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Friday, December 28, 2007

Media Trickery: Part 2

Lack of comparison
Picking up with the aforementioned billions and billions of pounds of CO2, I will continue this series. 580 billion pounds of CO2 is so large it is hard to compare it to anything that is comprehensible. How much is it? Most people have a very difficult time guessing the weight of familiar things like their car, their TV or a sack of groceries. In fact, an extremely high percentage of the populous could not identify the weight of a gallon of water.

The Christmas dinner article (mentioned previously) attempts to make a comparison of the 51,000 tons of CO2 involved in a British Christmas to auto emissions. It alleges that amount of carbon dioxide equals "A carbon footprint equivalent to 6,000 car journeys around the world . . . "

The problem with this comparison is that it is meaningless to the average individual. The article’s comparison is not meant to make it understandable. It obfuscates true understanding; they just want you to think about a mammoth amount. In an article such as the Christmas dinner, the author knows no one wants to have a thorough math explanation. Just get to the point. Hit ’em with the enormity of their sin against Mother Earth and get on with it!

But let’s consider the math because it will be beneficial. A trip around the world at the equator is 24,900 miles. 6,000 of those trips is 149,400,000 miles. No one understands that distance. We have a difficult enough time imagining 24,900 miles of travel.

I propose a more understandable comparison. The average person drives about 10,000 miles per year. It would take all the people in 15 towns of a thousand people each to drive a combined 149,400,000 miles. That is how large the total carbon footprint is that is created by the British Christmas dinners. That's impressive!

But this still does not tell a Brit his own personal carbon footprint for Christmas dinner. The Christmas dinner under consideration in the article is for one-third of all 61 million Britons. Take the distance of 149,400,000 miles divided by the 20,333,000 Brits and you have the individual’s personal impact.

Ready for the terrible news? Are you ready to feel real guilty and hang your head in shame for what you did to Gaia?

Your individual carbon footprint amounts to a drive of 7.35 miles. Whoop-de-do! What a let down. Who cares? But that’s for your whole Christmas dinner. You were going to eat anyway so let’s be liberal and say you splurged twice as much for Christmas dinner as a regular meal. Your extra carbon footprint amounts to a drive of 3.675 miles.

Whenever your personal carbon footprint is calculated, it is small. It is so insignificant that it is irrelevant. In order for the news media to make a mountain out of a mole hill, they must aggregate individual carbon footprints for large blocks of people. Then the numbers are huge, but not understandable to us. That’s the way they want it. They don’t want you to know your extra carbon footprint for Christmas dinner is equivalent to driving 3.7 miles!

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