I’ve become quite the calorie-counter lately. With the holiday season upon us, I’m really tightening my belt, carefully calculating the number of calories I’d consume from all kinds of daily choices and sniffing out ways to trim the buggers from my diet. Like many a calorie-counter before me can attest, it’s frustrating work. Of course, by “calorie,” I mean “pounds of greenhouse gas” and by “consume,” I mean “emit into the atmosphere.”
Forgive me for the diet-speak, but perhaps you’d understand if you were hauling around a load of excess carbon like I am. After traveling from Seattle to far West Texas last month, I’ve vowed to personally offset the emissions created by the trip through my own lifestyle changes. The trip was the atmospheric equivalent of a month-long coconut-cream-pie binge, saddling me with an extra 1,858 pounds of greenhouse gases. They say weight loss is best and most sustainable when it’s done gradually, but boy, at the rate I’m going, I won’t get rid of this jiggle for years.
After four weeks of personal offsetting, I’ve managed to clear a measly 60.9 pounds of carbon dioxide. This is not an exact science, mind you, and carbon dioxide isn’t even the only problem with air travel. Plus, all of my calculations have been estimates. But you get the idea.
My struggle isn’t so much because I’m a stuff-my-face-with-pizzaburger-style carbon glutton, I swear. Shedding the pounds is extra tough because I’ve already made a lot of the green lifestyle changes that reduce my footprint, like walking/biking/busing around town as often as possible, or washing my clothes in cold water. In order for a personal offset to count, it has to be something that I truly wouldn’t have done without this challenge on my plate.
Let’s take a look at where I’m saving.
Home energy use: I’ve earned my primary savings thus far by skipping the clothes dryer, an energy-hogging appliance that I don’t really need. I mean, yeah, piping-hot undies are always a treat, but clothes dry just as well draped over doors and chairs around my apartment, even in a moss-on-steroids climate such as Seattle’s. Not drying three loads of laundry so far adds up to 35.1 pounds of carbon dioxide saved, based on my rough estimate of the usual laundry load around here.
Transportation: As I reported last time, I bought a used bike for running errands and tooling around town. Thanks to uber-local errands, I’ve only cycled off 10.8 pounds of carbon so far (assuming that one mile not driven equals one pound of carbon dioxide).
Getting my public transportation on has paid bigger dividends, but damn, you’d better have gobs of free time to really make this work. Hopping the bus downtown is no biggie, but you’re at the mercy of the transit schedule anytime you want to venture farther afield. Take my trip to a nearby state park for mushrooming a few weeks ago. In order to make a 10:30 a.m. start time, I left the apartment at 8:06 for my downtown bus. Once there, I had to wait around for almost an hour to transfer to the regional bus out to the eastern suburbs. Even then, the bus dropped me a mile from the park, adding a brisk walk to the mix. Repeat it all in reverse to get me home again. I spent five hours in transit in exchange for what would have been 40 total minutes of driving.
But of the weight I’ve lost so far, the most hard-won was the pathetic 1.7 pounds I earned by taking my cat to the vet without a car. I know what you’re thinking — brilliant, right? The bus ride wasn’t so bad. It was the 10 blocks I had to walk, in the rain, clutching a carrier housing a very upset and soon-to-be-diagnosed-as-obese kitty to the vet’s office. People poked each other and laughed as I passed, bedraggled and with aching arms, amidst a chorus of angry meows. Post-appointment, I muttered, “Screw it,” and hailed a cab.
I admit it. I’ve been nipping and tucking with a scalpel where a machete would be more effective. I’ve been resisting making hugely inconvenient sacrifices, like, say, unplugging my refrigerator. But there’s still hope — there’s a lot more I could, and will, be doing. As some of you have suggested, I can move beyond myself and berate — er, encourage — others to slim down a bit. (I’ve already begun lobbying my building to sign up for municipal compost pickup.) I can cut down on eating meat. (I’m also working on this one.) I can still make a few changes around the house — low-flow showerhead, anyone? — and I can figure out how to add some trees to the world. Maybe I’ll even try a more radical weight-loss plan. Aren’t light bulbs a little like carbs?
There are those who question the point of this exercise to begin with. “Why make your life harder when it won’t make a difference anyway?” they ask, adding a virtual eye roll that would make even the most jaded 14-year-old proud. “Policy is the only solution to the world’s climate crisis, not individual action.” To them I say: Well, yeah.
Is large-scale political action needed to make a significant impact on the billowing clouds of carbon dioxide we keep on spewing into the atmosphere? Sure. Will my biking a few miles in the rain instead of tooling around in a Fossilmobile save the planet? Hell no. But it’s illuminating to see how the greenhouse gases born of a plane trip translate into real-world difficulties, don’t you think?
Doing almost anything in this country emits carbon dioxide, travel being one of the worst offenders. And trying to personally offset nearly 2,000 pounds of CO2 without going feral is tough for anyone here and now. Dunno about you, but this makes it quite obvious to me that there’s got to be a better way.
Next time: I’ll dip a toe into the no-waste lifestyle by adopting a BYO approach to plates, bowls, cups, and utensils at a variety of restaurants. Don’t think I won’t carry Tupperware in my purse for leftovers, either.