Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, wrote in January 2010 on the Huffington Post that President Barack Obama was “The Greenest President Ever“.
Weeellll….maybe not. You see, today we have these headlines:
NDTV reports: US to spend $200 million a day on Obama’s Mumbai visit
(Note: snopes.com posted on November 4th that this $200 million figure was wrong, but at the same time the White House can’t provide the actual numbers for security reasons. However, the numbers are likely inflated and a result of an error that started with an Indian News Agency that got repeated. – read details here The Daily Mail has not retracted their story as of the evening of November 4th. If they do, we will certainly follow. -Anthony)
…About 3,000 people including Secret Service agents, US government officials and journalists would accompany the President. Several officials from the White House and US security agencies are already here for the past one week with helicopters, a ship and high-end security instruments…
Of course we know any US President doesn’t travel lightly, and needs security details and armored cars…but really, 3000 people and forty aircraft?
Let’s do the carbon math:
Estimate of the carbon footprint of President Obama’s trip to India
We are constantly told how bad air travel is for the planet. For example the UK has a whole organization dedicated to the issue, called “Plane Stupid”. Fortunately it is groups like these that enable us to calculate the carbon emissions of air travel using the handy dandy Terrapass web page.
1. If one assumes that all 3,000 people fly commercial from Washington, DC to New Delhi and back (and nowhere else), their cumulative carbon footprint can be calculated according to Terrapass at http://www.terrapass.com/carbon-footprint-calculator/#air.
Here’s the info on their calculation methodology.
So here’s what we get for the maximum number of people, ten, that we can select at one time on that website. Note that Bombay India is now called Mumbai, but the airport code is still BOM in Terrapass:
So multiply 62,238 lbs of CO2 for ten people times 300 (to make three thousand) and we get: 18, 671,400 lbs, or 9,336 short tons (2000 lbs) or 8,469 metric tons of CO2
To get the per capita figure in metric tons, divide that again by 3000 people which gives us 2.823 metric tons per person for this round trip.
2. The Brookings Institute did a survey in 2008 ranking major US cities by their per capita emissions. You can read the full report here. (PDF). If we were to compare his trip to the city table:
Obama’s trip comes in between Memphis and Raleigh on a per capita basis.
3. Caveat: Of course, this calculation excludes the carbon footprint for also traveling to Indonesia, S. Korea and Indonesia as part of this Grand Tour, as well as any other activity while in those places. Plus vehicles, and other forms of travel.
If we figured in all the travel, it would well be higher.
The message? Travel lightly but carry a big hockey stick.
4. If Obama wanted to offset the Carbon using the tool of choice of his buddy, Al Gore, the Chicago Climate Exchange, he could do so pretty cheaply since carbon offsets there are selling for 5 cents per metric ton.
So with 8,469 metric tons of CO2 emitted for the Washington to Bombay round trip, he could buy a carbon indulgence for a mere $423.45. That’s chump change when you are blowing a cool 200 million per day to keep everybody traveling in style.