Natural Living Blog Carnival: Green Confessions.
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Natural Living Blog Carnival hosted by Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project through the Green Moms Network. This month our members have written posts about areas of their life where they aren't as "green" as they may want to be.
I'm in this culture clash, and it's entirely internal.
Here I am, a proponent of simple living and an advocate of the low-carbon lifestyle: I've got my bike, my high-MPG car, my near-vegetarian cooking, my wind-powered electricty, my steadily dwindling amount of household waste, blah blah.
And there I went jetting off across the Atlantic to get married. Although we weren't high school sweethearts, we had gone to the same high school in the beautiful city of Delft, in the Netherlands. We had both been living in the US for years and years, but I had never got around to un-registering myself from the city, which entitled us to a wedding in its city hall dating from the middle ages.
We had a glorious time at the party, with our families from both sides, some Dutch high school friends, and a few American ones who had found research or postdoc positions around Europe.
But the carbon footprint of this wedding!
Not that it was extravagant in any way: it was on the whole a sober Dutch wedding. After the civil ceremony, our good high school friend (whose car served as the bridal car) took us on an informal photo session along the canals. Then we went for lunch at our favourite café, our former high school hangout, where they parked my bridal bouquet on top of the beverage fridge while we shared a relaxed meal of crepes with a few more good friends. In the evening, just fifty people could fit in the restaurant where we had an excellent wedding dinner. So the wedding itself was reasonably carbon-frugal.185 g CO2 per passenger-kilometer, so for the two of us the round trip carbon emissions was 4763 kg CO2.
And that isn't the last of it: Once the children were born, of course everyone in both families wanted to see them, and the most frugal way to do that was for us to go over there. Every year. Because children grow so quickly.
And now my dad, well into his eighties, refuses to come here to the US. This was after one horrific winter that saw us snowed in; it was too cold to even go outside to light a cigarette (he didn't even try to ask me if he could smoke in the house, bless his heart!). And because he's generally slowing down, but still intensely enjoys seeing his grandchildren, we just have to go to Delft to visit him.
I had hoped, vaguely, that the plane ride would be offset in part by the fact that for most of the summer, at least while we are in the Netherlands, we generally get around by bike or by public transport. It is - but the offset is puny.
So the dirt on me is that every summer the four of us together put nearly ten tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions on our tabs. It's staggering.
There really is nothing like doing the math for putting reality into sharp focus - and for the occasional ice-cold dose of humility! To tell the truth, after going through the numbers, I hesitated to actually put this post online. Ten tonnes of CO2.
To put that in perspective, our one car, a VW Golf running on clean diesel, does 38 mpg average - because I drive like a mom not a jackrabbit - so our 8000 annual car miles amount to 2100 kg CO2 emissions per year.
That's quite a bit less than the 12 tonne carbon footprint from driving cars in a typical US household. On the other hand, the 10 tonnes from our air travel is quite a bit more than the average (about 2 tonnes). It's a good thing I don't travel for work any more. Total typical household emissions: 48 short tons = 43 tonnes carbon.
It's the environmental Achilles' heel of living far away from your relatives. So it's the more important to me that we keep the rest of our emissions in check: from our car, our home heating, our diet, the stuff we buy.
Visit Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project to learn more about participating in next month’s Natural Living Blog Carnival!
Please take some time to enjoy the posts our other carnival participants have contributed:
Don't feel to bad about going to visit your family! I grew up in the Netherlands as well. My immediate family live here now but I love going back every few years to teach my children about the culture I grew up in.ReplyDelete
Wow, what a surprise! no wonder you're good with wool and felt.Delete
It _is_ wonderful to visit with the family, particularly as we always get the good weather for our reunions. We considered going by boat one summer, but that has an even more staggering carbon footprint - unless you find a sailboat.
Wow! I never even thought about how to be more green or eco-friendly when it comes to such a special occasion. It sounds like you do a great job at keeping green in your daily life! Good for you!ReplyDelete
Thanks, MommyMandi: going through this exercise has made me want to become even greener throughout the year, since I blow it all for the summer holidays!Delete
There are things, in life, that we have to do. We have to prepare our food (which typically requires some kind of energy use) and we have to have shelter (which includes a carbon footprint). So we do our best to minimize the impact. For a lot of reasons, many people live away from their parents and away from the place where they were born ... but seeing one's family, to me, is a "must have" because, quite frankly, what would life be without them? Living green doesn't mean that we sacrifice joy and happiness ... and sometimes we have to balance things out. So yeah, a flight has a high carbon cost ... and if we only look at that one thing then we might say "bad". But you have to look at your whole life ... everything you do. I'm guessing that all things considered, your household's carbon footprint, even with yearly flights, is less than the US average. That's not to say that we shouldn't look for ways to reduce it ... that should always be a goal. But sometimes doing our best, even if it's not perfect, has to be good enough. Thank you for sharing your Achilles' heel!ReplyDelete
Thanks for your kind words, SF: this is a tough issue, and sort of endemic in today's life: just look at the traffic at a major family holiday on any continent. I think when the time comes I will encourage my children to choose a college close by. So often you end up finding a job close to where you went to college.Delete
You know, I know you feel guilty about this...but that wedding (and keeping in touch with family) sounds worth it to me!ReplyDelete
I think that it is worth it to keep in touch with your family. If I could afford it I would travel every year too to stay in touch with family. Besides you more than make up for it with the rest of your green lifestyle.ReplyDelete
Are you taking other passengers into account? I'm just wondering if you split the carbon footprint of the flights between the number of passengers. Those flights would fly that route whether you were ON them or not.ReplyDelete
Maybe you aren't as bad as you think. ;-)
Heavens, you make it sound like we fly a private jet! I got the numbers from the Carbon Fund (http://carbonfund.org/how-we-calculate) who cull data from the EPA. Carbon emissions numbers for transportation are per passenger-mile and include such things as average occupancy, the energy needed for building the vessel plus the infrastructure, and so on: pretty thorough.Delete
It's true that a particular plane would fly whether or not I'm on it. But if three hundred like me decide to fly, the airline would have to put in an additional flight. So my seemingly individual decision does make a difference.
Air travel is one thing I try not to think about. If it was frivolous travel all the time then I might feel guilty but when it's for something like visiting family once a year (we just got back from our yearly visit to my family) then I think it's justifiable.ReplyDelete
This totally has nothing to do with your green confession, but I'm a cellist. I'm rusty now and need to get back into playing it though. It was my minor in college, and I used to be quite serious, before I got distracted by...boys. :/ It's one of those "What ifs" in my life!ReplyDelete
So cool! How it happened for me: there was a cinema in Cambridge that showed King of Hearts as the late-night movie. Every night. I went to see it as a college sophomore. The understated seduction scene featured a solo cello; I still don't even know what the piece was (please tell me if you do), but by the end of the scene I knew that I was going to play a cello one day. A few things got in the way :-) but now, three decades later, I have a cello in my hand (having asked CelloPlayer's permission; I didn't want to butt in on my child's territory). I'm not very good at it, CelloPlayer has much more talent than I, but when things align just so and I make the right sound, it makes me deliriously happy. Even if it's only from Suzuki Book 1.Delete
Do give it a try again. I hope you still have your cello. If not, the bowmaker from whom we rented our 3/4 cello tells me that the current crop of cellos from China are amazingly good. The one CelloPlayer and I use is our teacher's second favourite in the whole school.
Being aware ad trying to offset our carbon footprint in as many ways as possible is a beginning.ReplyDelete
If there's one thing I've learned since actually caring about these things and being healthier for my family and our healthy and for the environment... it's that we can't always be so clean cut in our decisions. You shouldn't feel bad about visiting your family. It's not like you're intentionally polluting the earth ;) And besides, the fact that you are THIS educated on your choices and WHY carbon footprint is bad, how much is too much, ect... that's a really good thing and something to be proud of ;) Not many people can say they truly understand the logistics of this all like you can.ReplyDelete
Thanks everyone for your supportive words! Yes, I will continue to do the yearly trek (I love being with the family). I do so much want to reduce our footprint to the planet's average, a little less than 4 tonnes carbon per capita per year. The air travel is 60% of that.ReplyDelete
I think the real lesson for me is that, when the time comes, I need to seriously encourage / demand / bribe my children to live within train travel distance of us. Then they won't have to deal with this conundrum.
I absolutely love this photo collection. Its so natural looking. Colors and framing is excellent. Thank you for inspiring me.ReplyDelete
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