Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

One Simple Trick to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Climate
One Simple Trick to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Rennett Stowe / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Anna Scott

Want to save the planet? Are you, like me, a young professional struggling to reduce your carbon footprint? Then join me in taking the train to your next professional conference.

Most of my low-carbon lifestyle is admittedly enforced on me by my student budget. I have no kids, bicycle to work and share a house with roommates. What dominates my carbon footprint is the flights I take—I'll be hitting frequent flyer status this year thanks to traveling for conferences, talks and workshops (not to mention those flights to see my family during the holidays—even being unmarried doesn't get me out of visiting in-laws overseas). This is a bittersweet moment for a climate scientist—my professional success gives me an opportunity to impact the world with my science, but is hurting the planet and leaving future generations with a mess that will outlive me.


There's no silver bullet to fixing climate change, but I think scientists and science enthusiasts can start with ourselves.

Every year, together with 25,000 of my closest climate and Earth science buddies, I attend the American Geophysical Union meeting. (You may have heard about it last year on NPR).

Prof. Lawrence Plug calculated that the 2003 meeting generated more than 12,000 tons of CO2. Since then, the meeting has more than doubled in size, suggesting that the carbon footprint is upwards of 25,000 tons of CO2 from flights alone.

Prominent scientists like Katherine Hayhoe have suggested that we shift to teleconferencing instead. I think this is great for small meetings of folks who already know each other, or for prominent scientists like Dr. Hayhoe, who have an established publication record and name recognition.

For the little folks like myself though, meetings offer tremendous opportunities to connect with colleagues at other institutions, meet potential collaborators, and scout new job opportunities. The "serendipitous interaction" that meetings allow is similar to the design principles that tech firms like Google enact when designing their public spaces. This fall alone, I've filled a shoebox with business cards from colleagues working on similar problems, potential collaborators working in similar fields, and, most lucratively, established scientists who have news of post-doctoral fellowships and job opportunities.

This last point may be especially critical for minority scientists, who may lack the social networks needed to get jobs.

In short, I'm not switching to virtual anytime soon, mostly because I can't see it paying off (yet—Katherine Hayhoe et al, if you're reading this, hire me!). But I still need to reduce my carbon footprint.

My solution? Replace one conference travel flight with a train ride. Repeat every year. Last year, I took Amtrak's California Zephyr from San Francisco to Chicago back from AGU's fall meeting and crossed the Rockies next to a geophysicist explaining plate tectonics and identifying rocks.

The year before, I returned from New Orleans and wrote my thesis proposal while rolling through bayous, swamps and pine forests of the Southeast.

(Don't think you have time for this? I spent the trip writing a paper, now published in PLOS-ONE. Amtrak seats all come with electrical outlets and seatback trays that function terrificly as desks).

Is this a practical solution for everybody? Nope, and I won't pretend that it is. Your time might be better spent with your kids, or volunteering in your community, or maybe you want to drive instead- I don't know your life. Train infrastructure is lacking in the U.S., and delays are common as Amtrak doesn't own the tracks and must give way to commercial freight. But I maintain my hope that increased demand for train travel can spur future investment, sending a market signal that young people want to travel this way.

This year, I'll be taking the train to AGU's fall meeting in New Orleans from Washington DC.

I estimate that I'll be saving about one ton of CO2 equivalent (calculation included radiative forcing). If you're headed that way, I invite you to join me, tell your friends or even just reflect on the possibility that low carbon alternatives to flying exist. We can't fix everything. But if we all do our little part, we can accomplish something. And something is always better than nothing.

Anna Scott is a PhD student in the Earth and Planetary Science Department at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins.

Producing avocado and almond crops is having a detrimental effect on bees. Molly Aaker / Getty Images

At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An oblique (left) and dorsal (right) photo of a female Pharohylaeus lactiferous. J.B. Dorey / Journal of Hymenoptera Research

Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It is home to more than 7% of all the world's plant and animal species, many of which are endemic. One such species, the Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee, was recently rediscovered after spending nearly 100 years out of sight from humans.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Scientists believe sharks use bioluminescence to camouflage themselves. Jérôme Mallefet

Scientists have newly photographed three species of shark that can glow in the dark, according to a study published in Frontiers in Marine Science last month.

Read More Show Less
A FedEx truck travels along Interstate 10 by the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm near Palm Springs, California on Feb. 27, 2019. Robert Alexander / Getty Images

FedEx's entire parcel pickup and delivery fleet will become 100 percent electric by 2040, according to a statement released Wednesday. The ambitious plan includes checkpoints, such as aiming for 50 percent electric vehicles by 2025.

Read More Show Less
Empty freeways, such as this one in LA, were a common sight during COVID-19 lockdowns in spring 2020. vlvart / Getty Images

Lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic had the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by around seven percent, or 2.6 billion metric tons, in 2020.

Read More Show Less