Do not despair, this isn’t about the lake again. But it is where this begins.
It was a brilliant Monday 36-feels-like-27-degree morning. A 12 mph south wind was pushing waves northward, straffing Long Pier from it’s tip to it’s mid-section with angry sprays of white ten feet into the air. From our bench at the tunnel entrance I could see even bigger waves crashing the stone embankment a mile down the lake where willow trees line the shore of the state park.
Normally my dog, Rabia, sits with me on the bench like a teenager who doesn’t want to be seen with her Dad. She is not sure why she needs to be up there, with me, when she could be smelling the world a mere centimeter from the ground. But she gets nervous when the wind has a loud voice and an invisible hand forcibly moving the elements all around us. When it is like that she snuggles up to me as close as she can get, leaving a shadow of blond hair on my coat when we get up. It was that kind of morning.
Low and behold a man on a bicycle. I stared in amazement as he rode toward us from the ice cream stand. I have seen him before, frequently and even in winter. But against that wind? Plus he doesn’t even ride an E-bike. I have been known to ride against a ten mile an hour wind on my old bike, but we’re talking wind gusts of 25-30 mph that morning. Even on an E-bike that is hard work.
“Lotta energy out there,” he shouted over the roar of wind and waves. Then he made a circle at the tunnel entrance and headed back to wherever he came from. Amazing.
I am neither engineer nor physicist and so my ignorance rapidly bled out over all my efforts to calculate just how much energy was out there that morning. Too many variables for a feeble brain like mine. But I did discover that the average wind turbine generates over 843,000 kWh per month, which is enough to power 940 average American homes for a month. In other words, according to the United States Geological Survey, the average wind turbine “generates enough electricity in just 46 minutes to power an average U.S. home for one month.” Lotta power out there.
There is more. In three to six months a wind turbine will produce the amount of energy it took to manufacture, install, operate, maintain, and even decommission it twenty-five years later. While it operates it produces no greenhouse gases. In three to six months that wind turbine is carbon negative.
Trek Bicycle has a “430 Rule.” It claims that riding a new bicycle 430 miles that the rider would have otherwise driven in a car, offsets the carbon cost of manufacturing the bike. In other words, after commuting 430 miles on the bike (instead of a car) the bicycle is carbon negative, too.
We are not carbon negative but our individual carbon footprint matters.* It is the total amount of greenhouse gases that are generated by our actions — 16 tons for the average America and 4 tons on a global average. We have to reduce the average global carbon footprint to 2 tons. We have to.
*The Nature Conservancy has an online carbon footprint calculator.