Sierra Magazine

One Small Step

Climate-Neutral Nuptials

John Petersen (with wife, Nancy) Oberlin, Ohio
Assistant professor of environmental studies and biology, age 39

"When Nancy and I began planning our wedding, we thought about the small details, but also profound ones: commitment to each other, to family and friends, to the diverse ecological community we love, and to the world our children will live in.

"We wanted to design a fun ceremony that would reflect those commitments without being preachy. We settled on the idea of having a ‘climate-neutral’ wedding. Climate is affected by an event like this—people fly in from all over, they drive, the rock band is going to use electricity for four hours. All these things release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

"I gave my students information on where our 170 guests were coming from. They then calculated the wedding’s carbon budget, concluding that it was going to release 58 tons of CO2. Forty tons of the total came from air travel. The rock band created only 530 pounds.

"To offset that carbon expenditure, we gave each of our guests an 11-watt compact fluorescent bulb. We factored in how much energy it takes to make the bulb and how much energy it’s going to save.

If each of these bulbs replaced a 50-watt incandescent one, over its lifetime it would save 685 pounds of carbon dioxide.

"If everyone uses the bulbs it will save almost exactly 58 tons of CO2. We also gave people an information sheet about how much they’d save in energy and money if they switched all of the bulbs in their homes to compact fluorescents.

"Anyone planning a wedding can do this. Just estimate the total distance people are traveling and multiply that by a pound of CO2. About a pound of CO2 is released into the atmosphere per mile traveled in a car, and per person per mile traveled in an airplane. Or, you could just say, ‘Hey, if a bulb per person works for them, it will work for us, too.’"
interview by Marilyn Berlin Snell

RIGHT LIGHTS: If every U.S. household replaced its most commonly used incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, electricity use for lighting could be cut in half. Doing so would lower our annual CO2 emissions by about 62.5 million tons.

Pick up some green wedding tips.

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