How to really reduce our carbon footprints – no-fly living.


Fullscreen capture 552010 122058 PM-1 Kurt Hoetling was a commercial fisherman and wilderness guide in the Pacific Northwest, so he thought he was doing pretty well in the carbon-footprint department – til he took an online test to determine what impact he was actually having.  Turns out his footprint was two and a half times the national average – primarily because of the jet travel he was doing. 

So he decided to experiment with living a "radically local" life – by traveling no farther than 60 miles from home for a whole year, and only by bicycle, foot and kayak.  He chronicles all this in his book  The Circumference of Home.

Of course this can be seen as a stunt, an excuse to write a book, but I'm all for stunts that make us think, even the much sillier No Impact Man stunt of taking his family off the grid for a year in New York City.  (Here's Kurt's answer when asked to compare the two projects – the 5th question down.)

Going Anywhere?

I learned about radically local living from a radio interview with Hoetling and it got me thinking about the flights I'll be taking this year.  No European vacations, but still. 

Now to bring this back to gardening, are we nit-picking over our carbon footprint in the garden because it's easier than making actual sacrifices?  When it counts, maybe we're all hypocrites.  Sincere and well-meaning ones, but still.


  1. Yes, flying is a real problem. You’d think I’d do less of it, given that and the fact that I am basically a homebody. And yet, here I go again this summer–three cross-country flights. The US needs a better rail system.

  2. This is totally amazing. And yes – the fly problem is a problem – I fly a lot due to my speaking schedule now. But getting paid is important to my family’s survival, so it’s a dilemma for sure.


  3. I realize some people must fly for their job so flying is understandable in this case, but I’m wondering if others are just born with the wanderlust to travel? (This isn’t a criticism, but more of an observation.)

    While I have the $$$ to fly, I rarely fly even though I do have relatives in Holland and on the west coast.

    I pretty well stay home most of the time, and I’m not retired. When I take a vacation, I either stay home or drive to the local towns in my area. (Guess I’m a radical non-flyer, and I didn’t even know it.)

    I took a peek at the video of “No Impact Man” and I may buy his book.–Thanks for the link.

    I just never knew so many other people flew so much.

  4. Thank you for bringing up one of the biggest generators of carbon out there, one that few think about, even if they have reusable grocery bags…

  5. I think all the interest in green-as in the garden-has been to focus us on things we feel we can control. But my feeling all along was that we were unwilling to tackle those major things that really matter, like using so much energy to get to LA in 5 hours. When you stop to think about it -that is really amazing! And anything that amazing must be a huge energy burner. But, its also cars, and our trains (in the negative, not enough of them). Wow, if we could put our mind to tackling transportation, we would really be putting our carbon footprint forward.

  6. When I think about all the moral, ethical, political, and practical dilemmas surrounding the subject of “saving the environment” — a lovely thought but impossible I believe — I usually wind up wishing I was a religious person. If I could put all those worrisome thoughts in the hands of a god I could live a more carefree life. I envy those with religious beliefs.

  7. Radically local sounds nice, but both radically local living and living off the grid are luxuries that many people can’t afford. Many, many people live quite far from their closest place to pick up supplies. Some people require specialized equipment or medication that surely is not without a carbon footprint. As a matter of fact, unless you strictly only grow your own things and make your own things from that you grow, you cannot live without a carbon footprint. Someone made and transported that bike and kayak. As a wilderness guide he needs quality safety equipment. That comes with a carbon footprint. And commercial fishing often has a greatly detrimental environmental effect.

    Make as many good, socially and environmentally sound choices as you can. Everyone should. But don’t get too hung up on how other people are really sacrificing – they’re probably not sacrificing as much as they would like you to believe.

  8. Thanks for bringing this up Susan. I completely agree it’s a huge issue. I was not willing to believe it when I did my own footprint calculation. But in a class I took with Stanford Continuing Ed, we did the numbers and it really is true: huge impact.

    Sad thing is, it’s really not OK to bring it up. Friend of mine mentioned he flew from SF to Vancouver to hear Leonard Cohen. Stunned silence followed by polite conversation about the singer.
    That said, one is sure one has to fly. I do, but really think carefully about each trip (and I live in the suburbs by choice; it allows me to bike to a lot of places).

  9. It would be interesting to follow the carbon footprint for a year of a very poor person. One who has to live near and use public transportation to work (or walk or ride a bike); who uses, re-uses, and recycles everything (maybe even recycles others’ cans and bottles for extra money); wears sweaters and blankets to save energy costs; and probably rarely travels outside a 25 mile radius, never flying because of cost. In our neck of the woods, they might even fish, hunt, and gather wild foods to supplement food stamps. Perhaps our affluent ways are catching up to us.

  10. I suppose this is like someone turning off the water while bushing his teeth to save water, but over-watering the landscape to maintain an artificially green lawn year-round. The biggest difference he can make is to rethink his lawn care–the gallon or so of water he saves while brushing is teeth pales in comparison.

    I’ve been feeling somewhat guilty about all the driving around Florida I’ve done this year on my self-designed book tour to spread the word about sustainable gardening. I hope that the net effect of my temporarily large footprint will be that many more folks will change their gardening habits and live lighter on our state.

  11. What a bunch of drivel. Then stop speaking in public, stop writing books and using all that paper. Just wait for Al Gore to come save us all.

    This post has given a concrete definition of hubris.

    Meanwhile I look forward to my trip to Colorado Springs, Chicago, twice to Baltimore and Las Vegas to purchase gardening items so others can garden organically and off set my carbon foot print

  12. After two years in the Peace Corps I entered our data in a similar website to find out what our carbon foot print was. I expected practically none. We had no electricity, no treated water, we grew a lot of our food and bought everything else in a raw state(except peanut butter). We weren’t allowed to drive so we took public transportation everywhere. Yet our foot print was more than the last year we lived in The States because we flew four times.

    It really made me stop and think. I like the idea of this book. It reminds me of the Amish in Pennsylvania who are only allowed to travel as far from home as they can get in one day with no motors. They are the truely radical non-fliers.

  13. Before everyone gets on the more trains, more cars bandwagon please remember that most of our transportation $$ are already tied up in playing “catch-up” to current local development. It’s nice to fantasize that more rail would give distance travelers smaller carbon footprints, but the economic reality is there’s no money for it. And given the current near-empty state of Amtrak, at least when I’ve taken it, I’d say few people are clamoring for the change.

  14. @Laura: Loads of people are clamouring for change. They aren’t on amtrak because it hasn’t changed yet. So the best they can do is wait and nag their politicians. I live 3 hours from NYC, a place no person would take a car if they had a viable choice. Yet I drive down there when I my professional obligations take me there because it’s cheaper to buy the full tank of gas a round trip to the city requires and pay the tolls as an individual than to buy a train ticket–carpooling makes the math even worse. I can’t afford to take the train to NYC; I’d have to make real money for that, and I’m barely breaking even. With the continental/united merger, I’d dearly love to never take a plane again, but if there isn’t high speed rail to the west coast where my family is, that’s off the menu because the several days of travel would eat my vacation time. The infrastructure I need to take the train simply doesn’t exist. The lack of cheap rail from upstate NY to NYC is pretty much the number 1 conversation folks have around here. Don’t assume people wouldn’t be lining up for rail the minute it became economically viable. Maybe that means we need higher gasoline taxes and tolls to subsidize rail until people can make the transition. I don’t know. But right now it’s only an option for the rich.

  15. There are so many other ecological-friendly things that we can do, in addition to cutting our carbon footprint. People often forget about simple stuff like these tips for saving water and money when using a sprinkler or water system in your garden:
    1. schedule for efficiency (like, not in the middle of the day!!)
    2. keep your sprinklers clear and efficient
    3. keep up with the seasons – there can be monthly changes in the weather, not just twice a year
    4. water in short bursts rather than a long soak.

  16. Someone mentioned following around someone of lesser means. I’m one of those people but not by lack of trying – we both have college degrees but health issues plaguing my husband caused him to be permanently out of the work force. Depending on what time of the year we’re either ‘working class’ (during landscape season) or ‘working poor'(during the off season in the winter).
    During my landscape season we watch every single mile put on our work van – we try hard not to go beyond 20 miles of a given job since gas in now at over $3/gallon. Thermostats are set to a minimum in the winter (and we wear sweaters). We have no central A/C only a box air conditioner that only runs on the very worst days of summer because then the electric bill we be higher. We go through the alleys (just like our neighbors) looking for stuff we can resell at a garage sale or use ourselves rather then buying it. There are people that live here that don’t even have a car and have to bike oftentimes on old rickety bikes along major roads just to get to work – not the nice expensive ones like the neighboring wealthy suburb where people get gussied up in fancy gear to bike on the weekend. I work at homes of some of these people that like to think they are being so eco friendly. One insists everything in the garden be 100 percent organic (no herbicides, everything composted). She even fired her long time lawn guy because he wouldn’t use her old rusty rotary hand mower. She also rides her bike around town rather then driving the Mercedes – I’m not sure if it ever really gets driven at all except maybe to the airport. I’ll give her credit for some of these measures. But this person also traded the old perfectly good Mercedes in for a new one – the old one didn’t even look very old and it looked to be in perfect shape. She also has two large central A/C units (because the house is so large and only two people live there) and yes they run all the time. She is also constantly flying to the east coast and Europe. Sad to say, but this lady has at least tried to take some small steps reduce her carbon footprint. However, most upper class and upper middle class don’t even make those small steps because it interferes with their lifestyle. We’ve definately still got a long way to go with changing mindsets.

    Plane travel – are you kidding? That will be something we save up for our 25th wedding anniversary. Until then it’s the greyhound bus for us which btw is an excellent way to get around to neighboring cities on the cheap. Most of the fellow travelers/drivers are also much more pleasant and courteous then what you will find on a plane. It also leaves on time 🙂

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