Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

Today, we have a question from a member of our Possibly team- Meg Talikoff. 

Meg, do you want to explain?

Meg Talikoff: Sure. I’m from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but I go to school here in Providence. That means I usually have to take a flight to go back home. I was feeling guilty about that, and I wanted to figure out a way to offset the emissions I create by taking that trip.

Megan Hall: So, how will you offset your flights?

Meg Talikoff: In order to decide, I needed to get a sense of how much I was actually emitting. So I teamed up with Grace Samaha, another Possibly reporter, to find out.

Megan Hall: Hi Grace!

Grace Samaha: Thanks for having us.

Megan Hall: Ok, so how many greenhouse gasses are emitted from flying?

Meg Talikoff: It turns out the answer can vary a lot. Jeff Overton, a senior policy fellow at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, explained the factors that influence emissions to us. 

Jeff Overton: It’s the size of the aircraft, that’s pretty important. And, you know, the aircraft weight. Flight path, of course, and the type of airplane, too, the more modern equipment is going to be more efficient, burn less fuel. 

Grace Samaha: And different flight calculators use different variables, like airport busyness or non-co2 warming effects. 

Meg Talikoff: So, we tried a few calculators and just took an average. 

Grace Samaha: Which left us with the estimate that her round trip between home and school creates about 500 kg of CO2 equivalents. 

Megan Hall: Is that a lot? 

Grace Samaha: Actually, yes. It’s about 1/10 of the driving emissions of an average American. And that’s as much as the total yearly emissions of the average Kenyan.

Megan Hall: I guess that didn’t help with your guilt. 

Meg Talikoff: Not at all. And I also knew it wouldn’t be easy to make a change big enough to offset that much carbon. 

Megan Hall: So, how would you do it? 

Grace Samaha: Well, Meg’s lifestyle is already pretty efficient. She doesn’t drive, her home is a tiny dorm room…

Meg Talikoff: And since I live on a college campus, stuff like where I get my electricity is out of my control. 

Grace Samaha: There aren’t that many ways she could majorly cut her emissions. Except

Meg Talikoff: Tonight for dinner, i have been eating a piece of chicken in a mysterious brown sauce that’s quite yummy, two small stuffed shells with ricotta and some marinara sauce.

Grace Samaha:(interrupting): She eats meat.

Megan Hall: Okay, so changing your diet would save you some carbon. But just how much of a difference would that really make? 

Meg Talikoff: Well, livestock production creates a lot of emissions – about fifteen percent of all the greenhouse gasses people emit.

Grace Samaha: According to a study published in 2020, the average American would save about 140 kg of CO2 equivalents by going vegan for just one month.

Megan Hall: So changing your food choices actually does have the potential to make up for your flights. But how long would you have to be vegan to offset your travels?

Meg Talikoff: Remember, my trip creates about 500 kg of co2 equivalents, and veganism would save about 140 per month. 

Grace Samaha: Which means she’d have to be vegan for about four months to offset a round-trip between North Carolina and Rhode Island. 

Megan Hall: Wow, four whole months! Are you going to be able to skip meat, cheese, and milk for that long?

Meg Talikoff: Even if I could, I probably wouldn’t! But one thing I can do is give up red meat.

Grace Samaha: According to that same study, if she gave up red meat for 6-9 months, that would have about same effect. 

Meg Talikoff: For me, skipping some burgers feels a lot easier than not eating chicken. But I do still feel a little surprised that my one trip creates so many emissions. It really will take changing my daily decisions to make up for it.

Megan Hall: Well, keep us updated!

H: That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Possibly is a co-production of The Public’s Radio and Brown University’s Institute for Environment and Society and Climate Solutions Initiative.

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