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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Commuting & GHG
February 6, 2013 - 8:21pm

On a recent Tuesday it was over 60 degrees before sunrise in Chicago (setting an historic record), while it is dropping to 7 degrees by Friday. I’m not going to list the reasons why we should care about global warming nor the indisputable facts that back it up. (Bill McKibben’s recent article in Rolling Stone magazine does a better job than I ever could.)

I’m convinced that we are in environmental trouble and I have joined with other faculty to work on placing sustainability issues at the forefront of our undergraduate education. I am constantly amazed at the new data that is emerging from collaborative research. One of the reasons that I love being at universities is that I am at the center of this data assessment/creation process and get to take a closer peek while it is happening.

Last month I listened in to a research methods-driven event happen in Chicago, led by my campus sustainability director, Aaron Durnbaugh. My university has been fortunate to hire Durnbaugh after he worked with the city of Chicago’s environmental team. Durnbaugh brought with him the knowledge for how to more accurately access and critique GHG data about waste, water, gas, coal and electricity. (GHG stands for Greenhouse Gas.) Accurate assessments of this info are crucial to help institutions commit to reducing their carbon footprints. And accurate assessments are not easy to get…

During the conference call between Midwestern sustainability directors, I was able to pick up information about commuting that is particularly relevant to me (since I commute by plane across the country twice a week.) Air travel accounts for 20% of all of my university’s GHG damage, second only to electrical use, which is closer to 50% of GHG emissions. Even our
natural gas footprint is lower than air travel! As G. Rendell points out in his Getting to Green blog, “A single round trip to a study abroad program in western Europe puts about 7 metric tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. A round trip drive of, for example, 500 miles emits about 400 pounds of greenhouse gas.” The GHG numbers for plane travel typically account for
conference travel by faculty and study abroad travel by students, but rarely does the data include commuting faculty such as myself who fly 20-25 times per year between different homes. (My commute will just make the numbers even worse...)

As I have suggested to Durnbaugh, if our university offers a carbon offset program for my GHG damage and environmental guilt, I will gladly participate. If anyone knows of good offset programs, I would appreciate hearing about them.


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