Small Choices Add Up
What will Sarah Palin do now that she's a private citizen? One thing's for sure: she'll be out and about. And expect dozens, if not hundreds, of reporters to trail her every move. Like bees to honey, the press pool swarms.
Palin has not yet booked any speaking appearances since her resignation. So let's imagine a speaking tour - one with real travel to fantasy events - to show how small choices add up to a big footprint.
First stop, Thursday, October 29th, is downtown Chicago for the Freedom Summit 2009. That evening across town at the Aston Hotel, she speaks at the American Values Coalition 10th anniversary benefit. Then she's back to Wasilla for Halloween Saturday. Last stop, Monday, November 2nd, is the Alaskan Resources Institute in Anchorage.
Let's track this tour's green ethos and tally up choices and their environmental effects.
Most people want to be greener but may not know how their personal choices add up. Americans ranked lowest in National Geographic's recent survey on consumer progress toward environmentally sustainable consumption and citizen behavior. Over 17,000 consumers in 17 countries were asked about their energy use, transportation choices, food sources, attitudes towards sustainability, and knowledge of environmental issues. Consumers in wealthy countries had both a proportionately greater environmental impact and an ability and responsibility to make more sustainable choices.
Personal choices - and that of fellow citizens, the press pool - during this hypothetical week-long tour create a carbon footprint the size of a small country. Emissions estimates are calculated from authoritative data such as the EPA, EIA, and Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey.
October 28th - 30th: Travel to and from Chicago
Palin packs three suitcases and books a direct evening flight in economy class for herself, her bodyguard, and two aides from Anchorage to Chicago O'Hare Airport. A car service takes them to the Houghton, her first speech venue.
- Less travel, fewer emissions. Two speeches, one day, one city.
- Palin opts against a charter jet. Flying economy on this route produces 10x less C02 per passenger than the Westwind II jet, her VP campaign plane of choice.
- Direct flights take off once, burning 10% less fuel than flights with an extra leg.
- Smaller seat and legroom in economy, smaller share of the plane's emissions.
- More weight, more jet fuel. Each 50 pound suitcase adds 108 lbs of CO2 emissions.
- Night flights' jet contrails trap heat in the atmosphere, doubling daytime flights' greenhouse gas effect.
- Cabs or car service emit 20% more CO2 per passenger than trains do.
- Many travelers take responsibility for unavoidable travel's emissions by buying high-quality carbon offsets.
October 29th: Show Time
Palin's 'Individual Liberties and the American People' presentation at the Freedom Summit draws 400 attendees and 25 press. Even larger crowds gather at the American Values Coalition's big bash that evening to hear her expound on reinvigorating American morality.
- The Ashton Hotel and Chicago Houghton are both green seal certified with energy efficient equipment, low flow shower heads, and waste reduction programs.
- Programs on recycled paper generate 33% fewer emissions than virgin paper.
- Event organizers neutralize part of their environmental footprint with offsets that fund clean energy projects.
- Green venues still use energy, to the tune of 1300 lbs CO2 for these two events.
- Large crowds traveling to the two events emit a whopping 415 tons CO2.
- Palin's a hunter, so meat's on the menu. Carnivorous habits generate 21% more emissions than vegetarian diets.
October 29th: Side Trip
Last year Palin spent $150,000 of RNC money on new clothes at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. This year she stops off at Clothes Optional and Disgraceland thrift shops and ships four gently used but new-to-her outfits back to Wasilla.
- Manufacture and distribution of all the stuff that Americans buy add more to their footprint than transportation and home energy use combined. Buying recycled cuts down on demand for new materials and new emissions.
- Shipping via next-day-air may be more convenient, but shipping via ground costs less - in both dollars and carbon.
October 31st: Back Home
Palin makes Halloween costumes for her children. Hemp is so difficult to work with, but walking door to door trick-or-treating creates no CO2 emissions.
November 2nd: Anchorage
The Alaskan Resources Institute is the hottest ticket of the season and Palin's the keynote speaker.
- When Palin left the Governor's role, she also left the Chevy Suburban that came with it. Back behind the wheel of her fuel-efficient diesel Volkswagen Jetta TDI, round trip to Anchorage generates 0.02 tons of CO2. Now if she would just use biodiesel.
- Knowing her neighbors share her minerals passion, she offers to carpool.
- Palin's commute is efficient, but attendee and staff travel and hotel stay, plus building energy use, totals a staggering sum of 380 tons CO2.
October 28th - November 2nd: Press Pool Entourage
A cadre of media elites often travels thousands of miles to cover Palin.
- Fewer reporters tagging along would save fairly substantial CO2 emissions.
- Fewer reporters, given the dozens that would remain, would not materially impact Palin-time in American homes.
- Two dozen press who travel to Chicago and Anchorage this week generate a carbon footprint of 82 tons.
Add it up: three hypothetical speaking events in two cities, hundreds of people turning out , dozens of press corps in tow. The environmental damage? More than 885 tons of CO2 emissions. That's like driving from New York to Los Angeles 660 times. Or the sum of all the time 79 American families spend driving in a year.
Palin and her political contemporaries emphasize the role that individuals, not governments, can play in determining the direction of a society. That collective impact also comes into play in the environment. While one's individual actions - such as bringing one less bag next time they have to fly - might seem incidental for any given person, the collective force of a country of people all making small choices can be astonishing.
Patti Prairie added Treehugger to her distinguished 30-year career spanning resume when she became Chief Executive Officer of Brighter Planet. This innovative company has a socially responsible mission: to help people manage their environmental footprint. With its practical, carbon emission reducing solutions, Brighter Planet is committed to making it easier for anyone to get involved in the fight against climate change.