ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
We've been exploring some of your questions about global warming as part of our series Climate Connections with National Geographic. Now to one family that's already trying to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, NPR's David Kestenbaum spent some time with them at their home in North Carolina.
DAVID KESTENBAUM: Scott and Claudia Sheppard live in a modest-sized house in a wooded area a few miles from downtown Chapel Hill. They have two adorable kids.
Ms. ANJA SHEPPARD (Resident, North Carolina): Hi. My name is Anja.
KESTENBAUM: Anja is six, Nadia, aged eight, also a dog.
(Soundbite of dog barking)
Ms. CLAUDIA SHEPPARD (Resident, North Carolina): Sammy, come up.
KESTENBAUM: And an old piano they just picked up.
(Soundbite of piano)
KESTENBAUM: What makes them a little unusual is that they are trying to do what all those countries were supposed to do under the Kyoto Accord, reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Claudia has tried to get her church involved.
Ms. C. SHEPPARD: Our church had a fast from carbon for Lent.
KESTENBAUM: A fast from carbon?
Ms. C. SHEPPARD: Uh-huh.
KESTENBAUM: So instead of giving up chocolate...
Ms. C. SHEPPARD: You would...
KESTENBAUM: ...you gave up carbon.
Ms. C. SHEPPARD: Right. You would have their laundry to dry or something like.
KESTENBAUM: And, yup, the laundries out on the back deck. The kids say the clothes get stiff but they're in favor of saving energy. Nadia can tell you all about the new light bulb.
Ms. NADIA SHEPPARD (Resident, North Carolina): I'm in the kitchen and right above me, there is a compact four-inch light bulb.
KESTENBAUM: There's a compact fluorescent light bulb.
Ms. N. SHEPPARD: That is better than the regular ones.
KESTENBAUM: The family does own a station wagon, but when Scott gets home from work, he's driving their other car, a little Ford Focus.
Mr. SCOTT SHEPPARD (Resident, North Carolina): You know, and it's less convenient to have a smaller car but I used it for commuting. And then also we swapped off when Claudia has to drive further distance than I do.
KESTENBAUM: The Sheppards wanted to know how they were doing carbon wise, and so did we, so we invited Doug Crawford-Brown, who directs the Institute for the Environment at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He arrives in a blue Prius Hybrid, well, he used to own a Jaguar. One thing he's immediately impress by is that they haven't cut down the trees.
Mr. DOUG CRAWFORD-BROWN (Director, Institute for the Environment, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill): Well, you know, I see trees around. I see a lot of shade and given that we're in the South here, and cooling cost are a lot higher than heating cost. That's a big first step, too, is just not getting pounded by the sunlight.
KESTENBAUM: He gets the tour of the house. The Sheppards home, they put in a low-flow showerhead, installed a blanket around the water heater, bought an energy-efficient refrigerator and resisted buying a larger house. Claudia says she also tries to buy local food that doesn't have to be shipped in trucks. Unfortunately, the strawberries on the kitchen counter came all the way from California. Doug Crawford-Brown says all these things are good, though, some count more than others.
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: If I had to pick, you know, where the big savings are going to be in a person's life in terms of CO2, it's not where you buy your strawberries that it's going to find your way in heaven, I would say. But there's no doubt that there's a lot of CO2 who does go out transporting food all around the world.
KESTENBAUM: Here are the big things, he says, if you were to draw a pie chart about half of the typical families carbon emissions come from heating and cooling the house, maybe a quarter comes from transportation driving around, and the final quarter from lights, refrigerators and electrical stuff. So given all the things the Sheppards are doing, how much carbon dioxide are they producing? Doug Crawford-Brown sits down at the kitchen table where the family has collected their electric bill.
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: Can somebody want to operate this calculator for me?
Ms. N. SHEPPARD: Yeah.
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: You want to do that? I need to have 800 times 12.
Ms. N. SHEPPARD: Uhm, 9,600.
KESTENBAUM: They get a break on electricity because they utility company, Duke Energy, uses half nuclear power, which doesn't emit carbon. He also adds up the auto mileage, tallies the natural gas heating bill. In the end, he estimates, they produce about 14 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year - enough to fill a volume of maybe nine hot-air balloons, which is good.
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: You're down 40 percent below what the average person in North Carolina is and I would say, for example, if everybody in the state of North Carolina were at their level as a family in terms of emitting CO2, I think that's a pretty good goal for the next 20 years.
KESTENBAUM: But there is also some bad news. Doug Crawford-Brown has one more question.
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: What would you guess is the mileage that you fly in a year?
KESTENBAUM: Claudia says they take one long flight a year, either to see her family in Germany or to California. They also make a short trip to see Scott's family in New Orleans and Scott flies a few times a year for business. The numbers go in to calculator and...
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: Drum roll.
Ms. C. SHEPPARD: Yeah.
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: And then you can kill over, then you see the number.
Ms. C. SHEPPARD: Gently.
Mr. S. SHEPPARD: Yeah, 13.
KESTENBAUM: How much.
Mr. S. SHEPPARD: 12.7.
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: Okay. 12.7 tons per year.
KESTENBAUM: Those flights have essentially doubled the amount of carbon the Sheppards put into the air. Scott Sheppard goes to check the distance to Germany on a map with a ruler but there's no escaping it. You can walk through the grocery store, but flying to, say, the West Coast is about the same as driving all those miles. They add up.
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: As much as...
Ms. C. SHEPPARD: It's hugely surprising, yeah...
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: Oh, yeah.
Ms. C. SHEPPARD: Absolutely. It's hugely surprising.
Mr. S. SHEPPARD: It's bad, right? But, you know, we...
Ms. C. SHEPPARD: What are you going to, you know, if you have a family, like, halfway across the world, you know, you have to see them sometimes. So I mean, I'll make all kinds of sacrifices elsewhere, but how would I change my flying?
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: Well...
Ms. C. SHEPPARD: I mean, I can't swim there, you know?
Mr. CRAWFORD-BROWN: Yeah, yeah. I know. I know.
KESTENBAUM: Doug Crawford-Brown gets this kind of reaction a lot and he's sympathetic. His job - trying to reduce carbon emissions - can involve a lot of travel. He's about to get on a plane to England. And the Shepperds should be proud, he says, if everyone live the way they do, he estimates the U.S. could reduce its carbon emissions by a quarter, maybe more.
David Kestenbaum, NPR News.
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