Carbon Footprint
Go On an Eight-Week Carbon Diet

By Meaghan O'Neill
Slate Magazine
October 23, 2006

Welcome to the Slate Green Challenge

There's no longer any real doubt about it: Global warming is happening. The
average temperature of the Earth's surface has risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit
over the past hundred years, and overwhelming evidence suggests that most of the
increase is due to greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide released by
humans. Though a 1-degree increase might not seem like much, even a small rise
in global temperature significantly changes the climate, potentially resulting
in major storms and droughts, disruption of the food supply, and the
catastrophic spread of disease.

Human carbon-dioxide emissions come mainly from two sources: burning fossil
fuels and changes in land use, such as deforestation. Americans are the
climate's worst enemy. On average, each of us is responsible for about 22 tons
of carbon-dioxide emissions every year, according to the United Nations,
compared with an average of six tons per person throughout the rest of the
world. That means the typical U.S citizen emits the equivalent of four cars.

Related in Slate

Paul Sabin assesses the environmental movement's midlife crisis. Chris Mooney
lays out how to win a global-warming lawsuit. John McQuaid gets to the bottom of
whether global warming is causing bigger hurricanes. Gregg Easterbrook takes on
the flaws of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and Rob Nixon reviews two new
books on global warming. Want to know where the best wine will come from when
the planet really starts to heat up? Joel Waldfogel rates the effects of higher
temperatures on the world's vineyards.Much of the discussion around climate
change involves national and international policy—should the United States sign
the Kyoto Treaty or increase auto efficiency standards? But even without major
political or legislative changes, there's a lot that concerned individuals can
do to make the problem better. To that end, we've created the Slate Green
Challenge—a straightforward program to evaluate and reduce your carbon emissions
between now and the end of the year.

For the next eight weeks, Slate, in collaboration with eco-Web site treehugger,
invites you to consider your own individual contribution to global warming—and
challenges you to go on a carbon diet. The goal is to reduce the amount of CO2
that you put into the atmosphere by 20 percent. If you're a carbon glutton who
doesn't bother to turn off the lights when you leave the house, you may find
this diet pretty painless. (And just think of the fringe benefits—lower heating
bills, poorer oil barons.) But even if you're already a svelte recycler or a
carpooler, there's a lot more you can do.

Start here by taking this initial quiz to determine your current carbon output.
This is like weighing yourself at the beginning of a diet. Then, go straight to
the first segment, which asks you to assess your transportation-related
emissions and suggests ways to reduce them. Then, come back every week between
now and Dec. 11 for the other units we've developed on such subjects as food,
clothing, electricity, and holiday shopping.

You'll always take a short quiz, which will point you to a series of "action
items"—things you can do to reduce your carbon output. It's only a few hundred
pounds here and there, but it adds up. Once you've registered, we'll keep track
of the carbon pounds that you lose from week to week, following up with
reminders and additional tips while the program continues. We'll also keep track
of how much we've lost collectively, shooting for that 20-percent reduction
overall. Don't worry if you've missed the launch date; you can get started at
any point by taking the initial quiz. And please, spread the word.

If you succeed in losing the full 20 percent, you will be eligible for two
rewards. The first is a free Slate/treehugger Green Challenge T-shirt, brought
to you by our friends at I'm Organic, which the first 500 people to complete the
challenge will receive. The other is the knowledge that you've trimmed down to
help the planet.


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