Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


The Balance of Evil-Doing: Kiri’s Impacts

• August 30, 2010 • 5:14 PM

Having completed his 5,000-mile voyage, Kristian Beadle weighs his trip’s carbon use and examines whether the benefits balance the costs.

Let an admission of hypocrisy herald the end of my three-month voyage from California to southern Mexico: I used a lot of petroleum.

The V8 Ford van that I drove, also known as El Hippo (why the name? see side note), had a hunger that was hard to contain. It got a pathetic 12 miles per gallon. Here I am, exploring the effects of climate, advocating solutions to improve the resilience of coastal communities, yet I’m also part of the problem. Nevertheless, as economics teaches us, the true cost depends on the alternatives. So, as an aspiring do-gooder, I’d like to know, “What is the balance of my evil-doings?”

For the nearly 5,000 miles from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Huatulco, Oaxaca, I used just over 400 gallons of gasoline. That has a carbon footprint of roughly 8,000 pounds of CO2 (according to Terrapass, a carbon-offset provider).

Worse, I had to purchase all the gas from Pemex, the Mexican state company that monopolizes the country’s fuel production and sales, and which has an atrocious environmental track record (an example here). Their facilities on the Gulf of Mexico have made rivers toxic, destroyed fishing grounds and contaminated groundwater supplies.

As observed in the Voyage of Kiri, preserving biodiversity and clean water are just as important as reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the long-term resilience of our communities. In that light, the worse-case scenario for the ecological impact of my journey is that it slightly raised cancer incidence in a Gulf community, accelerated the upcoming extinction of a frog species in that area and made the next flood in Bangladesh just a bit more devastating. Maybe I’m being melodramatic, but when my behavior is added to that of thousands of other people, those thin causal connections may not be such a stretch.

(In contrast to Pemex, multinational oil companies such as Chevron and Exxon maintain higher standards for legal and strategic reasons. However, they do tend to be abusive when regulations are lax, as shown in a notorious case from the Ecuadorian Amazon. Also, myriad oil spills and accidents like BP’s Deep Horizon invariably occur. Another big impact, less related to ecology but of undeniable importance, is the possibility that fuel usage may “fuel” terrorism and democratic repression. Most petroleum purchases support the coffers of military dictatorships and extremist supporters in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and Nigeria, as outlined by Thomas Friedman’s article “First Law of Petro-Politics” (see PDF). A balancing point: Although Friedman’s argument is compelling, it has also been refuted with empirical studies such as one from UCLA (see PDF).

What were the alternatives to driving and using Pemex gasoline?

[class name="dont_print_this"]

Hippo FAQ

El Hippo The van was fondly named El Hippo because of its similarity to the African mammal. Note common characteristics: muddy, open mouth when upset, bulky body. Plus, hippopotamus means “river horse” in Latin, which fits our study of watersheds (and climate). [/class]

Staying put, of course, but I had to go to Huatulco to do research anyway. I could have flown in an airplane, which would have contributed 2,300 pounds of CO2, along with a somewhat less destructive ecological footprint, maybe just another oil spill off Galveston. In fairness, instead of driving and camping along the way, I could have spent those three extra months living in an apartment in Mexico, which might consume 4,500 pounds of CO2 of ecological resources (according to the Nature Conservancy footprint calculator). For perspective, if I were commuting to work 40 miles each way per day during that period of three months, I would have used that same amount of fuel as I did during the whole 5,000-mile journey.

So what’s the conclusion? Without getting too technical, my ballpark estimate is that in my case, driving was somewhat worse than flying (even though the opposite is usually the case). I hope that readers got enough value from the voyage to make it worthwhile!

Click here for more posts from the Voyage of Kiri.

On that note, some readers might be curious about my lifestyle back home. The fact is that I do live in America and enjoy the ownership of a laptop, MP3 player and numerous other consumer goods.

In counterbalance, I live in a low-resource environment, aboard a sailboat. During graduate school (studying environmental science at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School), I lived at anchor a half mile from campus and rowed to class. Eighty percent of my energy use was provided by solar power. I did it as an experiment in sustainability and a way to keep life exciting while trudging through my thesis. It certainly kept things fresh, although the wet nights of high tide washing on the cliffs and occasional stormy seas were not so fun. I just feel content that the lifestyle forced me to be very conscious of my natural environment and resource use.


Also on Miller-McCune.com, research suggests being aware of one’s environmental footprint could cause an ecological backlash.


At the end of the day, 400 gallons of fuel used by El Hippo was just a drop in the boundless sea of our planetary energy buffet. A fishing boat in Alaska may use that much fuel in a single day to get salmon or crab — and being a fan of seafood, I wouldn’t want them to stop! What is important is awareness of the “invisible” costs that need to be accounted for. That lies at the heart of reducing (or reinventing) our resource usage in the coming years.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Kristian Beadle
Kristian Beadle works with coastal conservation and eco-entrepreneurship. He is embarking on a 3,000-mile climate education and research tour, called the Voyage of Kiri, starting April 2010 from California to Oaxaca in southern Mexico. The program will focus on "how climate will affect our coastal water resources" and discovering sustainable business solutions. He is a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and recent graduate of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. For more information, see www.voyageofkiri.com .

More From Kristian Beadle

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.