Saturday, July 07, 2007

My, What Big Carbon Footprints You Have!

Six hours of Fergie at Wembly Stadium weren't enough for you last Sunday? Well, lucky you, she's screeching the same songs today for 22 straight hours in order to combat global warming!

OK, so while watching Madonna, Al Gore, Robert Redford, and (of course) Snoop Dog save the planet, I finally decided to try and figure out my carbon footprint. Have you tried to do this? Frankly, I was scared to do it, which is why it took me so long. I know I'm probably more eco-friendly than your average American but I know I can do a lot better.

Anyway, I tried about a dozen different carbon calculators online and they are pretty disappointing. They don't go into much detail and the results vary widely. I produce somewhere between four and ten tons of carbon a year and am somewhere between "below average" and "average" for an American. That's not very helpful. Actually, most of the sites said I was below average so that's good. One said I produce nine tons while the average American produces 18! I know, right? I've been holding back on my carbon emissions but I guess I can go crazy now!

So, like I said, I'm not very impressed by the accuracy of these calculators. But I did learn two interesting things. First, I took two flights in the past year and that could be responsible for as much as forty percent of my carbon emissions! Two flights are almost equal to a year's worth of driving and air-conditioning! I knew airplanes created a lot of pollution but I still found that surprising.

The second interesting thing I learned is that you can buy off the environment. Cheap. That's right, just like indulgences in the Catholic church, you can send money to environmental groups to make up for your carbon sins. One organization told me that I would be carbon neutral if I just send them $29 a year! Cool; that's much easier than conserving energy!

I was really hoping the calculators would go into more detail about my eco-friendliness. Instead, I'll write about what a horrible/saintly person I am here.

Flying: Like I said, I had no idea my holidays were quite so terrible for the environment. It's not like I'm flying on a private jet. But I don't make lots of short flights and I don't fly for business so think I'm pretty good compared to many people.

Driving: My annual mileage is pretty low: around 8,000 miles. My commute to work is only about 12 miles. Unfortunately it takes me about an hour to drive that 12 miles. I know everyone complains about their commute but I'm proud to say that I actually get to drive on officially the worst freeway interchange in the United States: the intersection of the 405 and the 101. I'm not exaggerating; it's the worst in the country! God, that transition sucks! What was I talking about? Oh, yeah; the point is I don't get great gas mileage because most of my driving is in that awful traffic. But I do have my new Honda Civic. It's not a hybrid but I get about 28 miles to the gallon (it's supposed to get 40 highway) and that's almost twice the mpg of my last car.

I feel pretty good about the improvement in gas mileage over my last car. Of course, I could do much better by carpooling or taking the bus but I just don't do it. I've tried carpooling and it's just such a pain in the ass. I tend to stay at work longer than many people want to because I use the gym there. I also like to be a little flexible in my hours; I don't want to worry about running a little late in the morning or leaving late one night to make up for leaving early another night. I know I'm just being selfish. Also, I tried carpooling with a girl from France who drove like a maniac. I assumed it was because she was European but it turned out she had just gotten her driver's license. And the day after we stopped carpooling her car went spinning out of control on Sunset Blvd. (don't worry, she was fine). I lost my taste for carpooling after that. And don't get me started about the bus; I'll just start sobbing uncontrollably.

Power: I don't think we are too bad here. In my last little studio apartment I didn't have air conditioning so I hardly used any electricity. Eric and I use a lot more electricity because we have central air and we have to use it much of the year. We both have trouble sleeping and need it quite cold. We do turn the temperature up during the day. And we almost never have to use the heating in the winter because, our apartment being on the top floor and getting lots of sun, gets really hot in the summer but stays pretty warm in the winter.

We finally went out and bought those funny curly light bulbs that use something like 80 percent less energy. You're welcome! Unfortunately, we can't use them in all our light fixtures because they only seem to come in one size and some of our lights use smaller bulbs. I'm sure they'll start making smaller ones soon.

Recycling: I don't recycle very much. I feel terrible about it! This apartment is the first place I've lived in Los Angeles that doesn't have recycling bins. I think we live in one of the few places in the city that doesn't have a program. I don't have the energy to drive all over town trying to recycle old magazines! When I first moved to Los Angeles I used to take my recycling to the grocery store and then I recycled at home when the city started supplying bins. But because most of the city has bins now you can no longer recycle at the grocery store. This is very annoying but I just keep telling myself the city will start a program soon. In my defense, I don't actually produce that much trash. I don't take the newspaper and I drink filtered tap water (so I don't have lots of bottles to throw away). And supposedly my trash at work is recycled.

[Update: a neighbor told me I can take my recycling to Whole Foods so I'll start doing that. Eric also says we should be able to get bins for our apartment soon]

Water: This isn't included in the carbon calculators but obviously it takes a lot of power to clean and transport water to our homes. I'm sure I waste a lot of water; I could take shorter showers, for instance. But at least I don't have a lawn and I share a swimming pool with a couple of dozen people so I don't feel too bad.

Work: I have no idea how much energy I consume at work; and I don't think the carbon calculators take this into account. I work for a nonprofit and I think the organization tries to be environmentally conscious but I have no idea how it translates to my personal responsibility. Apparently the organization recycles and tries to use some low-water landscaping. The library where I work is kept freezing, however. We are told this is to preserve the books. We try to explain that humans have to exist in the environment as well but they don't seem to listen. It also doesn't explain why it seems to be over-heated in the winter. I don't know how green the buildings are. I do know the air conditioning involves some sort of evaporative water system. It's pretty amazing; I saw it once. It's like this series of waterfalls in an underground cavern! It's so beautiful that it's a shame it has to be hidden under ground! Anyway, I don't know if that kind of system uses less energy.

Well, that's it. Am I forgetting anything? Let me know if you have better luck calculating your carbon footprint. All I determined is that I'm better than average. But I already knew that.


Ms. Place said...

Having once assiduously been a huge proponent of energy saving measures, like living in a passive solar house, driving a tiny manual stick shift, recycling all papers and plastics, bringing my own bags to the grocery store, parking in a central spot and walking to all stores within the vicinity, creating a weekly plan so I would not have to drive out of the way to purchase an item, turning off lights in rooms that are not used, planting 200 trees from the Department of Forestry on our four acres, and volunteering with Friends of the James to pick up trash along the river's greenway, I grew suddenly tired of stemming the tide.

What finally did me in was my visits to the Far East: Japan, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. By and large these overcrowded countries don't give a rat's ass about pollution, or using up fragile non renewable resources, or saving energy.

And while I applaud the U.S.'s efforts, because we ARE the largest consumers of energy in the world, I have relaxed my stance a bit. I no longer bring my own bags to the grocery store, I purchased an ordinary house, and I now drive an automatic that guzzles gas to the tune of 28 miles to the gallon instead of 44.

BUT, I don't jet all over the world like these Hollywood types just to attend a wedding or sing in a concert; I don't own a bevy of 10,000 square foot houses that suck energy just by existing, and I don't lecture anyone else about what we are doing to the environment as I casually consume more goods in one year than others will in a lifetime. I think these Hollywood types should stop talking and start MODELING proper environmental practices and reduce their carbon footprints first. They are, after all, hectoring us about this important issue all the time.

My thinking is that with 6 billion people already crawling all over this fragile planet, any hope of saving it may well be too late. But I shall continue to play my tiny part, recycling paper, reusing wrapping paper (Oh, yes, a trick my mother taught me), and throwing my vegetable scraps in my wonderful composter.

Thanks for another thoughtful post, Eric. You have the knack!

eric3000 said...

Ms. Place,

I think you have done your part and are allowed to relax a little now! LOL!

I agree that it is pretty shocking to think about the polution caused by a celebrity flying to a concert for environmentalism! On the other hand, I think these same celebrities are responsible for finally getting people to wake up to the fact that global warming exists; so they are probably doing more good than harm.

And I hope developed countries like the US can start to serve as an example to developing countries like China. I think it's unfair, though, as the Bush administration has done, to expect developing countries to have the same emissions standards as we do when it's our two centuries of poluting the planet that has made us rich and caused most of the damage.

Marius said...

Yes, great post, Eric! I, too, am trying to do my part. My annual mileage is really low (about 4,000 miles), and I take the bus to work on a fairly regular basis. I could do more, of course. I think I'll start by switching to those funny light bulbs. Also, I'll start sending money to environmental groups. That should absolve me of most of my carbon sins.

Ms. Place, I agree with Eric, you've done more than enough.

I enjoyed some of the Live Earth performances. However, I was quite annoyed by the whole thing. Now, I agree that celebrities are raising awareness of various environmental issues, which is great. But, I agree with Ms. Place. I'd say that a lot of the celebrities who participated in Live Eart are very wasteful. These people were essentially saying, "do as I say; not as I do." That doesn't fly with me.

You know what; I was shocked that they invited the Dave Matthews Band to perform. Didn't those guys dump human waste into a lake in Chicago? Seriously, what kind of role models are these people?

Ms. Place said...

Thank you, Eric and Marius, for your kind words. You are wise and right if these celebrities didn't make a big stink about the environment, most folks would be slow to move on this extremely important issue.

My patience with these Hollywood types ended when we were forced to watch a "Green" night at the Oscars. I nearly fell off my chair laughing at the absurdity of these rich, privileged, successful and overpaid celebrities lecturing ME, who has truly been an energy responsible citizen, to become more environmentally aware. I suspect that many of us are already doing our part as best we can. More education is needed, and that is where these energy hogs fit in: as spokes people.

I am in the process of switching my incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent bulbs wherever I can. Another huge energy saver is to unplug one's cell phone chargers from outlets. When they're not in use, they are still drawing electricity.

Eric said...

I'm tired of the celebrities asking me to give my money. They make heaps more than I do and yet I'm the one expected to fork over my cash. Just once, I'd love for a celeb to say that they are donating their entire $15 Million one-picture pay day to any of the things they expect me to fix.

Linda Merrill said...

Great post! I worry about calculating my carbon footprint much like I worry about calculating how much money I need in my 401K at retirement. It seems overwhelming and scary. I do think we can all do little things - like not drinking so much bottled water, refilling the bottles we do buy. Unplugging and turning off appliances that aren't in use. I, unfortunately, drive 35,000-40,000 miles a year in a Jeep Cherokee because I do a lot of driving for my business and need a larger car to transport things for clients. If I could afford it, I'd love to own a small runabout car for the 75% of the time I don't need the cargo space. But, can't do that right now. I try not to use paper towels or napkins - but carefully use cloth so they don't need to be washed with every use. I do use my a/c and heat, but keep them at reasonable levels. I only get the Sunday paper and try to share magazines. But, so much more to do!

I also get annoyed with the celebs in their mongo SUV's, bottles of water, and jetting all over the world. They could stay local and film their speeches/performances. Some celebs seem to walk their talk, but most don't. It's much like when they scream about outsourcing and the poor workers who lose their jobs to overseas workers, then happily jump on a plane to film their next movie set in some US location, but film it in Montreal, Prague or Australia. All to avoid us unions such as teamsters and talent guilds. And they probably never give it a thought.

But I digress... off to unplug my cell phone rechargers!

Doralong said...

You've been nominated for a Thinking Blogger Award due to your amazing contribution to the blogging community- sorry I'd have emailed, but couldn't seem to locate.

Come on Over and tag yourself- and nominate 5 blogs you find of interest-

trixie said...

this is so funny. I finally got back to posting on my blog and my first post was about hollywood people giving me "tips" on how to conserve. I understand the tradeoff: if it call attention to the cause and serves to educate people about the larger issues then it serves a larger good but on a more personal level the hypocrasy is very irritating.

(my second post was on arnold schwarzenegger being part of live earth and the need for more support for solar power in california.)

yeah, I don't always bring my own bags to the grocery store but we have a dog so we recycle the plastic bags. And they break down quickly in a landfill. The problem is when they become litter or when they end up in waterways.

Anyway, it is important for everyone to try to reduce reuse recycle but the fate of the earth is not really about the choice of paper or plastic at the grocery store. It is in the hands of much more powerful agents and reason is no match for the forces of poverty and greed.

I will say this however, ms. place. There were aspects of Brazil that shocked me in terms of its pollution but at the same time they have is a really active and vibrant environmentalist movement -- and it is growing. But Brazil is unique in so, so many ways!

Another great post Eric. I tried to do a carbon footprint calculation but it started out with a choice for heating: gas or electric. It didn't have an option for "none"!

trixie said...

ps -- sorry about the typos and errors above -- I'm rushing off but wanted to post because of the coincidence of topics -- and congrats for your nomination! You are the Thinking Blogger for those who also get a giggle out of silly jokes that repeat "gay gay gay gay gay gay gay". It is an elite group.

BigAssBelle said...

i walk to work and drive a 34 mpg car which balances out my 20 mpg pickup which i must have for work.

my 1942 house is prone to leakage and the power consumption is higher than i'd like.

my warehouse is in a drafty old building built in 1948 and it is not well insulated.

i am working on it. trying to improve. and while i'm trying to improve, i keep writing my asshat congressturds about holding industry accountable for emissions and proper funding for technological innovation in the area of energy independence.

since one of my congressturds is the infamous james "no global warming here in drought-stricken hotter than hell oklahoma" inhofe, who is trumpeting the news that we've just had a solid month of rain, thereby exposing himself for the complete jackass he is and making clear the fact that he doesn't know the difference between temperature and climate, i doubt my efforts have much effect. whew! hard to shut up about that foolish dunce.

there is much in the MSM being said about the energy consumed in the live earth concerts. this is the same stupid tactic being used against john edwards: he lives in a big house, has lots of money, how dare he talk about poverty. these non-arguments just enrage me, and yet they dominate public discourse.

so much to be outraged about these days. while i'm hot-headed, i'll turn up the thermostat for an even greater wave of heat ;-)