-to-save-energy.html).
Hot water use is also a problem at my house. Time in the shower can add up quickly, and I found out that I was using nearly 14,000 gallons of water each year with my 15-minute showers. Cutting back to five minute splashes will save about 10,000 gallons of water each year, not to mention all the carbon it takes to heat that water up.
For those of you keeping score at home, I’ve learned that by keeping my feet on the ground, my plugs out of the socket when possible and my shower time to a reasonable minimum, I can cut nearly 30% of my carbon footprint out of next year’s atmosphere. Not a bad start to 2011… in November.
So, why wait? Calculate your footprint today, read some of the other big picture articles here at Triple Pundit, and let’s come at our environmental goals from both sides.