I promised you a blog about travel and climate change and I guess I had better get to it before my next trip which is coming up in less than two weeks. I suppose the problem is that as a scientist I cannot ignore or deny the problem. It is sad and very disheartening that so many of our so called leaders have given people permission to deny that we have a problem. If you belong to the group that has bought into the lie that climate change is not real or not caused by human beings burning fossil fuels all I can say is shame on you, get a clue, and start thinking about what kind of world you want to leave for your grandchildren. Climate change is real, it is serious and in this country the bulk of emissions which are contributing to the problem are in the form of carbon dioxide which is a by-product of burning fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, oil and its derivatives, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
I am a retired air quality specialist and I have poured over the emissions inventories. I know that for every gallon of gasoline I burn in my car 19 pounds of carbon dioxide are added to the atmosphere. I know that the single most carbon intensive activity that I, as an individual, can engage in is stepping onto an airliner. How then can I justify traveling?
Long story short. I can’t. But here’s the deal. I tried telling myself I can’t travel and I got very depressed. I have spent my entire life driving fuel efficient vehicles, turning off the lights, turning down the heat, living without air conditioning, and walking or using public transportation as much as possible. And oh, by the way I don’t have any children or grandchildren so I am just doing this out of the goodness of my heart for you and yours. Well, and the Polar bears who are probably screwed anyway. Yet, in my lifetime the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has gone from less than 320 ppm to over 400 while scientists are telling us that anything over 350 is unacceptably risky.
It has become very clear to me that anything I can do as an individual is a drop in the ocean and until we all agree as a society that we must take action and find alternative fuel sources, my staying home hurts only me and helps no one. I realized when I was gravely ill a few years ago that if I really wanted to reduce my carbon footprint I should just go ahead and die. I wasn’t willing to do that and I am not willing to become a vegetarian and I am not willing to spend my retirement years sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch.
It was when I was researching buying a new car that I finally turned the corner. Because I really wanted an all-wheel drive vehicle but my environmental conscience kept telling me to buy a Prius. I don’t like Priuses because you can’t see a damn thing out the back window, and they are so low to the ground you scape bottom all the time. I don’t know how they do in snow but I don’t want to find out. So, I eventually determined that over the course of a year the difference in carbon footprint between a Prius and the Honda CRV I wanted was approximately equivalent to one person flying round trip from New York to San Francisco. I don’t know how many people fly from New York to San Francisco or vice versa over the course of a year but I know that me driving a Honda CRV is less than a drop in the ocean by comparison.
I came across these electric car plug-in stations on a recent trip to California. Sadly, there were never any electric cars parked there while I was around. And the trouble with electric cars is that while they don’t burn gasoline, you do have to be conscious of where the energy that travels down that plug is coming from. In California and Oregon it is probably mostly hydroelectric but in some areas of the country, such as New Mexico where I used to live, coal fired power plants still produce the bulk of the electricity that comes through that cord. We need a new paradigm, not more places to plug in our cars.
So, instead of staying home, instead of driving a Prius, I have decided to buy carbon credits to offset my carbon footprint. Carbon Fund.org is an organization which uses most of the money they take in to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation. All of which will do more for the climate than me staying home or becoming a vegetarian. For $150 I was able to offset my household energy use, my car, and my air travel. Since I had budgeted $250 I kicked in another $100 in hopes of offsetting someone else’s travel.
Do I travel with a clear conscience? No. My travel is still contributing to climate change, make no mistake. But at least I am doing something to help neutralize it. I’m thinking of putting solar panels on my roof next. And I promise that the future posts in this blog will be on a more positive note. Check in the week of March 28 for San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country.