Everyone knows it is important to reduce carbon emissions (and if you are not please watch the above video and be prepared to be terrified). However, what does a good individual carbon footprint look like, and when are reductions enough?
Because I am a sustainability nerd, I’m taking free green minded classes via Coursera. My current weekly geek fest is through Introduction to Sustainability by the University of Urbana-Champaign. The latest mind bomb provided by this class involved the following statement:
“All the population growth in Africa may not be as important as the consumerism in America.”
SAY WHAT?! How could the consumerism in the United States be more important than an extra billion or so people on the African continent?!
The answer is actually exceedingly straight forward. It is so straight forward that I can illustrate it with one graph.
Wow. How does that make you feel America? It made me feel pretty upset, I can tell you that. At least we are superior to Canada, which was also surprising to me, because I thought Canada was great at everything green.
To make myself feel better, I decided to tackle calculating my own carbon footprint. There are a variety of good carbon foot print calculators out there, but I chose the one from the Nature Conservancy because the Nature Conservancy is one of the oldest and most trusted environmental organizations out there. My own results astounded me. Despite all of my hard work, my biking and veganism and being absolutely militant about air conditioning usage (sorry Dana), I still have a carbon footprint 2 tons higher than the average European. Yes, fine, it is better than 67% of all Americans but FUCK THAT. We’ve already seen that America just sucks. Being better than 67% of a bunch of sustainability losers still makes me… well, a loser. Just not a total loser.
The major factors in my own calculations involve air travel to and from Wisconsin, totaling about 6000 miles and 3 tons of CO2 a year. Being vegan (according to this calculator, though Cowspiracy would disagree) saves me 1 ton of CO2 a year. My minimalism, saves me a whopping 10 tons of CO2 a year, because the average American with my income spends over $1000 a month on goods and services. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU AMERICA? HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY NEED $1000 OF STUFF EVERY MONTH? Looking at all the factors, the only realm of savings I have right now open to me (because my roommate might actually murder me in my sleep if I did anything different) is through my motorcycle usage. I completely rearranged my work out schedule, taking my weekly motorcycle commuting from 2.5 days/week to 1 day/week, saving me 1 ton of CO2 a year. Since a tree can absorb 48 pounds per year, that would be the equivalent of 2000/48 = 41 and 2/3 trees.
Yet all my skimping and saving still give me only an upgraded carbon footprint of 9 tons a year. How is that still worse than the average European? And can we even consider the average European’s carbon footprint good?
Research took me to Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and an article dealing with the difference between Europe and America. Did you know, that the majority of apartment in Europe, including ones that are considered very posh and high class, HAVE NO DRYER? That’s right. European’s have drying racks in their houses, and this isn’t a sacrifice, but living the incredibly good life. Wealthy people do not own as a matter of course, air conditioners, microwaves, and large cars. Refrigerators are smaller, and as a future tiny house owner, I can tell you that my research illustrated very clearly that large refrigerators take up A LOT OF ENERGY and cannot be sustained via solar power without an enormously expensive system. In Europe, everyone takes mass transit, because sitting in traffic jams caused by small streets designed around horses, is not acceptable behavior.
Can you say mind blown? Live without access to a dryer? Live without a microwave? Just… just wow Europe. To a European, my utilitarian life which everyone tells me they could never do because it would just be “too hard” is living to complete and utter excess. Discovering all of these things now, has only increased my conviction to make Jesse and my Tiny House completely off grid. We intend to run our house off a small solar system and pedal bike. The small solar system would be completely dedicated to our small eco-friendly fridge, which tells you just how energy expensive refrigerators are. If we wanted anything else, like lights or a charge for our computers, bike pedaling will be necessary. Early energy estimates show that Jesse and I will have to pedal at least 30 minutes a day each. How is that for work out motivation?
Okay, so assuming Jesse and I are eventually living in a tiny house with 0 electricity usage, and I can maintain bicycle commuting to and from work, this brings me to a lean, mean 6 tons of CO2 year. Hallelujah! I’ve beaten the average European. However, is this wonderful, meaningful, 6 ton carbon footprint a sustainable one for the world at large?
If we regard the world as a typical grading bell curve, my 6 ton grand emission plan is rated a C. Just a C, just an average world citizen! ARG! My future self may no longer be a loser, but I’m just skating by and passing the class. To be truly exceptional on a global scale, I would need to cut my emissions down to at least 4 tons a year, which would mean eliminating about half of my air travel.
Furthermore, let’s consider that according to Wikipedia, the global population is 7.5 billion and growing. If, as by some estimates, the global forests can sequester 4 billion tons of carbon (if we stop deforesting) and the oceans can sequester another 2.5 billion tons without contributing to ocean acidification, than a truly sustainable world WITHOUT ANY SORT OF POPULATION GROWTH would require each person to contribute less than 1 ton of CO2 to the atmosphere a year.
Oy fucking vey.
There is a solution, however, and it is surprisingly doable. Plant more trees. As previously mentioned, one ton of CO2 is about 41-42 trees’ worth of work. There are a lot of organizations out there, that will re-forest urban and non-urban areas to offset your contributions. They will also finance green energy and water systems that will take away other people’s carbon contributions to the environment. Think of it as cap and trade. It isn’t expensive. To offset 20 tons (double my current contribution) is about $200 dollars.
In conclusion, a good carbon footprint to shoot for is the global average of 6 tons. If you can’t do that, the European average of 8 tons should be doable for every American. On top of that, I would seek to offset what you do contribute to the environment through carbon offset programs. I plan of offsetting double my yearly contributions each year from my tax refund. Clearly we have a long way to go to achieving a sustainable earth, however, if we each do our part and become an example for our neighbors, we can work to achieve this change. If we do nothing… well, it’s pretty easy to predict the consequences. Think globally, act locally, and keep being the very best person, friend, family member, and sustainable global citizen you can.
This Week in Updates: Tired
Yawn, I am tired! That blog post took a lot out of me. That was a lot of learning, and learning is both exciting and tiring at the same time. How wonderful for me that I am taking a lazy weekend at home. Sometimes you just need to cook, sleep, eat, read, work out, and spend some time with yourself. Of course, things have become busier than I would like, with a co-op owner worker shift set to keep me up late tomorrow. Also, my new bike heavy work out routine means the latest I can wake up each morning is 4am, ideally 4:30 on a work out day. But, I shall early morning pedal to save all that carbon! Dedication!
The Recipe: Pueblo Corn Pie
This recipe was adapted from One Green Planet’s Pueblo Corn Pie. The changes I made were for economy and portion size. This is, after all, a recipe for more than four servings!
This is one big delicious casserole, and oh so cheap! The onion was $1, pinto beans $3, can tomatoes $2, can corn $2, cornmeal $2.50, and the spice and olive oil $2.50. So that is $13 for 8 servings. The only downside is that it requires at least 20 minutes of stove bound dedication.
- 2-4 tbs olive oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can corn kernels
- 4-5 cups cooked pinto beans
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp dried cumin
- chili powder to taste
- salt to taste
- 2 cups cornmeal
- Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the onion is translucent.
- Mix the onion/garlic with all other ingredients except the cornmeal in pan and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- For the cornmeal topping, boil 6 cups of water with a little salt.
- Add the cornmeal a little bit at a time, stirring to avoid clumping.
- Simmer and stir the cornmeal for about 20 minutes until thick.
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- Grease a large casserole dish with remaining olive oil. Put in one layer of the corn, then the beans, and then top with the remaining cornmeal mixture.
- Bake 45-50 minutes until the top corn layer is a light brown.