Sunday, July 4, 2010

Carbon Footprint

This is not my regular column.

In relation to the column I wrote last week, one of my readers let me know there was a very active discussion on Facebook about me and my carbon footprint. He contacted me and asked about my carbon footprint. Here is my response to him, and anyone else who wants to know if I'm a hypocrite.

Whenever practical and safe, I drive a scooter that gets roughly 122 miles per gallon. I have a mid-size car that I try to drive no more than two days a week and for longer trips only. I have compact fluorescent bulbs in my home anywhere I can put them. I attempt to buy things that are grown locally whenever possible, although I struggle with spinach and berries, two of my favorite foods.

I do not recycle because I believe it is a net loss for the environment in terms of energy used, but I am fortunate to live in Pinellas County, where the majority of all trash collected goes to the county's waste-to-energy facility (WTE), where it is incinerated (emitting less toxins than the cumulative emissions of all the wood-burning fireplaces in the county) and converted to energy, which the county then sells back to Progress Energy, replacing "dirty" energy with "clean" for at least 110,000 homes and the facility itself. I know all this because I spent five years working as a public relations specialist with the county's utility and I researched the facility for articles I wrote for industry publications, point being there that I know enough to say I researched my choice not to recycle.

My carbon footprint is below that of the average American, according to the Nature Conservancy's highly generalized quiz. Here's how I stack up:

"Your estimated greenhouse gas emissions are 15 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per year, which is below the U.S. national average."

According to this site, the U.S. National Average is 27 tons, so I felt pretty good about that until I saw that the world average was only 5.5.

I do believe the test has some flaws; the largest one being that it doesn't account for locavorism, solar energy, or community and private gardens. Also, it doesn't seem to account for WTE technology as many communities still use landfills, which may make recycling a better choice for them, but not necessarily for us. Also, I re-took the test and entered the best possible answer for every option (it shows you the impact of each choice as you make it) and the lowest footprint anyone can get (a vegetarian who eats only organic food and has no car, doesn't fly anywhere ever, and unplugs everything unless it's in use) is 7.3.

Am I a hypocrite? I have no idea how to measure that. I never said I was better than anyone I wrote about in that column, so I'm not entirely certain why anyone's using that term at all. I'm clearly not perfect, but then, how boring would that be?


  1. Hi, Cathy,
    Our discussion over on Gulfport! Magazine certainly got lively.
    Though we clearly disagree on whether Hands Across the Sand was a worthwhile event, I'm definitely with you on the points that we all should do more for the environment.

    As for me, I do drive the snappy miata you recommended :)

    Ester V
    Gulfport! Magazine

  2. Hi Ester-
    I got the impression the question may have come from your 'zine. If you happen to have links to other carbon footprint calculators- perhaps one that would be more specific- I would love to see them.

    My biggest disappointment in my VW Rabbit is that it gets an average of 24 MPG city and 28 highway. It's my own fault for not checking; I grew up with Volkswagens and assumed it would have better mileage.

    Have you read the rebuttal (link posted in the comments of the "Hands" blog entry) to last week's column? Very impressive. I have a lot of respect for folks who can have that sort of discourse without losing control of their thoughts. Plus, I'm glad to see everyone thinking and talking about it. I don't think people realize how much petroleum is required for things other than driving, although I suspect awareness is certainly increasing.


  3. "I do not recycle because I believe it is a net loss for the environment in terms of energy used"

    bravo! sending garbage in a truck to be sorted a facility doesn't really mean one is "recycling", it means one is opting to use one waste management system over another.

    Also, aluminum does have a net gain in "sending crap in a truck ....", but thats the only one and it doesn't outweigh the other materials that get shipped out.

    Glad to know this county is reusing it's waste as fuel for electricity, I was unaware of that.

    and finally, scooters are cute, but bicycle legs are sexy

  4. Re Captian Landry - interestingly, bicycling efficiency is around 150 mpg equivalent (less for vegetarians) considering the increase in calories for activity, with the average cost of food in Btu/calorie and a 12 mph average bike speed. But it's a lot better for you, and yes bike legs are sexy. Every household should have an "errand bike" for those trips of under 2 miles. That's groceries, library, bank, post office, pub, etc. That'd save around 10% of our current motor fuel use.