Today’s the second anniversary of the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and we’re finally witnessing a race to the top among West Coast leaders: who’ll implement a more aggressive response to global warming?

I’m proud of our region and bullish on our prospects, for a bunch of good and well-considered reasons.

But there’s one not-so-good reason that I want to mention. In the grand scheme of things, it’s trivial. Still, it’s illustrative of what’s possible on a much broader scale and of one of the key dilemmas we face.

  • Two years ago, I personally ratified Kyoto for myself and my family, pledging to achieve the protocol’s 7-percent reduction target or better. I then sat down to figure out what was required of us and learned that my family had already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent below its 1990 level—outdoing the Kyoto goal by a factor of five and doing so eight years ahead of schedule. What’s more, we achieved those results even while more than doubling the size of our family and nearly doubling the size of our house, income, and car. It showed what’s possible given consistent effort over time.

    Those reductions came over fourteen years. In the short time since, I’m proud to report, we’ve reduced our carbon-dioxide emissions by an additional Kyoto’s worth. In fact, we’ve pushed our emissions down another 9 percentage points, thanks to our year of living carlessly.

    Here’s a chart, following the same methods and assumptions as two years ago.

    Durning CO2 emissions

    So amazing reductions are possible. And we can reduce our home emissions more by further improving our insulation and replacing our last few single-pane windows. But we’ve done most of what we can in the house to conserve energy.

    And that leads to a dilemma: the biggest chunk of emissions is from air travel. In fact, well over half of my family’s greenhouse gas emissions are now caused by the flights I take to make speeches on behalf of Sightline—emissions that I sure hope are justified by the effect those speeches have on their audiences!

    What should I do? Speak less? Inaugurate the year of living flightlessly? Or should I focus on the bigger, systemic forces that push up emissions and not worry about my Sightline air miles? Opinions?