Carbon Footprints

19 October 2012. Filed under category Nomad.
Polar Bear at risk.

I’m writing this on-board an aircraft heading towards Hawaii, the first leg of a series of flights that I will take in the next two weeks. The full itinerary is Los Angeles – Hawaii – Los Angeles – Sydney – Auckland, a total of fourteen-thousand air miles.

These frequent long-haul flights compel some readers to write me long e-mails accusing me of not taking my environmental responsibility. The authors of these vicious e-mails like to inquire into the depth of selfishness that I must possess to create a nomadic lifestyle so dependent on flying. Have I not heard of global warming? Do I not care about the polar bears? And for God’s sake, what about the children?

I do care. I care an awful lot in fact. If it wasn’t for the fact that polar bears are ferocious killers, some of my best friends might have been polar bears. I consider green issues the second most important issue for humanity. (The first one being the escape from this rock before the sun explodes. Come on people; that thing is a ticking bomb!)

I just don’t think that my carbon footprint is that bad. In fact, I suspect that I’m less of an environmental burden than the venomous authors of the aforementioned e-mails. Let me explain why.

A Nomad’s Carbon Footprints

Do nomads fly too much?

Let’s start with the big one: my air travel. This sounds like a big carbon issue, but it’s not. My bags and my body together weigh approximately one hundred kilograms. Considering the weight of an airplane, my existence on the plane adds little to the fuel consumption. This is naturally a preposterous argument since the total carbon emission of the flight should be evenly attributed to the passengers, right?

Wrong. The carbon guilt of a passenger should be directly related to the incentive he or she is for the airline to keep the flight alive. Hence the first-class passengers should hang their heads in shame followed by a wretched expression from business and an embarrassed blush from coach. Non-revenue stand-by passengers (flying under the blessing of an Airline Patron) and the staff are no incentive at all for the airlines to keep a flight alive. The airlines earn no money from us, hence the term non-revenue. If the number of paying customers of a particular flight dwindles, then the airline will drop it, no matter how often it is frequented by non-revenue nomads like me. (Oh, and about 25% of an airline’s profit comes from mail, not passengers, so stop sending those damned Christmas cards!)

Almost all of my flights so far have been non-revenue stand-by flights with the exception of a few shorter European flights. My carbon footprint is not null, but it is smaller than most think.

A Nomad's Carbon Footprints

There are two other areas where my nomadic life is surprisingly carbon-light. Let’s talk housing. As a nomad, I don’t have one. I usually live in guest bedrooms of existing houses that would be warmed or cooled regardless of my existence. There are times when I live in hostels, which of course is an economic incentive to keep the hostel warmed or cooled. But on average, the energy bill and the related carbon cost for my housing is low.

Finally, I am a poor consumer. I earn very little and shop accordingly. But as a nomad, I would remain a poor consumer even if I could lay golden eggs for breakfast since I can own no more than I can carry. Ever increasing consumption is by definition not sustainable in a world with finite resources. Remember, the fewer resources spent on the fleeting happiness of the individual, the more resources can be spent by humanity to build space ships with which we can colonize the galaxy.

The Need for Politics

We can't rely on everyone voluntarily do this.

Feel free to forget everything I’ve written so far as it is rather inconsequential. I wrote it only to prevent trigger-happy environmentalists from tripping over their own ignorance and send me any more hate mail. My writing so far has all been concerned with what I as an individual do and don’t do, and it isn’t that important.

Humankind will not solve the environmental crisis by hoping that individuals on a global scale will act unselfishly and sacrifice their own comfort and happiness for the sake of the greater good. Some might, but the majority won’t.

These need to be aligned.

These need to be aligned.

What we need are for our politicians to create global structures that force the prices of products and services to accurately reflect the cost to the future wellbeing of the human race. The market forces will then kick in and drive the environmental costs of production down in order to remain competitive. Companies that can’t innovate new green production methods will be priced out of the market.

If the full cost to the environment was accurately reflected in the prices we pay for products and services, I believe that we would be in for a shock. Perhaps I wouldn’t be able to afford my nomadic lifestyle anymore. And this would be just fine. Honestly. I would still vote for this ‘scheme’ even if it would mean the end of my nomadic life as long as I know that I’m carrying my share of the responsibility along with everybody else. What doesn’t work is to expect this heavy burden to be voluntary.

Expecting environmentally concerned individuals to do more than others to ‘save the planet’ is like expecting socialists to pay more than their required taxes because they are in favour of tax increases. What the environmentalist and the socialist alike should do is vote along their ideals. Perhaps they can even be politically active if they are truly passionate about their cause. That can affect change on the required global scale. Individual actions are laudable, but it is much more important to vote for politicians that will create large-scale change to align people’s selfish nature with what is good for the environment and humankind. (Which if course includes an escape plan from this doomed planet.)

Travel Updates

I’ve just ended two amazing months in Long Beach, back with my dear friends Don and Jim. It has been a wonderful time of alternating adventure and relaxation. I also got some work done! But now it’s over and I’m on the move again. I’m first visiting Hawaii for a couple of weeks before I continue on to Auckland, New Zealand.

A huge thank you to Don and Jim for providing housing to me for such a long time, as well as their friendship. I’ll miss you and look forward to next year!

The Undercover Economist

If you want to know more about incorporating environmental costs into the prices of products and services and how this creates economic incentives to help guide humanity towards an ecological balance with nature, read ‘The Undercover Economist’ by Tim Hartford. (Amazon, Audible US, Audible UK). The book covers many other topics and it is all a very good read, but this was the part I enjoyed the most.


I’m sure you have an opinion on this. Share it!

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  1. Dan Garner says:

    I disagree with you slightly – I think that an individual’s actions are just as important as their ‘voting’. After all, our society is a collectin of individuals.

    I do agree; however, that your travel alone does not mean that you are not environmentally friendly. It is the overall picture. I owned a large truck that got poor gas mileage for years. I needed it at one point in my life. I used it for my business (recycling) and pulled a camper trailer that I lived out of for a while. I got accused of having an excessive carbon footprint many times. What about the recycling? What about ther VERY minimal resources and energy I was using living in a camper trailer?

    Dan Garner

  2. Kristina Hakansson says:

    I completely agree that prices should reflect the cost to life on earth (not just the human race). It’s the only way to make a big difference since most people either don’t believe in climate change or think they can’t afford to buy more environmentally friendly products.

    However, I don’t agree that the sun being a ticking bomb is the most important issue since this will happen on a much longer time scale than climate change.

  3. Maya says:

    Interesting perspective and I have some comments but don’t have time to elaborate. Welcome to Hawai’i, I live here and unfortunately will be moving at the end of the month but which island are you visiting? If you need any tips or suggestions or contacts let me know 🙂

  4. Crys Klier-Hoffman says:

    I do what I can in my personal space but I also harbor one of those gas guzzling vehicles in my garage, four wheel drive is an absolute necessity here and the damn thing has emotional value as well. There are always going to be people who go to extremes of either being too GREEN or not giving a damn and expecting others to fix the problem. A nice balance would be lovely but that is a dream not a reality.
    As to those trolls who bash you in nasty emails, they are missing the whole point of who you are and what you stand for. Idiots.
    Have fun in Hawaii. Can we expect to see you in a grass skirt?

  5. Robert S says:

    Thank you for your continued blogs, because as someone who loves to travel the world, but who can only travel two weeks of the year, your blogs are just one facet which bring colour to my life.

    Personally, I think the man made climate change debate is complete balony, and the scientists are just making it up as they go along. But that aside, you should do what your heart tells you. If you want to somehow offset your carbon footprint, do it. If your heart says buy a small fuel efficient car, do it.


    1. Jono says:

      Gustav probably does not like to offend his readers….so allow me.

      Your worldview is wrong. Climate change as a result of industrialisation has been studied and measured since at least the seventies. I am not sure how that qualifies as “making it up as they go along”. That would suggest that the story is changing all the time, but it doesn’t. The message from the scientific community has been consistent. It was not even particularly contested until vested interests got involved. It became possible to roll out a skeptic “scientist” who is in the overwhelming minority and all of a sudden their opinion is a plausible voice of reason against the “alarmists”, meaning the other 99% of respected experts.

      The mantra “do what your heart tells you” is what gets us in trouble in the first place. Sometimes the effects of our actions are unseen for a long time and it seems perfectly reasonable to follow our intincts that everything will be fine. What could possibly go wrong?

      It makes more sense to follow your brain, and the evidence which is available. A small rise in average world temperatures sounds pleasant but it tends to cause, on average, more extreme weather for one thing (that means hot – draught – and cold – hurricanes). I am pretty sure there is an unprecedented extreme weather event taking place somewhere in the world as I type this.

      A great case study in environmental science is the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. The cause was attirbuted to CFCs in refrigeration and, amazingly, a worldwide treaty was signed banning their use and a crisis was more or less averted.

      The quality of the science in climate change is no different. We know what causes it, we can project the effects (although not very easily predict events) and we know how to do something about it. However, the solution is somewhat inconvenient and will cause economic loss so the credibility of the science is attacked in the name of short-term profits. Keep the public guessing as to the truth and morons think the scientists with their book-learnin’ and fancy numbers are part of a big conspiracy.

      1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

        Jono, it isn’t so much that I don’t want to offend my readers as that I’m just getting tired at trying to convince the unconvincable. But since you wrote down exactly what I wanted to say to Robert, but just didn’t have the energy to write, I can now jump in and say, “I agree with all you said!”

      2. Brother Henrik says:

        And i totaly agree to Jono.

      3. Jono says:

        Oh, and I forgot to highlight your most profound comment:

        “Remember, the fewer resources spent on the fleeting happiness of the individual, the more resources can be spent by humanity to build space ships with which we can colonize the galaxy.”

        Well…you have to give the “fleeting happiness of the individual” some credit because its all we have. Some modest amount of quality materialism brings a little happiness, e.g. a really good pair of earphones do make music sound better, although perhaps not happiness on the scale of holding a newborn baby….but I can listen to music more often and it doesn’t keep me awake at night!

        However, it is true enough that the only thing that significantly terrifies the collective genes of my species is the possibility of Earth being hit by a really big object from outer space. Hence, the only real purpose of human existence is to develop the capability to leave Earth and live somewhere else.

        Climate change, by itself, is unlikely to actually wipe out life on Earth because even in a clogged, turbulent atmosphere some of us will survive. Global disasters destroy the capacity to pollute so the more that die the better from the point of view of Earth’s balance sheet. But the danger of that is: less people means less science, less innovation and therefore less chance of a solution for inter-galactic travel (although I would settle for intra-galactic travel).

        People are a valuable intellectual resource that can only be preserved by keeping as many of us alive as possible and preferably with better education. If we spend the next century fending off “natural” disaster after disaster then it sets us back in the main mission….and that big outer space rock just gets a little bit closer.

  6. Jim says:

    Global warming isn’t caused by carbon footprint. You and other folks need to stop believing this idea lock stock and barrel. The science to support the theory is extremely week.

    Energy is free and the bankers keep it from people with fake science and keeping everyone talking about garbage like this. This is irrelevant. Instead of talking about carbon, people should be talking about the pitifully wrong Law of Conservation of Energy and the failed Electrical Engineering principles which are disprovable on a bench.

    Since you’re a nomadic traveler. Go look up some real scientists who are doing free energy experiments and visit their labs. Support their efforts.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Ha ha ha! I almost took you seriously until you went after the natural law of conservation of energy. Funny man you!

      1. Jim says:

        The jokes on you, Gustav. Go look up Thane Heins. You dont have a clue what you’re talking about.

        Its been already proven that any magnet approaching a coil at a frequency matched to the impedance or resonant frequency of the coil circuitry will excite energy in the coil without Back EMF. Violation of Lenz’s Law. Violation of Law of Conservation of Energy.

        Veljko Milkovic device. Also proven. Two-stage mechanical oscillator that demonstrates how a non-fixed pivot pendulum has a calculatable vector at which so-called ‘overunity’ forces occur.

        Its real. If you don’t go do the research, you can walk around with the carbon cloud over your head like the other 99%.

        We are the 1%. We know what’s going on.

        1. Jono says:

          This is good stuff for debate, although it seems a little off topic. The idea that there might be better (perfect even) forms of energy generation is a bit different to the fact that inefficient forms of energy generation have been used for a long time now and have adversely affected the environment.

          A “carbon footprint” is, to a degree, a bit of marketing spin but it does seem to have cracked the public consciousness that an individual should be aware of (and ideally take responsibility for) their own environmental impact. That is all Gustav’s original post was about….having to justify his existence to the “liberal douches” (like me) that would challenge his life choice.

          Finding new and cleaner forms of energy is part of the solution to overcome climate change. It always seemed to me that the great fusion reactor in the sky blasting out more energy every second than we could ever possibly use would be part of the answer…but solar energy devices are still fairly primitive, so it is not a viable answer yet.

          I read the wiki on Thane Heins. He might be onto something, who knows. No one is trying to silence him, although there are understandably skeptics, because it appears to contravene the previously observed phenomena of conservation of energy. It is not some kind of shady scientific elite (presumably funded by wealthy bankers) that perpetuate this myth….it is every physics teacher on the planet. And most of these people are neutral, with no burning desire to embarass the inventor of the next perpetual motion machine.

          However, science is not a democracy. If the “law” is wrong it will be proven so and a new “law” will need to be established. Thane Heins just has to present convincing evidence.

          History is littered with maverick scientists whose theories were vindicated. But that does not mean that every maverick scientist is correct in their theories. It is therefore quite a common mistake to believe “everyone disagreed with Galileo and he turned out to be right! ….. everyone seems to disagree with me, so I must be right too!”

          1. Jim says:

            Hey Jono,

            I was hoping someone humble enough to actually do some research on the subject and say something thoughtful would respond. Since you did so, I will reward you with the evidence that vindicates Thane Heins work:


            You won’t find that on wikipedia. 😛 Wrong place to go for energy research. Wikipedia is the collection of “approved articles of public opinion”. Its a terrible place to read about truth. Its only a good place to read about what the public is allowed to believe. If you don’t believe that, then you haven’t tried posting something that seriously threatens the right people on wikipedia. You get edited in a heartbeat, regardless of the quality of content.

            – Jim

            1. Jim says:

              I should have mentioned. In the folder you’ll find mp4s and an FLV file. FLV is Flash Video if you don’t know. You’ll need a flash video player.

        2. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

          I wish you and Thane Heins the very best of luck. The race is on! The first of you who are able to prove that the law of energy conservation is wrong will for sure be awarded the nobel prize in physics, so you certainly have a carrot waiting at the end of this research!

          You will forgive my scepticism when it comes to research done by a single or a few scientists that contravene accepted laws of nature. As Jono said, there are times when these mavericks turn out to be right, but it happens rarely. The few times when it does happen, however, is proof to me that the scientific process works. If science clung to its previously established laws in the face of overwhelming evidence, then that would never happen. But it does.

          Perhaps Thane will be the next such person. Perhaps not. I have neither the education or the time to determine which.

          In a similar way, I don’t have the time or education to do my own research into global warming. Again, I am relying on the consensus of the scientific community and use it as my basis for my decisions and beliefs. I wish more people did instead of throwing it all away on the speculations of rogue scientists and the word of Fox News.

  7. Jim says:

    “You will forgive my scepticism when it comes to research done by a single or a few scientists that contravene accepted laws of nature. As Jono said, there are times when these mavericks turn out to be right, but it happens rarely.”

    You seem to be very good at ignoring your own facts. Actually, most scientists who made the largest contributions and received Nobel Peace Prizes also got brushed under the rug and called liars, despite the fact that they even got the prize. All their information was pushed aside and we’re not allowed to believe it.

    Linus Pauling, anyone? Linus Pauling got the Nobel Peace Prize for Vitamin C. He also proved that super high dosages of Vitamin C is one of the best things you can take to stop heart attacks and clean up general heart problems. Couple it with L-Lysine for power. You and most other folks aren’t allowed to hear about Linus Pauling.

    In modern times, the FDA has put extremely low RDA for the 100% mark that are WAY below what you need to get super powered medicinal affects. Linus Pauling was advocating 6000 milligrams a day for Vitamin C. Are you going to question a man who got the Nobel Peace Prize. He’s not alone.

    There is a chain of other Prize Winners who have also gotten covered up for their discoveries.

    Peace Prize doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Money wins.

    “Again, I am relying on the consensus of the scientific community and use it as my basis for my decisions and beliefs.”

    That is the most foolish statement you could possibly make. Hmm smart for the Germans to rely on their consensus faith in Hitler when he built the Audobon wasn’t it? What you actually just said is literally “I don’t think for myself. I don’t even put things to question. I just kind of go along with what the majority says.” Your’re a dangerous man.

    Many scientists throughout the World supported Darwin and Hitler together in their view of unevolved men. The science was solid and there was a strong consensus. LOLOLOLOLOLOL But that stuff doesn’t happen today! SURELY NOT! LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Wow, second time today I see the Reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy in my own comments section. This is not a good sign.

      Anyway, the moment someone attacks me by insinuating an association between my views and that of Hitler is the same moment I realize that I’ve made a mistake in engaging in the conversation in the first place.

      1. Jim says:

        Because you were caught red-handed with the same view that does indeed go with all the people who followed Hitler. Its always a mistake getting caught isn’t it?


  8. Jim says:

    your so-called “rogue scientists” have historically been many of the prize winners. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL

  9. Jim says:

    No doubt you also haven’t learned about the truth behind Louis Pasteur either? The inventor of the Pasteurization process was challenged in his lifetime by a gentleman named Claude Bernard who was vehemently of the opinion that germs are not the enemy. Bernard said the problem is the soil conditions being unbalanced. But Pasteur was insistent that it was all the fault of the terrible “germs” and that we need to exterminate them. After years of arrogant belief in his own opinion, Louis Pasteur admitted he was wrong the entire time … on his death bed. Too late. And it wouldn’t matter anyway. The entire anti-germ industry had already been built thanks to the United States government regime which had gotten a strong foothold under the corrupt Franklin Roosevelt.

    Now here we are in 2012, and everyone still thinks germs are evil. Yet folks who run the experiments have verified all of Bernard’s ideas… and heck talk to anyone who does their own gardening or natural close-to-the-earth stuff. YOU of all people should know this. YOu’re claiming to be pro-green. If you’re all about being green, you ought to know about the truth of cultured foods and how good bacteria are one of the best things in the world. When you wipe out bacteria, you cripple everything.

  10. Jono says:

    Gentleman please! Shake hands.

    There’s been a bit of name calling hereinaforementioned….GUSTAV, sit down and behave yourself! Goddamn nazi sympathiser….


    I write heavy metal songs and the free energy debate opens up some excellent prospects related to my next opus. An album themed on a societal overhaul. The hopeful outcome of a redistribution of natural wealth is a space-faring civilisation within a few generations.

    Luckily my head will be frozen in carbonite.

  11. Ruby says:

    Great post Gustav, looks like are concerns are the same!

  12. Greg Kuhlman says:

    Wow, I had never even thought about carbon footprint in this way. At first I thought you were just trying to scrub some blame of a guilty conscience, but … you are right!

  13. Wyatt Bottorff says:

    I agree that as a nomad your carbon footprint is likely very manageable.
    “My writing so far has all been concerned with what I as an individual do and don’t do, and it isn’t that important.”
    But I could not disagree with the above statement anymore than I do. Yes, here in the U.S. and plenty of other countries people vote in others to make decisions for them. But the political system is a construct of the human imagination followed by willing subjects. At the end of the day every decision regarding the human race had been made by an individual, which is where all change starts, stops, and occurs.
    I agree that changing the minds of a minority (politicians) would generally be easier than changing the minds of the masses, but politics is the most corrupt industry in the world, they’ve ALLOWED and profited from the destruction our environment, they will never change their minds. But people will if you throw them enough evidence, it’s a lot of work, but if you want change you will have to work for it.

  14. Zach Brown says:

    I am a college student studying environmental science hoping to make a difference for the planet. From what I see, I think our biggest problems are consumerism and their idea of the “good life” is being around many tangible things and money, and the ignorance of the general public. The people’s across America are a great example of this. Celebrities that claim to live “green” by driving a high mileage car is not going to change the fact that it took many resources to make the car in the first place. Example of ignorance. Then, they live in a mansion (taking up a lot of property, using more water than needed for the average person..) why do people need these things? What’s the problem with living a simplistic life spending time with the people, animals, nature.. Another thing, American hospitals are always on their way to sap the hell out of the average US family. Births are much more complicated than needed to be. They hype the woman on drugs that direct her hormones in unnatural cycles that can lead to birth defects or even death. If you have to be filled with drugs to not feel that pain of child birth, don’t get pregnant. You’re screwing with the bodies natural process it has precisely adapted over time. What happened to the natural way of home births or birthing nannies that guided the woman through a “pleasurable” experience of birth? There are people always out there finding ways behind their redwood desk in a bear coat asking themselves “Whose life will I ruin today?” Or “How can be environmentally friendly?” The ignorance of the majority of people do not take into fact of the small picture rather than looking at a car. What can we do, as a human race, change the mentality of these people and get them to relies this planet is being torn to shit by us? As it may be kind of against my point of looking at the big picture, but this just a very general idea of what’s happening. I just want change, hoping for the good of the human race and Mother Nature.

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