Walking with dinosaurs (or, my family’s carbon footprint)

I don’t know that I fully understand the concept of a carbon footprint. The phrase makes me picture a spreading, black substance seeping off our lawn like an oil spill or that black mildew in the shower.

imageBut being a person with some free-floating guilt, I think from time to time about our impact on the planet – and how our well-meaning efforts to lessen it might not hit the mark.

Conserving Energy

The good. We conserve natural gas by keeping our house just below the level of “barely tolerable” all winter long. Cold? Put on a sweater.

The bad. My office is the coldest room in the house, whether or not we crank up the furnace. Some days I’m forced to use a space heater. If I don’t, after a few hours at the computer I resemble one of those neolithic men they occasionally find frozen in glaciers.

The ugly. We have a ridiculous number of energy-hogging electronic devices, more than two per person, and they are on at all times as evidenced by our family motto: “Go forth and seek a charger.”


The good. We recycle a lot. We could fit three members of my family (including me) in our recycling bin but we manage to fill it to the brim for every pick up. I have even, in desperate times, commandeered space in the neighbors’ bins.

The bad. A huge amount of that recycling is composed of 1) stuff we get in the mail that I don’t even read before I pitch it; and 2) empty gallon milk jugs (I truly hope they’re being made into furniture somewhere.)

The ugly. I have dozens of half-used gallons of paint that I can’t dispose of. Used to be I could put them on our city’s free listing service and people would haul them away by the wagonload until they were re-classified as hazardous waste. Now they take up space in our utility room. I’m thinking of leaving them on random doorsteps.

Reducing Consumption

The good. My husband and I have always valued doing things over having things and tend to spend our discretionary income on experiences and events rather than stuff.

The bad. Doing things usually requires transportation, in our case endless short, inefficient hops to dance class, baseball, lacrosse practice and on the coldest days to the bus stop. You can almost tell time by watching me head up and down the street.

The ugly. Activities also require gear – lots and lots of expensive gear that takes a beating, smells after a while and take up tons of space. And probably reduces my fuel efficiency when it’s all stuffed in the car.

Reducing Waste

The good. We compost. Or really, I compost like a compulsive freak. Every carrot peel, kale stem, melon rind. Except, of course, the ones that go into the stock whose other ingredient is the disgusting collection of bones my family leaves on the plates after meals. I can’t help it – I come from a tradition of composting as evidenced by my mother who would go so far as to bury fat in the yard “where the moles can’t find it.” (Sorry, Mom, I know how much you hate to star in my blog.)

The bad. I’ve given up backyard gardening. My last few attempts resulted in my feeding the local livestock – deer, rabbits, woodchucks – which raises the question what it is I’m going to do with all this compost.

The ugly. I throw out a lot of non-compostable “mystery food” because I have the world’s most inconvenient refrigerator. Stuff gets shoved to the back to be found later when it’s unrecognizable. I’m probably throwing out enough to feed a bobsled team.

All in all, I give us about a C+. Or maybe less if used sports gear is also classified as hazardous waste.

15 thoughts on “Walking with dinosaurs (or, my family’s carbon footprint)

  1. Sarah – Hennepin County has a place in Bloomington where you can bring old paint and other hazardous stuff. When I cleaned out my utility room and garage a few eons ago, there were tired of seeing me down there. They would comment ” Is it YOU again??”

    Fred Lewis


  2. I think the first part of the battle is being able to recognize the good and bad of things so you can better address the parts that aren’t working right. This year we’re looking to find more activities that don’t cost as much and still get us outside…but we still have to drive there. Our new activities will include more frequent geocaching and frisbee golf. I can’t wait for it to warm up!!!


    1. Well, you should get extra points for your conscientious decision to live in the tropics. I’d feel jealous if I weren’t sure there were plenty of negatives to balance out our arctic cold. (OK…that’s just wishful thinking.)


        1. Well, that makes me feel slightly better about the -30 F windchill readings we’re expecting. Again. (P.S. The face of the frozen northland never changes and we all live to be about 100.)


  3. As others have said, just being aware is a big part of it. And then making what little changes you can. We have used cloth napkins for years, for example, but still use a lot of paper towels, so I’m trying to think about using washable things first unless it’s just a horrible mess. Lots of baby steps over time do make a difference!


  4. I think it’s so great that you’re able to reflect and be cognizant of your success and weaknesses. Not many people do that, especially with their carbon footprint.


  5. I think you are doing a fabulous job, Sarah! Gosh, this makes me feel like I could be doing so much more. I don’t mean that in a bad way, hehe. I would love to compost and garden, but ugh, we live on a tiny lot packed tight with red clay. Good news is that there are no living creatures here to eat what I might accidentally grow. We should probably move, huh?


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