State of Affairs

With a Google search for “carbon footprint calculator” yielding over 160,000 results, it’s safe to say your options are vast in figuring out how much carbon you’ve been sending out into the atmosphere. I’d never calculated my own carbon footprint – I tried once, but found out I don’t pay enough attention to the details of my monthly budget to be able to answer the questions. But this week, in light of Thursday’s show, I decided to look up the numbers I need, take a deep breath, and figure out how much carbon I’m spewing out into the world with my bad habits, and whether my few good habits are canceling any of it out.

Like I said, the choices are endless, but I settled on three carbon footprint calculators: One by the Nature Conservancy, one from, and one on the website for An Inconvenient Truth. To my surprise, the results were mixed, and the score seemed to depend on how in-depth the surveys’ questions were.

I live in Indiana, in a family of three. My household scored some bad carbon karma for the amount we drive. Our 16,000 miles a year is well above the national average of 12,000. I thought we’d get bonus points for being a one-car family (every time I have to get up obscenely early because someone else has to be somewhere, I try to remind myself that I’m saving the earth), but that didn’t seem to be the case. We also lost some brownie (greenie?) points for how high our gas & electricity bills are. On the good side, though, we got kudos for being vegetarians (apparently meat has a high carbon foot and hoofprint), for recycling some of our trash each week, for buying some organic food, and for changing most of our light bulbs to those squiggly ones that seem to last forever.

My digits were below average on the Nature Conservancy and, but above average on The Inconvenient Truth. The latter only had a few questions, and just focused on energy bills and car use, while the first two had pages and pages of questions about all sorts of aspects of life. The whole thing was enlightening not just about my personal habits, but about the kinds of things that increase and decrease carbon footprints – things that never would have occurred to me. One question was whether I engage in carbon-neutral recreation like walking and cycling, or whether I “often go out to places like the movies, bars, and restaurants,” (I think my foot burst right out of my carbon shoe on this one – thankfully the calculator didn’t ask for details).

Now I know where my family’s doing well and where there is room for improvement. I also found out I can offset the carbon I produce in a year by planting 16 trees in Kenya. Or rather, paying someone else to, because a flight to Kenya would probably cancel out some of the trees, and I can’t get the time off of work anyway.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects.