As you can see, doing something like cutting out one cross-country flight can reduce your carbon footprint more than eating vegan for a whole year. And while doing some basic insulating at home has about the same impact as replacing old single-pane windows with new Energy-Star ones (and costs way less), you’d do even better to skip a single long flight (or car trip, since long car trips taken alone can be even worse than flying) per year!
(Note that while the average impact each of us has through recycling is quite small, the total impact of recycling is still impressive: almost 16 million tons of CO2 are saved each year through recycling, not to mention less landfill waste and less resource use.)
Many people are willing to spend lots of money to “green” their home or car, but this chart shows that cutting back on long-distance travel can have a bigger impact.
So, does this mean you should stop doing the little things that help reduce your carbon footprint? Of course not. You should do whatever you are willing and able to do to help the environment. Making changes to your diet, your car or your home do make a difference (especially if you look at more than just carbon footprint).
And many of the common “green” actions we take have other environmental benefits besides reducing carbon emissions—for instance, carrying a tote bag to the grocery store reduces plastic, eating a vegan diet saves water over meat-and-dairy intensive diets(4), etc.
But if, like me, you’ve been giving Hummer drivers dirty looks while flying on a regular basis, take a moment to think about how you can reduce both the frequency and distance of your travel. For me it was a wake-up call to calculate my carbon footprint in terms of the average annual Hummer emissions—6.5 metric tons(5)—and visualize towing a few Hummers behind me on my bike, everywhere I go.
From now on, I’ve resolved to look closer to home for vacations, and to cut back on travel for work as much as possible.
Download Jon’s Sources & Footnotes (PDF).
(Image: airplane. Source: Flickr user xlibber via a Creative Commonse license.)
Jon Fisher is a data management specialist for The Nature Conservancy, the world’s leading conservation organization. He has studied forestry, environmental biology, stream ecology, environmental engineering and how technology and spatial analysis can improve wildlife management at airports. He also loves to cook delicious vegan food. Opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.