Saturday, July 13, 2013

Carbon Cost of our Trip - Part 1

Our plans for the first part of our trip are set (we’ll blog more about that in the next few days).  We know the flights we’ll be taking to get from Minneapolis to Costa Rica to Peru to The Galapagos and then back to Minneapolis in mid-November.  We have plans to rent a 4WD vehicle in Costa Rica for about 3 ½ weeks so we can explore Manuel Antonio National Park and the Peninsula de Osa area.

I used the carbon footprint calculator at terrapass to calculate the carbon footprint for this part of our trip (

I plugged in each flight we are taking, and for the four of us, the flights are estimated at 41,097 miles, generating 20,341 lbs of CO2.  

To calculate the footprint of the rental car, I figured we’d drive about 750 miles while we have it. I plugged in an estimate of 30 MPG for the Daihatsu Terios we'll be renting; it's fairly straightforward to figure out our carbon footprint based on driving. However, it's not nearly as simple to calculate the carbon created by other shared transport we’ll be using.  For example, I haven’t found a way to calculate the carbon emissions of the 16 person “cruise” we’ll be taking in the Galapagos.  In Peru, we’ll be going by small bus, then river boat, to get into the Manu rainforest.  So, I used 4000 miles driven for the rental car, hoping the additional 3250 miles would be a reasonable approximation for other transportation we'll be using.  The total amount of CO2 based on 4000 miles is 2,589 lbs.

It’s pretty interesting that the air travel dominates the calculation.  Note that we didn’t calculate home energy for the places we'll stay as that seems nearly impossible to do. However, we already offset our home on an annual basis, which we'll continue to do even though we won't be using it ourselves. It seems reasonable that the amount for our home will "cover" us during our trip.

Net cost to offset part 1 of our trip is $136.85, as you can see below. Offsetting part 2 of the trip will come later as those plans get more specific.


  1. Just how exactly can you claim you are tackling climate change by doing this? This just looks like an extended family vacation. Climate change is effecting the lives of poor people in developing countries to the point of starvation and civil unrest as we are seeing in Syria. Will you be visiting the islands being swamped by rising sea levels to interview the people who have pleaded for help and document it? Those in places in the Middle East where severe drought has dried up their farms? The Arctic to record the effects of sea ice loss? There doesn't seem to be an urgent tone to this at all. Also, how are you affording this and to leave your responsibilities for an entire year?

    In calculating "offsets" where does that 136.85 go? You do realize you will still be using that CO2. I don't see how that offsets anything considering the fact that you aren't planting any trees in response to the footprint you are exacting. And putting it on a credit card seems painless. The amount of 136 dollars also seems way too low.

    I will need to see more proof that this is a trip where the real effects of climate change will be seen with something concrete coming from it and not just a photo journal of a family vacation. There are many suffering that could never afford such a trip. Do you think this really helps the cause?

    1. Dear Jan M,

      Thanks for taking the time to read our blog and for commenting. And we appreciate your passion for climate change.

      You are right in that this is at least in part an extended family vacation. We do believe it is also a very educational trip for our kids, but yes, it is also a vacation. As we said in our first post, this is something we’ve wanted to do with our kids for some time, rooted in our belief that this kind of trip will enrich their lives and make them better global citizens. In saving our money and now choosing to do it, we also decided to try and make it more than a vacation or educational trip for our kids.

      We are working with The Wilderness Classroom to provide environmental educational content to their network of 85,000 kids that follow them, as well as with other schools in the Minneapolis area. Our hope is that we raise environmental awareness with kids and through kids to their families. Much, but certainly not all, of what we do will be focused on sustainability and/or climate change.

      In terms of offsets, we also recognize they are imperfect. Generally the concept is that the dollars are used in projects that consume the amount of carbon that is generated by the activity being offset. We use Terrapass, and they have examples on their site of the types of projects (re-forestation can be one of the types of projects, though has not been the focus of Terrapass as of late). Your comments strike at the core of something that we have struggled with. We figured the best way of approaching it was to be open about our thought process and about the offset calculations.

      And you are right in asking for proof that what we are doing will help the cause. We ask ourselves the same question. For the world to address climate change, there will need to be a myriad of different approaches different people will take. We hope you continue to follow us, and that at the end of our adventure, you will judge that our approach has made a positive impact.

      Larry Kraft

  2. I wonder, Jan (if your'e still reading) why it is so important for you to see proof by doing a wonderful thing for their family the Krafts are also tackling climate change and doing something good for the environment? And for "the cause" which you suddenly extended to include "the many suffering who could never afford the trip", where did that come from? Do you think they would be better served if the Krafts stayed home?

    This presented as an environmetnally focused trip, but I don't see any claims that warrant the hyperbole. Why do you need proof of some radically greater good?

    What about the converse example- the carbon footprint of a family that stays put- and to follow you into the land of generalizations and averages, lives in the burbs, has the typical two cars, consumes piles of energy to drive cars / heat house in winter / cool house in summer / enjoy climate control in their schools/workplace/public spaces?

    I guess I'm kind of surprised that you'd take aim at someone who is making such an effort to be a thoughtful and positive force in the world and accuse them of the opposite.


Comments / Thoughts are Welcome!