counting my carbon

As Southwest Flight 1073 taxied away from Manchester airport, I thumbed through the in-flight magazine and read a short PR blurb  about Southwest’s new “green” airplane they have developed.  As the airplane started down the runway and I could hear the engines really revving up, I started thinking about how very un-green it is to fly and started feeling guilty. ‘I should have rented a car . . . I should have taken the train, or the bus. Maybe this summer I’ll bike.’ I spent the flight comparing my carbon emissions from 2008 – 2009 to 2009 – 2010. This is what I (very scientifically!) came up with:

2008 – 2009 (living on a small sailboat in the Caribbean).


  • showers a week – 1.25 gallons per shower – 2.5 gallons/week
  • drinking, dishes, cooking, laundry – 11.67 gallons/week
  • total water usage: 14.17 gallons/week


  • 5 gallons diesel a week
  • 5 gallons gas a week

Air travel:

  • Puerto Rico to Vermont
  • Vermont to Puerto Rico
  • Trinidad to London
  • London to Sweden
  • Sweden to Barcelona
  • Barcelona to Pisa
  • Pisa to London
  • London to Trinidad
  • Baltimore to St. Thomas
  • St. Thomas to Baltimore
  • total hours: approx. 45


  • solar panel
  • wind turbine


  • lobster
  • mahi, tuna
  • local, island chicken
  • rice
  • beans
  • potatoes
  • fruit, veg.

Basically, from 2008 – 2009 when I spent the majority of my time on my boat in a tropical climate, my daily carbon emissions were very small. The bulk of emissions came from air travel.

So, what happened when I moved to Philadelphia? I still live on a boat and I don’t have a car, so I don’ t think the change will be very drastic.  But, I get all my electric from the grid and I do like taking long showers. Let’s see.

2008 – 2009 (living on a powerboat in Philadelphia, hooked up to water and electric)


  • 10 minute shower, every other day –  @ 7-10 gallons/min. – 70 gallons per shower – 210 gallons/week
  • dishes, cooking, drinking – 100 gallons/week (estimate)
  • laundry – 35 gallons (he front loader) week
  • washing the boat – 100 gallons/week
  • total water usage: 445 gallons week


  • 0 gallons/week (I bike)

Air travel

  • Philadelphia to Providence
  • Providence to Philadelphia
  • Philadelphia to St. Kitts
  • St. Kitts to Philadelphia
  • Philadelphia to Manchester
  • Manchester to Philadelphia
  • total hours: 20


  • plugged into electric at the dock – $40/month


  • venison (from VT)
  • chicken (local, PA chickens)
  • pork (local butcher, but from what pigs?)
  • fruit, veg bought at market

Interesting.  The difference in water consumption is HUGE: 14.17 gallons compared to 445 gallons! However I traveled by airplane for approximately 35 hours during 2008-2009 and only 10 from 2009-2010.  Electricity while sailing was obtained completely by solar and wind, but my electric usage is not very high living in Philadelphia.  Food:  I try to buy local as much as possible. I don’t see much of a difference here, esp. since much of the produce in the eastern caribbean is imported from larger islands and central & south america.

What has this exercise taught me? Well, it reminds me of what I already know: air travel is pretty much the easiest and fastest way for humans to contribute to climate change and global warming. No matter how energy efficient we are at home (solar, wind, biking, local food consumption), those frequent flyer miles leave a trail of black soot in our wakes.  This summer, I think we’ll travel by bus, carpool and train. (oh, except to fly to Sweden and the Dominican Republic!)


One response to “counting my carbon

  1. Joe Steiner

    Don’t forget that every time you take a breath you expel carbon dioxide. That’s your greatest contribution to green house gases.
    But the greatest contributors are cows and termites. They give off methane as thay pass wind. Methane is 10 times more powerful than CO2 for global warming.
    Just keep beans off your daily menu.

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