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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Contemplating rurality
January 11, 2009 - 6:28pm

When I'm not on campus, I farm.

As a result, for the last 25+ years, I've lived a ways from pretty much everything. I believe in that time I've lived within 8 miles of precisely one small store, not counting the occasional crafter selling out of her house. For my family and me, shopping isn't a pass-time, it's a pain in the neck. And my commute to Greenback is over 20 miles, each way. My family probably drives 40,000 vehicle/miles per year, or more.

In a sense, it's ironic. I spend my workdays trying to promote sustainability and my mornings/evenings/weekends trying to sustain life, but to get from one to the other I put a whole lot of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Most of the commonly available personal CO2 calculators put my emissions, and the emissions of pretty much everyone else who lives in the country, well above the national average. But I'm not sure they're accurate. "Ready reckoner" calculators make a lot of assumptions, and those assumptions are (like so much else in American society) premised on a suburban middle-class lifestyle. They simply don't ask the questions necessary to do an accurate assessment of rural emissions.

For instance, I drive more miles per year than the average American, and burn more fuel in tractors and the like. I heat my home with oil (no gas-lines out here), and use a fair amount of electricity. All these factors contribute to my high calculated personal emission levels.

But what the calculators don't take into account are things like:

  • My family grows a large portion of our fruits and vegetables, using no artificial fertilizers. Much of the rest, we buy from local producers.
  • We raise our own beef, grass-fed (so low-methane), and slaughtered/packaged about 2 miles from here.
  • We stock our pond with bass, and consume probably 200 pounds a year.
  • Our poultry and eggs are produced within a half-dozen miles from home.
  • We get our pork and sausage from a family about 25 miles away. (Trust me, the sausage alone is worth the drive.)
  • Our electrical generation mix includes large portions of hydro. We also pay to purchase wind energy for half our electric consumption.
  • Our water comes from a well and our sanitary sewage goes into a septic system. Both of these systems avoid much of the energy used for pumping by (sub)urban utilities.
  • We offset the emissions from all of the gasoline and diesel fuel we burn.
  • Our farm provides composted manure to lots of local gardeners, allowing them to eliminate commercial fertilizers.

I'm not confident that, even with all these things factored in, my family's GHG emissions are at a sustainable level, but I know our situation isn't as over-the-top as some of the more popular online calculators would lead me to believe.

And I know that, were I not as constantly exposed to -- and so as conscious of -- local climate patterns, I might not be in the sustainability business at all.


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