Visualize your emissions
I applaud the residents of Carbondale for upholding the plastic-bag ban. It’s a small step toward training us all to reduce our consumption of nonrenewable resources.
But at the risk of being a buzz-kill, I would like to put plastic-bag use in perspective. I’ve done a few back-of-the-envelope calculations, using one plastic grocery bag as the standard unit of energy consumption, and here’s what I’ve come up with:
Idling a typical car for 10 minutes uses the energy embodied in 13 plastic bags. Every mile you drive a 30-miles-per-gallon car is like blowing 17 plastic bags out the tailpipe. If you drive a 15-mpg truck, make that 33 bags. Flying 1,000 miles in a commercial jet, you’re using the equivalent of 7,500 bags.
Like to leave the porch light on all night? That’s 6.5 bags a night, or nearly 2,400 bags a year. If you’ve switched to compact fluorescent bulbs, good for you, but you’ll still be using more than 500 plastic bags’ worth of energy annually to keep the light on.
If you leave your desktop computer on when you leave work at the end of the day – and hey, why not, since the company’s paying the electric bill? – then you’re wasting the equivalent of 15 to 50 plastic bags, depending on the model. Leave your computer on all weekend, and it’s 60 to 200 bags.
Each time you leave the hot water running at the sink for two minutes, you’ve sent nine bags down the drain. If your water heater is set to 140 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 120 degrees, you’re burning 10 extra bags a day.
I think it might be useful to visualize our greenhouse-gas emissions as plastic bags following us around like farts made visible. Perhaps this will help us focus on ways we can make the most difference.
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Canadian snowboarding superstar Mark McMorris is the most decorated Winter X Games athlete of all time.