Carbon Conundrum

This post was last updated on December 26th, 2013

By Dan

I bet you’re wondering how an environmental science major can take a 7-week road trip across the US and not feel a tad bit guilty about all the emissions.

Well I do, and so does Casey.  So we’ve decided to do  something about it. I consulted the EPA Website and did some number crunching to find out the exact impact our cross-country trip will have.

Here we go: for each gallon of gasoline burned, .00892 metric tons of CO2 are emitted. Including the miles driven while being lost–because we will get lost–our trip will more than likely be around 9,000 miles. My stylish yet petrol consuming Volvo station wagon puts out an average of 20 miles per gallon. So here’s the math:

(.00892 metric tons CO2/1 gallon gas) * (9,000 miles/1 trip) * (1 gallon gas/20 miles)

I plugged the ratios into my handy TI83 and it displayed a number I found quite surprising. 4.014 metric tons of CO2 will be emitted during our trip! According to the EPA, the average vehicle miles traveled during the entire year of 2007 was around 11,720 miles. I am beginning to understand how epic this road trip is actually going to be. Now that I really feel guilty, there must be some way we can negate our carbon footprint and put our ecotourism ideals to work…..

Pitstop on the 19 hour trip to NYC through the blizzard of 09

Scrolling down the EPA website a little further brings me to a section about planting trees. If you’ve flown recently, you might have been asked if you would like to contribute a few dollars to plant tress and negate the carbon emitted by the plane. This is the same idea. Using the following formula, you can calculate how many new trees would be needed to offset the carbon from your miles traveled.  On average, medium growth coniferous trees, over 10 years in urban environments, uptake .039 metric tons of CO2 per tree. SOO

(4.0185 metric tons CO2/1 trip) * (1 tree/.039 metric tons CO2) comes out to:

103 trees grown for 10 years in urban environments to make a 9000 mile road trip carbon neutral.

While we are fully aware that this is not a perfect system, planting trees seems like a pretty good way to make road-tripping a little more sustainable.  We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback!! Do you think it’s a feasible idea?

And of course, please don’t forget that we are still in a competition to become Isla Palenque’s first island interns, and we still need more votes!!  Please click here for the video, information about the internship, and more ways to help if you have already voted :-)


  1. I think it’s a great idea :)

  2. Awesome idea! It makes me want to implement some sort of similar program on the island – offset your flight here. However with only 400 acres, most of which already covered by jungle, we might run out of room :)

    • Thanks for stopping by! Of course, maybe after seeing how gorgeous the island is people will be inspired to return home and offset their flight in their own neighborhood :-)

  3. omg LOVE u guys! thanks for following me so i could find about about you! i’m going to be taking off on a road trip really soon with the environment front and center (which still sounds odd!) plan to off-set my carbon and love how you’ve calculated yours! can’t wait to read new posts…and hope our road trip paths cross! :)

    • Thanks Lorna! After we decided we weren’t going to get an electric car, this was the next best thing :-) We would love to hear how you’re making your trip more sustainable! Definitely keep us updated on your itinerary as well, it would be awesome to meet up in the middle!! P.S. Love your blog, and congrats on the recent gift!!!

      • aww thanks guys! really going to have to give a LOT back to make up for those flights! ;) just re-looked at your itinerary, and it looks kind of similar to mine (some cross-over- yay!) except that i’ll be starting in the bay area for the clockwise loop. thinking we may be able to make the time work though, as you’ll likely catch up to me! i’m leaving in time to make it to the TBEX conference june 11, but then ending in arizona in december. let’s keep in touch and good luck on the contest! :) p.s. will let you know soon about the environment angle- would love your input/feedback!

  4. This idea is so YOU! Love it. Reminds me of a Fun Fact of the Day from something I had to calculate in a global warming seminar: In order to remove all the anthropogenic CO2 we’ve put in the atmosphere using only trees, every singly person in the world would have to plant 30,000 medium-growth trees. Crazy, huh? It’s nice to see a couple who cares enough to physically demonstrate the impact they have on the environment and the active steps to take to offset it. Thanks guys!

    Any way others can contribute to a tree-planting fund for your trip? Those puppies aren’t cheap. Wedding registry maybe?

    • Thanks Alexa!! That is absolutely insane..30,000 trees!! And brilliant idea to add it to our registry. We definitely still have some research to do.. like figuring out the cheapest place to order, what trees can be planted where, etc. but I think it will be really cool in the long run! Thanks for the comment!!

  5. YES! you should definitely offset your carbon emissions! As Alexa commented, that would be a great wedding registry idea to ask that X amount be sent to a tree planting or carbon offsetting organization. There are a lot of organizations that do this. My marine biology professor is starting a carbon offset organization, that you could donate to. (They won’t start accepting funds until september though).

    I’m studying energy and electrical engineering so that one day, hopefully driving electric cars, especially ones fueled from solar and wind power will be the norm. AAHHH that would be so cool :)

    • Thanks Sarah!! Those are awesome sites that we will definitely have to look into. I especially like the sustainable travel one.. lots of great info about traveling in general and tangible steps people can make to reduce their impact on the environment. Thanks for the comment and all the great resources!!

  6. Love it. Have you heard of Guerrilla Gardening? In the dead of night, groups go out and spread seeds, plant flowers and otherwise spread green mayhem in public areas. It’s fantastic. Their website is here: and I think they’re spread out around the globe. Maybe join up with them!

    • That is fantastic! Love the idea of spreading green mayhem! We’ll definitely have to look into that a little more closely!

  7. I think that is a great idea

  8. Sounds great!
    I would recommend checking out the Arbor Day Foundation. They sell baby trees (6-12″) that you can plant. Additionaly, if you join they will plant tress in your honor in one of the national forrests! Good Luck and happy Planting!

    • Thanks Jake! That website looks awesome and is exactly the kind of thing we are looking for!


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