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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Ira's Emissions

Air Date: Week of

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A new website lets anyone compute his own contribution to global emissions. Host Steve Curwood talks with This American Life's Ira Glass about his pollution profile.


CURWOOD: As the world's nations debate the ways and means to reduce carbon emissions on a global scale, what about your share? Ever wonder how much pollution you create? Well, a new Web site called airhead.org can help you answer that very question. Just plug in the numbers like your own monthly mileage and the size of your electric bill, and out comes your own emissions profile. The site was created by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. So we thought we'd ask a typical Chicagoan to plug in his data. Ira Glass is taking a break from hosting Public Radio's This American Life to lift the curtain on his own personal pollution profile. Hey, thanks for joining us, Ira.

GLASS: Glad to be here.

CURWOOD: First things first. How'd you do, Ira? Can we hold you personally to blame for warming this lovely planet?

GLASS: Yes. You can. I was stunned at my actual pollution contribution. I mean, I commute to work, and in the month that I did, which was last month, I flew three times for the radio show.

CURWOOD: Mmm hmm.

GLASS: Flew three times. And my total pollution emission was, it says here, 3,457 pounds of pollutants, versus an average American apparently is 1,600 pounds of pollution.

CURWOOD: Yes, and most of that's carbon dioxide. Now, but if you took out the airplane, Ira, you don't do so bad compared to the national average.

GLASS: Nah, then I'm way below the national average, actually, only 970 pounds. Though I have to say, is this real? Saying that, like, even on a month where I don't fly, it's like a thousand pounds of pollution a person? What does that even mean? A thousand pounds, like, of stuff in the air? It is just ... so it's carbon dioxide. So what?

CURWOOD: Well, that's the stuff that warms the planet. It's what climate change is all about. Carbon dioxide helps trap the infrared radiation from the heat. When it tries to get back off the planet, it gets caught by the carbon dioxide, and that's why the planet's heating up.

GLASS: So, so, what am I supposed to do?

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Walk me through what you do. What are your activities? Let's figure out a way that we can make some cuts so that you can start to feel better about your performance in this area.

GLASS: I (laughs) -- I wake up in the morning. I drive seven miles to work. I park the car. I'm in the radio station all day. At some point in the evening I drive home.

CURWOOD: Okay, wait a second. Tell me about this car. What is it? Is it, like, a 50-foot-long SUV, or is it, you know, something really pretty small?

GLASS: It's a Honda Accord.

CURWOOD: That's a pretty good car by today's standards.

GLASS: It gets good mileage.

CURWOOD: Now, I'm wondering if one day a week or two, maybe, you could leave it home and take the El. Is that possible?

GLASS: It is possible. I mean, for me to get to work through the El it's an El an two buses. And you know, I've done it when the car's been busted.

CURWOOD: Do you live along the lake? Could you bike up and down the great paths?

GLASS: I could during the six months when it's possible to bike. I've done that, I've biked. But, you know, March really wasn't -- (laughs) I mean, Chicago this year really wasn't the most hospitable biking weather, for me, anyway.

CURWOOD: So there you go, though, Ira. You figure, all right, only six months out of the year you can bike. So if you were willing to bike two days a week in those six months, you could cut your overall car commuting pollution account by 20 percent.

GLASS: Right. But if you look at that, the car is only contributing 250 pounds to this. So you cut 20 percent, that's only 50 pounds out of a 3,500 pound per month amount of pollution. And I just feel like, so I'm going to have to, like, bike to work twice a week to cut 50 pounds out of this massive amount? I could bike to work for the rest of my life, and you know, if I take one plane trip a month I'd be outweighing it.

CURWOOD: Well, that's right, but the fact is that if you want to get engaged and cut, you need to cut where you can cut. And besides, if you just do this by yourself and nobody else pays attention, you're absolutely right. Nothing's going to happen as a function of that. But the idea is that it becomes contagious. I mean, I think this is what these Web site folks were trying to do.

GLASS: I think when you're talking about this, Steve, there is a sense of, like, well if we all just, like, do our little part, like it's World War II and we're each going to plant a victory garden or something, we're going to, you know, lick the carbon dioxide problem. And I don't know. Like, maybe you're right, but --

CURWOOD: It's not much fun, is it?

GLASS: No. And I don't have a problem, like, sacrificing for something I believe in. But I think that when one feels that one is the only person in the country, you know, cutting back on their driving to work, you know, and taking -- it's hard to feel like it's going to have much effect.

CURWOOD: So, how do you feel about this at this point? Are you now concerned, or is this something that, hey, after this conversation you can safely forget about?

GLASS: No. You know what's going to happen, is that this is going to be one of these things that it's now going to gnaw at me. Like the same way that before I stopped eating meat, like, there was like a period of about three years where there was like a series of things that finally, you know, kind of built up and built up and built up, and finally I stopped. And I felt like this is very first time I've ever really given this a second thought. But I don't know, I just -- how many different kinds of nerd can a person be in one lifetime? (Curwood laughs) Like, how much of a do-gooder are we expected to be? Like, I'm supposed to take into account, like, my contribution to the greenhouse effect in addition to everything else? I just -- I just don't know if I can take it. And I think most people feel that way, too.

CURWOOD: Ira Glass (laughs) -- Ira Glass hosts public radio's This American Life from WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks, Ira.

GLASS: Thanks, Steve. Thanks for asking me.

(Music up and under: Nightmares On Wax, "You're Not Alone")



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