11/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Eco-Sins and Virtues of Joe Biden

Is Joe Biden an eco-saint? The senior senator from Delaware has been called a "green dream ticket" for his unique grasp of the interaction of global warming, geopolitics and economics, and has been fighting climate change with resolutions since 1986. Senator Biden has sponsored legislation promoting compact fluorescent light bulbs and is also known for a proposal of $100 million a year for five years to develop the lithium ion battery - which, because it holds a charge longer and is lighter, would convert more cars to electric, a cleaner form of energy. And when he was running for President, Biden wanted his second executive order to be for the government to use eco-friendly vehicles and follow green guidelines for all of its buildings. So, good on him for all that, but what's his personal footprint like?

1. Riding That Train, Low on Carbon: Biden doesn't drive to work, instead taking Amtrak for 80 minutes each way from Wilmington to Washington. Commuting by train, according to, is basically the best way to travel in terms of carbon emissions. That's as good as you're going to get in that job, while maintaining a good daily connection with the family, not to mention good mental health (who would want to drive that far every day?). (Note: Biden does own a '67 'Vette - points off for gas mileage, points on for not succumbing to consumer upgrade-aholism.)

2. The Dish on a Favorite Dish: While he's probably not a low-emissions vegan like Dennis Kucinich, he isn't a big meat-eater like his VP opponent Sarah Palin. A fan of Italian cuisine, Biden is said to favor penne pasta with tomato sauce and basil, and at one home-state restaurant, at least, Toscana Kitchen & Bar in Wilmington, he hasn't been known to ever order meat. And while meatless choices are often made for health, not environmental reasons, cutting down on carnivorous dishes can have a huge impact on the environment. Americans eat around 250 pounds of meat a year, and decreasing consumption to, say, once a week means eliminating the carbon emissions involved in producing 10,500 pounds, or about 5 tons of meat; at 13 pounds of emissions per pound, we could eliminate 136,500 pounds a year by choosing like Biden more often.

3. Living Modestly: The Scranton-born son of a car salesman has often made reference to his "average Joe" means. Indeed, his three bedroom, two bathroom, single family, two-story Colonial residence with an asphalt roof and forced-air heating system at under 1,800+ square feet on a little over four acres is fairly typical of the area, and can be argued as being smaller than many houses of his peers. His vacations, in particular the one that was interrupted when Senator Barack Obama chose him to be his running mate, also makes him out to be a normal guy with normal travel patterns: fly fishing in Maine means his round-trip distance totaled about 778 miles, adding up to a mere .15 - .4 tons of C02. Not very extravagant.

4. Big Bad Private Jet: Like most high-flying politicians, Joe Biden's major eco-sin -- and it is major -- is his use of a chartered private jet on the campaign trail. Some sources say his 180-seat plane is sometimes only populated by him, his staff and 11 members of the media -- which, if true, is a pretty inefficient use of jet fuel. Obviously, chartering a plane isn't all that great for the climate, producing the highest CO2 emissions per mile, even while it's common for candidates to do so. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have smartly offset their travel-related carbon emissions during the primaries, and it stands to reason that the Obama/Biden is continuing to do the same.

Bottom Line: Joe Biden's eco-sins are pretty minimal if not slightly below what others in his position and income bracket would be -- that is, if he's offsetting his miles as Obama has been doing. If he's not, green-minded Biden will make himself a target by the same Al Gore haters who exposed the former VP's large-footprint lifestyle as a very inconvenient truth, indeed. Coming soon: The Eco- Sins and Virtues of Barack Obama.-With research by Robert M. D'Entremont and Stacy Lipson