How Green Is My Tally?

Let the carbon footprint reduction begin: Two Pop Sci editors face off

| | My safeclimate.net avatar wears a gas mask|

PopSci senior editor Nicole Dyer and I, PopSci.com's editor, have undertaken a friendly competition to see who leads the greener lifestyle. Basically, she thinks she's more "environmentally savvy" than I am, and I'm not tryin' to hear that. I contend that I am the greener girl, although maybe I've fallen off the wagon a bit lately. I do know a lot about how to reduce my impact on the Earth—I was an environmental educator after college, for chrissake. I worked on an organic farm. I interned at the USDA Sustainable Agriculture office. I read Silent Spring and that Rudolf Steiner book on biodynamics. But Nicole is right: I don't live 100 percent according to the green gospel these days.

Perhaps you read the post I wrote a few months back, in which I claimed to have achieved perfect carbon neutrality and declared that it is, in fact, easy being green. Well, since then, I've been on an air-travel blitz, and all those frequent-flyer miles have made my carbon-neutral days but a distant dream. No matter how many gallons of fossil fuel I conserve by buying local produce, and trees I save by using recycled toilet paper, I'm still guilty of traipsing across the U.S. on a monthly basis to visit my long-distance boyfriend, as well as regularly flying to business conferences and meetings. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

But the idea of the green challenge I've undertaken with Nicole is not just to one-up each other (OK, that is a big part of it) but also to mutually and permanently improve our behavior by becoming aware of the activities we engage in that cause environmental damage. Because, you know, knowing is half the battle. So today I calculated my "carbon quotient," the amount of carbon dioxide I'm personally responsible for emitting into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the numbers were staggering. I used three different online calculators because each asked slightly different questions, and I got similarly lousy results from all of them. Apparently, my jetsetting lifestyle equals about 17 tons of carbon per year, or approximately 2,800 pounds of carbon a month. According to climatecrisis.net, 1,000 to 2,000 pounds per month is normal. More damning still, notes fightglobalwarming.com, I could "release about the same amount of carbon pollution by cutting and burning all the trees in a section of the Amazon rainforest the size of 2.7 football fields."

Alrighty, then. The first thing I'm going to do is buy some carbon offsets to mitigate the air-travel damage (that's $276 for the year from nativeenergy.com; the "carbon credits" support a wind farm and a methane-sequestration project and help to support Alaskan and Native American communities). In my next post, I'll take a look at another area of my life (food!) and see what else I can do to make a difference. So, Nicole... what have you got? —Megan Miller