While it’s important to vote in this upcoming election season, it’s also important to make sure you reduce your carbon footprint in the process. An article from Slate.com explains how.
According to Slate: “The largest impacts of an election don’t come from voters’ putting pen to ballot, or their fingers to a glowing touch screen. As with so many activities in American life, 90 percent of the damage we do to the environment comes just from showing up. If you drive to the nearest polling place, it hardly matters how you cast your vote, because your car will affect the climate more than any voting machine.”
For example, if a voter travels one mile to the polling place in the nation’s most popular vehicle — the Ford F-150 pickup, which gets 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway — the two-mile round trip to the polls would produce approximately two pounds of carbon dioxide.
But not to worry. Driving to the polls isn’t our only option. According to a 2008 study by Pitney Bowes, voting by mail (i.e. absentee voting) accounts for approximately 0.055 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent — about 18 times less greenhouse gas emissions than driving to your designated polling place.
And for those whom absentee voting is not an option, it comes down to whether electronic touch-screen machines or paper ballots are more environmentally friendly. According to Slate.com, the Environmental Paper Network estimates that “one ton of ordinary copy-quality paper generates 6,023 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents. Since there are approximately 200,000 sheets of paper in a ton, each sheet is responsible for about 0.03 pounds of carbon dioxide.”
Paper ballots are generally counted with an industrial scanner, but the devices typically consume only about 0.2 kilowatts of electricity while in use, Slate.com writes. So, even if the scanner took five seconds to process just one ballot, it would only consume about 0.0003 kilowatts and produce just 0.0004 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Paperless voting systems also consume only 0.2 kilowatts while in use; however, they generally run non-stop throughout the typical 12-hour voting day. If, then, 100 voters used the machine over that time period, each vote would account for 0.024 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 0.03 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Lastly, 33 states in 2010 allowed military members and citizens living abroad to vote online. “If that system were offered universally, it would certainly be superior to both in-person and mail-in voting, from an environmental perspective. Assuming it would take about five minutes to vote on a desktop, each vote would account for just 0.02 pounds of carbon dioxide. The entire voting process would therefore account for less greenhouse gas emissions than even the manufacture of a paper ballot. Plus, younger people… would be likely to vote on their smartphones, which are far more energy-efficient than a clunky old desktop,” Slate.com wrote.
“In the 2008 presidential election, more than 125 million people voted. If everyone one of them generated two pounds of greenhouse gas traveling to and from the polling place, the transport-related emissions alone from the election would have approached the annual emissions of some small countries like Comoros or Dominica,” Slate.com also wrote.
Internet voting is nowhere close to being a reality for most people, though. According to Slate.com, experts say that security systems would not likely be able to handle a presidential election entirely online.
Still, voters always have the option of walking, running, or biking to the polls, Slate.com says.
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