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Distance can send carbon emissions skyrocketing



You bring your own bags to the grocery store. You buy local foods. You even use energy-saving light bulbs. How much more green could you get? More, actually " if you're in a long-distance relationship.

It may sound crazy at first, but the logic adds up: Long-distance relationships have a way of upsizing one's carbon footprint, primarily due to increased carbon emissions from the car and plane travel endured to see one's sweetie.


Research estimates show there are about 6.7 million unmarried Americans in long-distance relationships, which each help release millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Sounds pretty environmentally damaging, but is this phenomenon enough to keep people only dating locally?

Probably not, said Christina Felton, who took turns with her fiancé to either fly or drive about 400 miles between Oklahoma City and Austin, Texas, every other week for a year and a half, until she made the move a few months ago to Austin, where she works as senior vice president for Saxum Public Relations. Felton and her fiancé, Mat Thompson, are two pretty environmentally conscious folks, but Felton said even she would not have considered a breakup for green reasons alone. 

"I think finding a partner is hard enough," she said. "For me, the impact of the environment wouldn't keep me from seeing Mat or vice versa."

To compensate for the travel, however, Thompson came up with an alternative plan: He was already traveling extensively for work, so he decided to reduce the relationship's carbon footprint through purchase of carbon credits to offset the travel miles. The credits are available to buy online from investment funds or carbon development companies that use the credits for special carbon projects.

"What it does is calculate how much carbon your personal travel is placing into the environment, and then your purchasing the carbon credits goes to renewable energy to reduce your carbon footprint," Thompson said. "I was just traveling just an excessive amount that I just thought it would be the right thing to do."

The carbon credits, which are now available to consumers like Thompson who want to reduce their environmental impact on a personal level, started as a trade initiative to control pollution exerted by companies and businesses.

"(Companies) are allowed to pollute to a certain level, and anything beyond that you'll have to buy credits to offset your pollution level," said Thompson, who works for a consumer products firm. "It encourages everybody to go green, and you can do it at your own pace. Now that's been taken into a personal level. It's not as expensive as people think, and it's just incredibly easy."

Montelle Clark, Oklahoma Sustainability Network board member, agreed carbon offsets are one of the best options to compensate for long-distance travel, but they aren't the only one. He also suggested reducing the carbon footprint by traveling via Amtrak, as opposed to flying or driving. Or, simply compensate in other aspects of daily life, including using Energy Star appliances, weatherizing one's home, purchasing a new air conditioner, bicycling to work one day a week or buying a more efficient automobile.

"There are just so many things we can do to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels that don't require much sacrifice on our part," Clark said. "We're a fairly wasteful society, and if we just look around a little bit, we can just find ways to conserve and save money at the same time."

Even though Felton and Thompson now reside in the same city, they still live as green as possible, whether they're bringing reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, recycling or buying carbon offsets. The couple even plans to purchase carbon credits to offset their wedding guests' travel this summer. 

"I'm definitely concerned about (going green), but I'm realistic about it," Felton said. "I think that it's becoming more prevalent now simply because people are more aware of the alternative options."

The real solution is adopting a broader focus on the environment, Thompson said. Although people should consider the impact of long-distance relationships, they're simply one piece of a much larger puzzle.

Clark also noted there are more disadvantages to long-distance relationships than an impact on the environment, and going green alone is probably not enough to make most couples consider a breakup.

"Long-distance relationships are very expensive," he said. "Transportation is very costly. It's a lot of time and a lot of stress. It's just so much of a personal decision as to whether someone wants to maintain something like that."

Thompson agreed the long-distance relationship was taxing, but it also had a way of testing the couple's love. Nonetheless, he wouldn't have had it any other way.

"I certainly found the person that I wanted to be with," Thompson said. "And travel was something that we had to deal with until we could live in the same city together." "Caitlin Harrison

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