A few months ago, I wrote about some of the efforts I'd been making to moderate our household energy consumption: improving insulation, buying a more efficient refrigerator, replacing lightbulbs, installing a real-time electricity monitoring system and so on. The results are visible in the "home energy report" that now arrives regularly from the power company. "Great! You used 34% less energy than your efficient neighbors!" (Efficient neighbors are defined to be the top quintile of all our neighbors, so this is a good statistic indeed.)
When improving energy efficiency, we want to start with the things that are easy to do and make a big difference - the "low-hanging fruit". The new refrigerator was the biggest "low hanging" item for us.
Suppose though that I move on from thinking about "what can I do around the house" and ask about my whole lifestyle. Which elements of my life are greediest for energy, or (more or less equivalently, in our present world) contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions?
There's an obvious answer: air travel.
Academics are enthusiastic travelers (and with reason: in my own experience at least, new ideas often come from the chance to meet face-to-face with new people.) I travel about 40,000 miles a year. A ballpark figure for carbon dioxide emissions from flying is 200 grams per passenger-mile, so that's about 8 tonnes of CO2. According to the European Union's EDGAR database, United States annual carbon dioxide emissions run about 17.3 tonnes per capita. So, this particular "fruit" for me weighs about half of the whole tree! It hangs low indeed.
Am I willing to harvest it?
Photo by Flickr user Ndecam, licensed under Creative Commons.
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