Jan/10

11

Carbon Footprint Balloons

Challenge #1: What’s your carbon footprint?

I think I have a pretty good understanding of basic science, especially as a prospective science major with several science classes under my belt. But when I calculated my carbon footprint, I didn’t really understand what “10.6 metric tons” really meant. To get a better idea of the scale, I think of a balloon with a diameter of 10 yards and filled with CO2. It would weigh about 1 metric ton. Therefore, my 10.6 metric tons means that I fill almost eleven balloons with just my carbon footprint. My roommate also fills about 11 balloons each year…and the other 100 freshmen in my building likely fill around 10 or 11 balloons each.

All these “balloons” are hovering in our atmosphere and accumulating year after year. Plants do take up some of the CO2 during photosynthesis, but only about half of all the CO2 emitted. That means that I personally leave about 6 balloons in the atmosphere every year and that I am responsible for about 190 in my lifetime (assuming my carbon footprint was the same for each of my 18 years).

I admit that I produce a large amount of CO2 for a single person. I will fill ten 10-yard balloons from just my air travel over the next four years because I have to fly across the country four times a year for school (two round trips from San Diego to New York). Since this is a bit unavoidable, I will be trying to decrease the carbon footprint of my daily lifestyle by the ways I work, study, eat, and buy while I am at school. I will likely be estimating most of my carbon reductions because most of my impacts are only measurable as part of a university-wide statistic (i.e. how many pounds of meat are consumed daily in the dining halls and the heating bills of the whole dorm building), but I will do my best to individualize my personal reductions and motivate (whether through positive example or coercive nagging) my suite-mates and everyone in my dorm building to make changes, too!

And this sign now hangs on our suite door alongside a flag from the San Diego Zoo: “Please Take Your Shoes Off—We Have A Smaller Footprint in This Suite!”

Ronit Abramson

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