The Green Challenge results.

Help the planet.
Dec. 28 2006 2:02 PM

The Green Challenge Results

How many CO2 pounds did we shed?

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

When we launched the Slate/Treehugger Green Challenge in October, we didn't know what response to expect. We figured we'd be happy if 500 people participated, since that was the number of T-shirts we had to give away. Now the eight weeks of the challenge have run their course, and the results are in. They're gratifying, humbling, and instructive.

First, the gratifying part: More than 30,000 people signed up for the Green Challenge and pledged to shed more than 60 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That represents a great effort, and we thank you for being part of it.

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And now for the instructive part: We started by challenging you, individually and together, to shed 20 percent of your current CO2 weight. According to the results of the base-line quiz (the one that established everyone's pre-Challenge CO2 footprint), the group's pre-quiz CO2 emissions totaled more than 800,000,000 pounds. That's a bit under average for Americans, but it's still a big number. The 60 million you pledged to cut falls well short of 20 percent of it. Perhaps this demonstrates the difficulty of surmounting the problem of global warming—personal actions matter, but it's hard to make them add up. In the end, governments have to get behind large-scale change, too. In any case, we salute individual readers who met the 20 percent goal and hope the rest of you will keep plugging away.

Also instructive: We lost a lot of you somewhere along the way. Only 1,373 people have taken the wrap-up quiz so far. They report that they've actually cut more than 21 million pounds of carbon emissions. (It's not too late to take the final quiz now.) That's a small fraction of the 30,000-plus who tuned in earlier. We're not sure what exactly accounts for the drop-off, but here are some possibilities: the difficulty of sticking with any sort of diet, the onset of the holiday season, and flaws in the Green Challenge design.

Speaking of those, we've gotten smart and helpful feedback from a bunch of you about them. A lot of you were frustrated by questions that didn't allow you to give yourself credit for carbon-cutting measures you've already taken or energy uses you simply refrain from. If you don't have a dishwasher or a car, you can't pledge to wash dishes or drive less, but shouldn't your lack of an appliance count for something? Yes, it should, and if we run the challenge again, we'll try to better reflect that. The same goes for those of you who live in apartments and felt the quizzes were too home-ownership-oriented, or West Coasters who complained that we betrayed an East Coast bias by spotlighting train travel and ignoring buses. Points well taken. Next time, we'll be more broad-minded.

In the meantime, keep the feedback coming—we read and appreciate all your e-mails. Thank you for making the first run of the Slate/Treehugger Green Challenge a success. And Happy New Year.

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