There has been a lot of talk over the past couple years about carbon footprints, and no dearth of quizzes on the Internet that offer to help you calculate your own. The expression “carbon footprint” is very clever, in my opinion: it’s a neat combination of science (reminiscent of carbon dating) and current marking speak (“we need to expand our global footprint!”) that makes talking about how many greenhouse gas emissions (not just carbon) one is responsible for somehow appealing. I’ve looked over these quizzes in the past and preened over the fact that compared to your average American, my husband and I use a pretty negligible amount of energy on a daily basis. The biggest reason for this of course is that we don’t own a car, because we live in a city where we can take public transportation everywhere. Also, we live in a one-bedroom apartment, so we are hardly powering a mansion. But we do take measures to cut back further still: we use compact florescent light bulbs, take care to turn off the lights when we leave a room, and we plug our electronic equipment and chargers into power strips that we turn off at the end of the day. We’re not perfect, of course: as apartment dwellers, we use the dryer to dry almost all of our laundry, and I’ve grumbled more than once about my husband’s huge computer, which seems to be on all the time. But overall, our monthly energy use is pretty darn low.
However, we have a huge, carbon-generating habit that more than counterbalances all of our good habits, which is air travel. My husband and I love to travel, he has family in Europe, and over the past few years, between vacations, family events, and trips for work, we’ve both been in the air quite a lot. So today, I decided to face the music and see exactly how whopping my carbon footprint really is.