RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Step Out of That Carbon Footprint

Happy New Year! nnYep, it’s that time again, and because you’ve completed all your resolutions from last year, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything else to improve. Except losing those ten pounds that just won’t stay off.

My son-in-law is the best resolver I know. A couple of years ago he gave up buying anything new. It was a great resolution and he kept it until one of his bike inner tubes got so patched up it was dangerous … so a year without anything new except a bike inner tube. Impressive.

Last year he gave up styrofoam. That means carrying a coffee cup to every meeting, buying meat from a real butcher instead of the store where they put it on styrofoam trays and insisting that the to-go counter wraps sandwiches in foil rather than those odd clamshells they always want to use.

I always adopt John’s resolutions and I can almost keep up, but this year I want a new challenge. So I’m cutting back on carbon.

Carbon, as you know, is one of the insults to the environment that is changing the climate. Our cars exude it when they burn gasoline and our utility plants give it off when they burn coal. In 2017, the planet suffered with 2% more emissions than 2016. If the US was signed on to the Paris climate deal, recently canceled by you-know-who, we would have to meet lower emission standards by 2030, and everyone would be trying to think of ways to cut back. As for me, I haven’t figured out exactly how to make the cuts, but there’s gotta be a way.

To figure out where to begin, I went to and took the carbon footprint test. Typing in the size of my house (2,000 square feet), the number of miles I put on my truck (12,000 a year), my number of hours per year in an airplane (10), and a few more details, I found that I used way more than my share of resources. In fact, if everyone on Earth lived like me, we would need six planet Earths. To be fair (to myself) the calculator doesn’t ask for all the noble things that I do — like only heating part of the house and using almost no cooling at all in the summers. And I plant trees every summer and use no chemicals on my crops. And I buy used clothes, all the time. Maybe if the calculator knew everything we could get it down to five planets. But, still. Put another way, the website says that my “climate overshoot” day—the day that I use up my fair share of resources — is March 1.

The calculator says that countries have overshoot days also. The five best are Cuba (Dec. 2), Moldova (Dec. 25), Georgia (Dec. 27), South Sudan (Dec. 28) and Honduras (Dec. 31). Canadians use a few more resources than Americans, maybe because of the cold, so their overshoot day is March 13 while the US is March 14.

But, wait! The US figure doesn’t cover everything. Our military is probably the world’s biggest consumer of fossil fuels, but it doesn’t report their usage. Even if we were signed onto the Paris agreement, we would not be obliged to cut military emissions because nations are allowed to make their own decisions on how to cut to meet the goals. The US could opt to cut usage by moving to solar, wind, geothermal power and such, leaving the military with its oodles of tanks, ships, planes and humvees. Or we could cut our military …

Dream on.

Individual humans don’t really have the same choices when figuring how to cut carbon. We can cut back on car usage by combining trips, carpooling and staying home, taking public transportation as commuters and traveling by train. We can turn down the thermostat and eat more local foods. We can live nearer work and we can have smaller families — that’s the big one!

But we individuals can’t really change the planet all by ourselves. To cut emissions, all the industries and all the households need to make changes. The military would be an excellent place to start. And, of course, all the big box stores and internet shopping sites that are sucking the dollars out of our pockets.

And what about Hollywood? My Sweetie likes sci-fi films like The Last Jedi. It was filmed in England, Ireland, Croatia and Bolivia. Another film we saw recently was filmed in Iceland, Several places in England, California, Arizona, Scotland, Abu Dhabi … Shouldn’t there be a sign on the theatre? Danger: This Film Emitted 1 million tons of CO2 in its filming.

So, as I said, I haven’t figured out how to do the cuts, but I’ll be working on it. And the styrofoam thing, and the not-buying new stuff thing. And, oh yeah, losing those pesky ten pounds.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo., and co-hosts Farm and Fiddle on sustainable ag issues on KOPN 89.5 FM in Columbia, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2017

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652