So, I’ve become rather obsessed with the concept of the carbon footprint in the past few years, to the point of observing, as a friend was describing a possible date who traveled to Hawaii and Arizona every year, “Man, he’s got a huge carbon footprint!” It’s a constant topic of conversation at our house—how to measure such things accurately, whether or not it really matters what we do (are we just doomed anyways?), what can we do to reduce ours? What is the final goal here? Is it better to drive my old VW Vanagon, built at the tail end of the last energy crisis, or buy a new Prius, with its embedded construction energy? Is Volkswagen ever going to build a hybrid? How much gas do we use in a year? I can measure that….
Being the archivist and packrat combination that we are here, We have, filed away, all of our bank statements for the past five years, taking up way too much room in the file cabinet. As we always buy gas on our debit cards, I could see how often we bought gas and multiply it by 10.5 gallons. Since the gas gage broke, years ago, we’ve been filling the Ark up at about 260 miles, which is 11 gallons, but, occasionally, we’ll buy gas before leaving on a trip, so our average is 10.5 gallons. In the last year, we bought gas 26 times—so 273 gallons of gas in a year. Multiply that by 22 miles per gallon (our average consumption, which, yes, I figure in my head whenever I buy gas—always have) is 6006 miles of driving between the two of us last year. I then figured the amount of carbon from that gas consumption—19.564 pounds per gallon of gas for 5390.974 pounds released into the atmosphere. Not great, but way better than the average American family at 24,000 miles per person, per year. A Prius gets about 45 miles per gallon, twice as good as the Ark, so we could drive 12,000 miles for the same impact—or stay where we are, not driving, not buying a new car, and doing a little better than most Prius drivers. So I guess we’ll keep the Ark for a little longer—besides, we can camp out in the back, and save money, too!
We can do this for one reason—location. Mark works in the basement. I walk to work in less than ten minutes on a strolling day. Groceries—half a mile. Library—university, half a mile, public, a mile. Restaurants and coffeeshops—five blocks. Movies—a mile. Friends—all over town (which happens to be fairly flat)—within biking distance. We just don’t need to drive on a daily basis. We do drive—I love long road trips and we took two this summer, which I calculated into the mileage and we travel to Portland and Eugene regularly—we just don’t do it often. If it’s just me heading north, I take the train. It costs about as much as gas and I can stare out the window. Driving is like eating cake, especially mine, not something you do every day.
It’s January. The garden is resting. The world is raining. I’ll probably be digging through our files to calcualate the rest of our footprint in the next month or so—Utilities? Books? Cat food?