I’m a climate scientist who doesn’t fly. I try to avoid burning fossil fuels, because it’s clear that doing so causes real harm to humans and to nonhumans, today and far into the future. I don’t like harming others, so I don’t fly. Back in 2010, though, I was awash in cognitive dissonance. My awareness of global warming had risen to a fever pitch, but I hadn’t yet made real changes to my daily life. This disconnect made me feel panicked and disempowered.
Then one evening in 2011, I gathered my utility bills and did some internet research. I looked up the amounts of carbon dioxide emitted by burning a gallon of gasoline and a therm (about 100 cubic feet) of natural gas, I found an estimate for emissions from producing the food for a typical American diet and an estimate for generating a kilowatt-hour of electricity in California, and I averaged the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Environmental Protection Agency estimates for CO2 emissions per mile from flying. With these data, I made a basic pie chart of my personal greenhouse gas emissions for 2010.
This picture came as a surprise. I’d assumed that electricity and driving were my largest sources of em... Read more