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How To Count Your Carbon Footprint (Without Driving Yourself Crazy)

A year ago, I had an “aha” moment in an unlikely place: an alfalfa field in Nevada.

I’d been working for an ecological non-profit to restore plant communities in a lake region. On this particular day, as I was planting a silver sagebrush plant, I watched 10 diesel trucks owned by the company I worked for drive past. To get to where I was standing, I remembered, I’d also driven an hour and a half into the middle of the desert in a truck. And the plant in my hand had been grown in a greenhouse that operated 24/7 and was powered by fossil fuels. Hundreds of gallons of water from the rivers that feed Walker Lake–the same lake we were trying to save–would have to be delivered to it to improve its survivability in the desert.

In that instant, I immediately questioned the overall impact I was having. I’d learned about the value of restoration work as an environmental studies major in college, but none of my professors ever told me the amount of energy, labor, and natural resources it takes to restore damaged lands.

I fully support conservation and know that it’s critical to our planet, but when you’re working in the field for 10 hours a day on a planting project that may or may not survive, you can’t help but wonder if there is a better way to make a positive difference. I knew the work I was doing had good intentions, but was it truly outweighing my overall footprint?

This question haunted me, and I decided I needed to devote my life to helping others understand the true impact of their good intentions.

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