Protesters Weigh Impact of Their Carbon Footprints

By Togneri, Chris | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 26, 2009 | Go to article overview

Protesters Weigh Impact of Their Carbon Footprints


Togneri, Chris, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


If a group of climate activists drives cars to an environmental protest, does that pollute their message?

Those activists say people still would hear their message -- especially when the protest takes place during the G-20 summit, offering the largest global stage from which to share beliefs.

"The cost of inaction is much greater -- infinitely greater -- than the small cost of the carbon emissions we're making by driving across a couple states," said Sam Daly, 23, one of 10 activists who drove 250 miles from Washington to Pittsburgh to stage a "flash mob" protest Downtown urging world leaders to address growing climate concerns.

"The point of being at the G-20 is to get our message out," he said.

Daly said his group piled into three cars. He wouldn't reveal their makes or models, calling the question "irrelevant."

But if each car got 24 miles per gallon, the American average, the roundtrip released about 400 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to Chris Weber, an assistant research professor at Carnegie Mellon University's department of civil and environmental engineering. By comparison, over a year of living, the average American's carbon footprint is 20 tons.

In coming here, protesters this week likely had to perform a "cost-benefit analysis" of whether the trip was worth it, according to James Craft, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Joseph Katz Graduate School of Business.

"What you've got here is a situation where people have made a decision based on appearing on the most visible stage in the world," Craft said. "They ask themselves, 'Is it more costly to sit back and abide by personal beliefs, or to get the message out, even though I make compromises?' "

Most protesters are willing to compromise. Grady Minnis is not.

Minnis, 28, of Asheville, N.C., wanted to come to Pittsburgh to protest mountaintop-removal coal mining, and to urge people to use alternative modes of transportation. But he didn't want to look hypocritical by driving here to make his point.

So he rode his bicycle, zigzagging across several states for what he estimated was an 800-mile trek.

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