Currently, ecoblog Grist is featuring a post (“Love and Long Distance Travel in the Time of Climate Change“) about one person’s ethical quandary over whether to fly home for the holidays more than once, due to the attendant egregious greenhouse gas emissions. The writer lives in Seattle; her family resides in Pittsburgh. Between the two cities, each round trip would contribute .57 tons of CO2 to runaway, catastrophic, apocalyptic global warming, according to the Flight Carbon Footprint Calculator. She ultimately chose to make one flight, having concluded that the consequences of two flights are far too dire…
…At the very same time, Grist is holding a fundraiser “sweepstakes,” for which the grand prize includes “a voucher valued at two thousand dollars ($2,000) to be used toward airfare [for two] to San Jose, Costa Rica.” The carbon footprint of a Seattle-San Jose round trip is .87 tons CO2. For two, that’s 1.74 tons—or about 40 % of the global per capita annual average.
This apparent contradiction in things Grist brings to mind one of my all time favorite statistics. In 2008, a class at MIT calculated that the absolute floor for an American’s annual carbon footprint—even that of a homeless, ascetic monk—is 8.5 tons per person, more than twice the global average.
The emissions are fundamentally wired into the economy, in the form of infrastructure, basic services, and nutrition. I love the statistic because it aptly demonstrates the robust causal relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and economic development.