For my 2020 resolution I’m making a pledge to take action and reduce my carbon footprint, and I hope that you’ll join me. I’m making a real, concerted effort this year to reduce my carbon footprint as low as I can get it. That means doubling down on making real life changes, not sitting on the sidelines expecting others to get us out of the climate crisis.
It means taking on the problems that we already know and living accordingly. No more sticking my head in the sand. Since we have the highest CO2 emissions per capita of any sizable country in the world, our wealth comes with an obligation. I’m lucky in that I have means, and in my mind that adds an additional obligation.
Inspired by Greta
I was deeply moved by the passion and anger expressed by Greta Thunberg – especially her address to the UN last year. She’s absolutely right – she should be in school, not having to provide guidance for a body of world “leaders” currently doing nothing about climate change, chasing “fairy tales of eternal economic growth”. It deeply troubles me that my own son has expressed his own version of “climate despair” that reminds me of my own generation’s teenage angst about nuclear war. Greta’s words convinced me that we can wait no longer; immediate and significant actions are needed. We can’t keep repeating the same behaviors and expecting the problem to fix itself.
What does it look like to reduce your carbon footprint?
For years I’ve been thinking about how I can reduce my carbon footprint in the abstract. For months it something that I increasingly felt compelled to do. I’m not the first person to try this, I know, and if you’re interested in the topic, you’ll want to check out the book or film about “no impact man” who set harder rules for himself than I’m willing to try (yet).
3 Ways to Reduce My Carbon Footprint
I began looking at my habits, checking carbon emissions calculators, and examining my lifestyle. Finally, I set my own core set of 3 simple rules for 2020:
- No flights
- No driving or riding in cars (except electric)
- No buying meat
I came to those rules by looking at the factors I can control, checking CO2 calculators to see where my biggest impact is, and trying to make the greatest cuts I could orchestrate. The Nature Conservancy’s projection shows we all have to keep our emissions down to 2 metric tons of CO2 per year to avoid a more than 2°C temperature rise by 2050. So, I set my annual carbon budget based on that.
Purchasing Carbon Offsets
I typically fly at least once a month or so and, although we’ve purchased terrapass emissions offsets for years, that never really felt like a compelling solution to me. I like the comparison of carbon offsets to the old practice of buying indulgences from the church. It’s OK to sin if you pay for it, right?
When you start to think about it, the decisions start to get tricky fast. How to get around? I run a company – how to maintain my business with offices in Oakland (my home), New York, Long Beach and Salt Lake? What about buses and trains? I’m teaching a class in Orlando on Feb. 1 – how am I getting there? I started to soon realize this was going to be a challenge, but a worthwhile one.
Driving cars makes up about 45% of our countries total CO2 emissions (according to the EIA), and only 3% of my emissions last year (because I live close to work). Eliminating driving sounded like one of the easier options to take up. As an avid cycling tourist, I’ve also found that choosing a bike creates options for local travel and is a fantastic way to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Not to mention, your workout gets built into your day instead of pushed into the sidelines of your life.
Flying and My Carbon Budget
I typically fly quite a bit for my business, but not this year. For my New York office I plan to take the money I would have spent on airfare, meals and hotels and invest in some good video conferencing equipment instead. That way I can improve daily and weekly communication and lower my CO2 footprint too.
My flying habit was a big part of my carbon budget last year and a single trip to my class in Orlando and back would break the carbon budget, so what are my options? Much as I’d like to bike to Orlando and back, based on my cross country tour, that would take four or five months (I’m no Lael Wilcox) so that’s not at all practical. So, I started looking into trains.
Trains as a Lower Carbon Option
Trains in the US aren’t emission-free but they’re still much lower than air travel. According to the BBC, our domestic trains still put out 41 grams of CO2 per mile, roughly 20% of air travel. That’s more than I’d like (about a quarter of a metric ton) but I’ve got a commitment to teach a class and doing it remotely isn’t really an option. My plan instead is to take the train, where I can at least work a normal schedule as I watch the miles go by. I’ll let you know how it goes in a future post.
Sacrificing Flying and Driving?
Will I miss flying and driving?
My last flight back in 2019 was a miserable affair. The flight was delayed (as they often are) and I was forced to fly next to someone who was ill, nauseatingly un-bathed (I’ll spare you gory details) and I got home with the usual post-flight feelings of exhaustion, aches, lack of exercise, and concern over exactly what new illness I might have been exposed too. In short, yuck. At that point I started to see my flight-free pledge to be as much as a gift to myself as any real hardship.
Not driving has, in the 10 short days of 2020 so far, been a gift too. I’m biking more, don’t have the frustrations of traffic, and have simplified my life.
While I’ve been a vegetarian for periods of my life, eating zero meat is difficult for me. I grew up the grandson of a butcher and grocery-owner. So, my carefully worded commitment is that I won’t buy meat. That leaves the door open for mooching off my friends who hunt and fish sustainably. Otherwise, I’m now a vegetarian and, since I live in California, I have lots of options. Consuming meat last year added about a ton of carbon to my budget so eliminating it will help me stay within my budget.
Shaming Around Climate Change Action
Funny thing but as soon as I started to examine my carbon footprint, I noticed a lot of public shaming out there for others who try to do the same. For example, many have criticized Greta Thunberg for not being environmentally or socially perfect in one way or another, and Al Gore for flying to promote climate change action. My pledge put me thinking about a lot of other environmental impacts of my life, especially consumption of plastic (Just watch this eye-opening PBS documentary on plastic).
I choose not to be deterred by similar logic. “Perfect is the enemy of the good” is my reasoning and I refuse to be deterred from action by rock-throwers who advocate doing nothing. We’ve had a generation of that argument, and it does us no good. Let’s choose action instead. “Bias to action” is the phrase we use at kW – “analysis paralysis” serves no one, and we’ve no time left for it.
What action will you take?
I’m finding that so far, my choices aren’t any real sacrifice, and I’m looking forward to my train trips and bike rides. Let’s not get hung up on being perfect.
I hope that you’ll join me with a pledge to reduce your carbon footprint in 2020. I realize that I’m lucky enough to have a lot of options, and there are many less fortunate who don’t have the same choices. But if we look closely, we all have at least on choice we can make– meatless Monday, buying food in bulk to reduce waste, carpool, buy an electric car…Choices abound.
Who among us can look at what’s happening around us and advocate the status quo? Climate change is so glaringly obvious – we need to begin altering our lifestyle and making choices that make an impact. We owe it to our kids, and their kids, to leave them a better world. We might find that, in the process, we find a world that we enjoy living in more too.
What will you do this year to reduce your carbon footprint?