Have you ever wondered how big your personal contribution is to the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change?
Hundreds of residents of Seattle and Edmonds are finding out by taking part in local competitions to see who can reduce their emissions the most over the next two months. The game is called “Taming Bigfoot.”
Participants have formed nearly fifty teams of seven. They’re using a format that was developed by a retired NASA climate scientist who now lives in Jefferson County, where this game was piloted two years ago.
Taking part requires each individual to keep track of their energy consumption and most of what they buy and eat. It’s pretty involved. Then they have to enter that data online to see how it translates into carbon use. But it’s also meant to be fun.
“I mean, we kind of start with the image of Bigfoot, Sasquatch as a stand in for our footprint. There are prizes, there’s the competition,” said Keith Ervin, a player and member of the organizing committee.
There will be prizes at the end. Participants also have their teammates to keep it upbeat and help each other find strategies.
“To, you know, not be alone in this,” Ervin said.
The first month of the competition has been spent getting baseline data – figuring out how to read utility meters and exactly what and how they need to tally up.
Now, in March and April, players are looking for ways to cut their personal carbon footprints, compared to that initial count.
“You know, how can I burn less gas? Do I really need to fly somewhere? Certainly, trying to consume less meat,” says Ervin, who notes that it’s been striking to him to see how much of an impact just one cross-country trip by air has – literally tons of carbon for a single individual on that flight as compared to maybe dozens or hundreds of pounds for other modes of travel.
“The airplane travel is just brutal on carbon,” says competitor Sally Kentch. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about that. That’s a sticking point.”
She says she signed up because she’s concerned about the environment and wants to learn to do her best to live with integrity.
“I’m really concerned about how much carbon we’re putting into the air and I think I’m kind of vaguely aware of how I do that. And I thought this would make me pay closer attention to my own behaviors,” Kentch said.
She says it already helped her re-think a weekend skiing trip. She’s planning to eat less red meat and considering buying an electric car.
But as a retiree who spends a lot of time traveling, she doesn’t really think she’ll cut back much on airline flights.
Ervin says the group putting on the game in Edmonds is opting to let people purchase carbon credits that fund offsetting activities elsewhere, to lessen the blow of a flight during the competition. But in Seattle, they decided not to use carbon credits.
“Not because they’re not useful, but because we wanted to see the direct impact of those flights and our other behavior,” Ervin said.
He says ultimately, the hope is that the awareness participants gain through this exercise will help not only with their personal choices, but also with the ability to influence politicians, utilities and corporations.
The results of Seattle’s “Taming Bigfoot” event will be announced and celebrated in May.