Episode 13: To Marjorie: Travel and Green Banks

Climate Tips, Episodes / Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

This month I want to focus on perspective. I want to open the floor to other climate dieters who have tips to share. But first, this week I want to answer some questions from a listener named Marjorie Millot.

Thoughts for Marjorie

Marjorie is a fellow American who lives in France. She asked about how to work on reducing her emissions related to mobility and how to calculate savings from switching to a green bank. She also shared how she is increasing her carbon handprint: by teaching climate change to her EFL students. Great stuff!


One of her biggest problems is travel. And this is a big challenge in general. The short, easy answer – and I think most people who care about the planet know this – is don’t own a car and don’t fly. One of my sustainability heroes is a man named Uwe Lübbermann, the founder of Premium Cola in Hamburg, who decided not to fly, ever. He knows what this means, from vacations to speaking arrangements, but it’s worth it to him to stay within a travel radius reachable by train. But depending on where and how we live, as well as our priorities and interests, this isn’t always feasible. So, let’s look at some options.

First, your car. The platinum answer would be to get a car that can run on biodiesel and fill it with waste oil, say from your local fast food shop. A less hands-on option is to get an electric car, as long as your electricity provider is 100% renewable. Here, though, it takes about 10 years of use for the climate benefits of driving an electric car to outweigh the intensive material extraction and production process. Or you can go for an old-fashioned fuel efficient model. A fuel-efficient car doesn’t necessarily have to be fancy and new: small works, too.

But let’s say you can’t switch your car easily. Fair enough. Then you can look at your trips. Could you double up, going to two or three places when you drive into town and driving there less frequently? Could you use other transportation at least some of the time: take the bus once a week, bike on sunny days, carpool? If this is possible and something you’re interested in, make a challenge out of it. And if the public transportation options are lacking, write your local public transportation office and tell them! This is a great example of the carbon handprint at work.

Now, your international flights. The good news is, since you live in France, your emissions are likely about a quarter of the average Americans (4 tons vs. 16 tons). So you could technically allow yourself a free flight back home once a year. But you’re on a climate diet! So you have two main options: reduce your air travel, and offset your emissions. Reducing your air travel is the most important, and the cheapest!

The international flight conundrum is something I’ve grappled with a lot. But I also work in the sustainability field, and to me, it’s just not tenable anymore to say you’re serious about addressing climate change if you’re not willing to reduce your flying. At the same time, this is something that’s highly individual, so mileage may vary. Morally, I think a trip to the U.S. to visit your parents is easier to swallow than a week in Thailand. I’ve talked to Germans who find it easy to stop flying internationally, but part of that is because their family and friends live nearby. So I’ll tell you how I resolved this for myself: I fly less, and I fly longer. I try to fly internationally every two years, rather than every year as I used to. And when I do take a big trip, I take my time, saying for at least two or three weeks, so I can see as many people and things as possible. Because I figure one two-week trip is the same time as two one-week trips, but half the carbon emissions and, even better: half the jet lag! Again, you have to figure out what works for you, but it could be a fun exercise to calculate how many flights you’ve taken since moving to France and asking yourself if you can reduce that.

Green banks and carbon savings

Now, to your bank question. You asked how I calculated the carbon savings from making the switch, and said you could save 200g of CO2 per euro if you switched banks. Before I answer this, my deepest apologies to everyone out there who’s bad at math or afraid of numbers. I know I’m particularly bad at hearing math: I like to see things written out. But this is fairly easy math, so I hope you stay with me. The savings you mentioned translate to 1 ton of CO2 per 5,000€ invested. This is roughly what I found with the German banks I talked about in episode 10 (check). So if you leave 5,000€ parked in the Crédit Coopératif for a year, you save 1 ton of carbon dioxide. Ten years, ten tons. Easy as that. Theoretically, if you put 25,000€ in the bank and you emit as much as the average French person, you’re carbon negative. Which is another reason climate finance is so powerful.

Resources for students

Finally, you talk about increasing your carbon handprint by teaching your English students about climate change. Yes!! I’m sure you’re totally on the ball with this already, but I can’t help but share a few ideas. First, a German climate think tank and a design studio released an energy transition coloring book last year that’s got great, easy to digest information on climate change. And it’s a coloring book, so it could be a cool thing to pass out to students who, say, finish a test early. You can buy a copy at the book’s website: myenergytransition.com. Or if you’re into free resources, Arizona State University has a great contest for climate fiction called Everything Change, and has published the finalists for free on the contest website as HTML or an e-book. I read the winning story from last year with a class I taught and got some great feedback. If you have any good resources, I’d love to hear about them as well.

Deodorant update (for Frieda)

I got another e-mail from Frieda Mieß, who tried out my recipe for homemade deodorant and wants to know how to keep it solid during the summer. Thanks for asking! I guess I haven’t updated you all on how my deodorant experiment is going. I made a batch with some shea butter, and it works well, but as you’ve discovered as well, it basically turns liquid in these hot temperatures. So I put my deodorant stick in the refrigerator, and take it out for a few quick swipes once or twice a day. My husband also uses this deodorant, stored in the refrigerator, but he stores his in a plastic tub. To use, he scrapes a bit out with a spoon and rubs it on with his fingers. I have thought about adding more corn starch to the recipe for summer, but haven’t tried that yet. And Josh, who has traditionally left his in the refrigerator, said he was going to experiment with making more of a gel that he can leave in the bathroom.

I hope that helps! Keep me posted if you manage to convert anyone else to your homemade deodorant! And thanks for listening!