Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
May 8th, 2007

Change the Language, Change the Thinking

We are all more aware of global warming than we were years ago.  As a country we passed through the tipping point of awareness in the last year.  We have a better understanding of what it is that we each do to contribute to global warming, and a number of us have taken action to lessen those contributions as much as possible.  We now need to change some of the language we use in this area as it will help us to continue to change our thinking and perhaps our behavior. 

I have heard a number of relatively environmentally aware people speak about their cars with a MPG reference.  People speak about ‘doing their part’ by driving a car that is rated as a 30 mpg vehicle, or that they just bought a hybrid to help cut down on harmful emissions and to save on gasoline.  That is great, no question.  What is needed now is for those people, and all of us, to not rest on our laurels based upon what we have purchased, and move to how we use what we have purchased.

The question should be “What is your carbon footprint?” not what is the mpg rating of your car.  For example, let’s assume a green thinking consumer has just bought a car with a 30mpg rating, having shed her big SUV that only got 15 miles per gallon.  That’s great, but she should ask herself what her carbon footprint is before she wears even a scarf of self righteousness.  If someone drives 30,000 miles a year in a 30mpg vehicle they consume 1,000 gallons of gas.  If someone drives 6,000 miles a year in a 15mpg vehicle, they consume 400 gallons of gas.  That means that, loosely speaking, the person who drives the less efficient vehicle has an automotive carbon footprint that is 40% of the person who drives the fuel efficient car.  If one can say that a car is a ‘transportation tool’ the question is how one uses the tool.

A Toyota Prius, the current automotive poster child of the green set, generates about 3.4 tons of carbon emissions a year.  This compares quite favorably to a Honda Accord, which generates 6-7.8 tons of carbon emissions a year, or worse a Dodge Ram truck at 9.7-12 tons per year.  If the owner of the Prius drives more than twice as much as the owner of the Accord, then she is contributing more to global warming.  Of course it is always better to drive a lower mpg car, but the real question is what is the carbon footprint of one’s behavior

I have a car that I love to drive.  It is a twelve year old Mustang convertible, with a large V-8 engine that has 84,000 miles on the odometer, so it is powerful and in relatively good shape.  I haven’t made a car payment in over six years.  The problem with it is that it seems to get an in city mpg in the mid teens, so it is not a very fuel efficient form of transportation.  Therefore I have taken two steps to lessen my carbon footprint.  The first step is to not drive a lot.  I live in the city, work at home, and therefore put around 3,000 miles a year on the car.  I walk around the neighborhood to do most of my errands and I take public transportation a lot.  So my contribution to global warming is lessened by driving less.  The second thing I have done is to purchase carbon offsets to offset both my driving and the energy I use to live in my home.  I purchased my offsets at www.planktos.com because I know the CEO and love the fact that the money they take in goes to grow plankton blooms in the ocean.   

So start to think about your activities in terms of what your ‘carbon footprint’ is, what your total contribution to global warming on an annual basis might be.  There are many web sites that can help you in this regard. Thinking about this will possibly lead you to purchase ‘carbon offsets’, so that your entire lifestyle is ‘carbon neutral’.  It must be stated that carbon offsets should be looked at as a short term solution until we are all driving electric cars, consume only renewable energy and have started to reverse global warming.  The carbon offsets I purchased, help to restore the oceans, so while it makes me feel good about being carbon neutral, it is also helping the earth, in my case by growing plankton in the oceans.

Another term to use and think about is ‘food miles’, as in how many miles your food has traveled to get to the store where you purchased it.  If you live in Chicago and like to think you are conscious because you eat ‘organic’ food, you are not helping things if that organic food is flown in from California, as the emissions for all that transport is contributing to global warming.  This is why there is such a growing movement to buy ‘locally grown produce’.  Not only does it tend to be fresher, but it has not been transported over long distances using fossil fuels.  Ask your store where the produce comes from.

So, what is your carbon footprint?  Have you purchased carbon offsets where the money you spend goes to help reforest the earth?  How much of your life have you made carbon neutral?  How many food miles do you have in your refrigerator?  New language can lead to new thinking which can lead to new behavior.



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