Measuring the effect of citizen action on climate change

Yahoo! celebrates Earth DayEvery reporter seems to hit us with the following question: “How can one person’s action really make a difference on climate change”. Usually we refer to recycling and the vision that if as many people were as concientous about their carbon emissions as their soda cans, our greenhouse gas emissions would look a lot different.

To prove our point, we took a stab at the math behind a recent Yahoo! earth day promotion. The promotion consisted of a simple web page with 10 climate-fighting actions that visitors could pledge to take. The total pledges (124,062) translate into a whopping 428 million pounds of CO2, the equivalent of taking over 40,000 cars off the road (full calculations available here).

Pledge # Pledges Lbs CO2/ pledge Total lbs of CO2 # Cars taken off road
Change a Light Bulb 20,306 1,440 29,248,253 2,765
Leave your Car in the Dust 11,930 7,931 94,621,021 8,947
Power Up 6,701 13,089 87,712,109 8,294
Drive Smart 6,571 12,000 78,852,000 7,456
End Junk Mail 19,941 46 917,286 86
Power Down 21,969 975 21,438,602 2,027
Buy Local 13,676 247 3,386,282 320
Geek Out 5,939 1 8,810 0
Wash and Wear 10,853 10,284 111,616,511 10554
TOTAL 124,062   427,800,877 40,453

The total impact is huge. And most of the pledges are fairly simple to integrate into your personal life. For those who were awoken from their climate-change awareness slumber, these are all good ways you can take it a little further. Of course, taking a pledge isn’t the same thing as taking action on a pledge, so please make sure to follow through.

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  1. Diane - May 3, 2006

    This is a great, positive stement! Think how great the gains might be if you good folks provided a way to email clips like this…There are so many folks out there who are appalled by what’s happened to the Planet, but haven’t any way known yet to them to make a difference..

  2. Kent Brewster - May 3, 2006

    Yahoo’s Earth Day site has a mail-to-a-friend link, Diane.

  3. Pam Hendrix - May 4, 2006

    Just curious…what is “Power Up”; “Power Down”;and “Wash and Wear”? I want to help but I am still learning the lingo.

  4. Tyler - May 4, 2006

    The “lingo” is explained on the link provided above –
    Yahoo! earth day promotion.

  5. Steve D'Agostino - July 18, 2006

    Excellent analysis. I hope you do more of them.

    I have two questions:

    1. Regarding “Drive Smart,” why do the number of cars taken off the road exceed the number of pledges?

    2. When you did your calculations, did you consider the “cradle to grave” energy consumptions and CO2 emissions? That is, the energy consumed and CO2 produced to make and eventually dispose of, for example, the lightbulb? If not, that would be another fine public service for you too consider providing.

    Best wishes

  6. Adam Stein - July 19, 2006

    Hi Steve,
    1. This looks like bad math. The supposed savings from this pledge don’t quite match the standard figure being used for the average car’s annual emissions. Hence the mismatch.
    2. No, we performed the much simpler calculation. You’re right, this would be a good calculation to make.

  7. Amanda - April 20, 2007

    I think Earth day is somewhat useless i mean who cares about the enviroment i mean i dont litter but i want polution anyways so back off HIPPIES
    [Ed — Normally we delete comments like this, but Amanda’s sentiment has a certain poetic quality we like. Amanda, you go shopping, and you treat yourself to something real nice.]