How to Carry a Big Wallet and Leave a Small Footprint


Tesla Electric car

One of the biggest causes of my optimism for humanity’s future is something I call the Rise of the Benevolent Billionaire Nerds.

See, in the olden days, it seems that the people who rose to great power were the most aggressive ones. Warlords and Imperialists. Then the steel and railroad titans, the Mafia, and more recently publishing and oil and military tycoons. While the level of violence and corruption varied, these kingpins of the old guard were all good at converting low-wage manual labor into power and high-profit products. But often their rise was boosted through a mixture of ruthless business practices,  suppressing opposing views, political connections and bribery.  In colloquial terms, the billionaires were often the men with the biggest balls.

Nowadays, I notice a different trend. The Internet has eliminated the ability to suppress information – the stuff wants to be free. It has also opened the incredible trillion dollar treasure chest of the technology industry: a game you can only win by employing a large number of the most brilliant minds.

This game has different rules: you make a lot more money by honestly providing great technology (Google, Tesla) than by crafting misleading introductory offers and buying elections in an attempt to sell more of your mediocre stuff (my local cable company). To create such complex companies, you need not only brilliant workers, but exceptionally bright founders and CEOs too. This means the new billionaires are the women and men with the biggest brains.

This leads us to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – the most powerful and efficient World-Saving Machine that has ever been dreamed up by humans up to this point in history. The 1400-strong group is a sort of a Do-gooder Engineer’s Dream Team – a combination of some of the world’s most effective minds, honed by business experience and powered by roughly $40,000,000,000.00 of money that was made mostly in private enterprise and then donated for the betterment of the world.

A fortune like this could be used to buy governments and build nuclear bombs, but instead Gates and company seem to be following roughly this logical path:

  • Start by helping the poorest people with the most urgent health crises
  • Provide better access to education, which drastically reduces poverty
  • Once on this stronger, happier footing, people choose to have far fewer babies
  • You now have much less misery and more equality in the world

Bill is also highly interested in climate change since rising sea levels, storms, droughts and floods all hit the poorest countries the hardest. Here in the US, we can afford to move or reinforce our coastal cities and redesign our farms. But in poverty-stricken regions, floods and epidemics tend to kill thousands or millions of people.

In short, it’s a great plan designed and backed by some of the world’s greatest brains. But where I dare to diverge from the Gates Foundation, just a little, is in this equation that Bill explained in a recent video:


He rightly states that our total Carbon emissions are a multiple of four (really three) things:

(Population) x (Energy Burned Per Person) x (How Dirty our Energy is).

Population is still on the rise, for now. The world’s poorest people will gradually move up to having refrigerators and indoor housing, so the number of “Services” will rise. But my challenge is in the “E” part. He says that we can maybe reduce that part by half over the next 30 years. I claim that we can EASILY reduce that by 75% immediately, because right now almost all of the energy used by the rich world is wasted.

For example, consider the average American, driving a car 15 miles each way to work. They burn a gallon of gas per day, which would be 33 kilowatt-hours if you could convert this to electricity with no loss. Those who choose to commute in trucks are at double that figure.

Meanwhile, an electric bike does this trip for about 0.6 kilowatt hours at roughly the same average speed in typical traffic conditions, meaning  about 98% of that car’s energy was wasted, compared to the superior alternative of the bike. Using our cars less often reduces the need to build and replace cars, which cuts the energy and steel use at the factory, and so on down the chain.

I’ve visited houses where people set their air conditioning at 72 degrees F in the summer, on days when the outdoor temperature is only 80F. This decision alone can burn 6 kilowatt hours of energy per day. Since the human body is capable of being perfectly comfortable at 80F, 100% of this energy is being wasted! Our irrational self-defeating addiction to convenience and soft flabby TV-absorbing laziness increases our energy use while making our lives less enjoyable.

You could go on to list hundreds of tiny, easy optimizations like this which affect every part of the rich world’s energy consumption, and indeed, I have done exactly this over the last five years. And through a happy mathematical coincidence, reducing your energy use by 75% tends to bring your spending down by a similar amount, which puts you on the path to being financially independent in less than a decade.

But ideas like this don’t show up on Bill’s equation, because his is focused more on technology rather than Badassity. Technology helps us make a more energy-efficient car or air conditioner. Badassity is much more powerful because it helps us build a more efficient Human. 

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love technology. Its byproducts include computers, which led to the Internet, which I feel is the biggest long-term gift the human race has invented to this point.

Technology can help us burn less energy – with one click you can buy 6 beautiful LED bulbs for your recessed can lights, which burn 85% less energy than the old kind while delivering much nicer light. One $40 purchase saves you over $750 per decade, which is a win/win. This giant LED monitor on my desk burns 75% less energy than the boat-anchor glass screens that were the norm when I started writing software in the early ’90s, while giving me four times the resolution.

But sometimes technology is just used to facilitate more consumption. In 1982, my dad bought a Mustang with a 5.0 liter V-8 engine. That schoolbus-sized powerplant cranked out 157 horsepower, which was a lot for those days. Nowadays you can get that amount of power from a 1-liter engine, but instead of losing weight to benefit from the new technology the Mustang has ballooned to 3700 pounds and 435 horsepower.

Without a change in attitude, ever-cheaper renewable energy might just lead us to build houses that hover on noisy drone fans so we can take our entire dwellings with us on vacation. (If you look at the preposterous RV trend here in the US, you can see we’re already on that path).

imgresAs the wise Dr. Seuss Himself said in 1971 with odd prescience:

Unless Someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

Halting the decline of our ecosystem would be  ridiculously easy to do right now. We simply need to start giving a shit.

We just need get through to people who say things like, “It’s nobody’s business what I do with my money. I earned it, so I can spend it however I want.” The statement is almost true – you should be free to spend your own money. But you should be aware, and not in denial, of when that spending hurts other people.

But I’m not Perfect – What about Consumption that Really Makes My Life Better?

Many people get angry at Mr. Money Mustache’s eco-rants, and shout out that I’m not perfect myself. How can I judge you, when I regularly fly to another continent, eat a non-vegan diet, voluntarily had a child, and generally live a life of American luxury myself?

The answer is that I’m not judging you. I’m asking you to judge yourself. Just as I judge myself every day. I’m very aware that my actions cause harm to other people:

My return plane ticket to Ecuador blasted out about one metric ton of CO2 – about the same as driving 3,000 miles. I eat roughly 150 pounds of meat and a thousand eggs per year – less than the 270lb US meat average but still enough to emit another thousand pounds of CO2.

Image source: Treehugger

CO2 production for various meats – Image source: Treehugger

My life involves all sorts of gluttonous consumption. But the point is that I’m aware of it, so I can work to chop away any part of it that doesn’t bring me great joy.

Having a grilled pork chop alongside my olive-oil-drenched salad and spiced sweet potato fries for dinner is a true joy and my body runs extremely well on the low carbohydrate diet. I would be more ethical and virtuous as a vegetarian or vegan, but I’ve tried both and this is the happier one for me – for now at least. Similarly, I’d save a shitload of pollution by just canceling the annual Ecuador retreat. But those weeks have been some of the best experiences of my life. To me, it was worth the pollution I created.

On the other hand, I get no joy from driving a car 3 miles to do something I could easily accomplish by bike. The energy boost and physical fitness far outweigh the convenience of traveling passively in a climate-controlled bubble. And I’m not particularly fond of sitting in airplanes, so while I have so far accepted the invitations to Ecuador, I have still had the pleasure of declining free trips to China, Thailand, Australia, England, and Italy. In exchange, I got to enjoy more time with my family here in Colorado, and the world benefited as well. Win/win.

I also get no joy from energy-inefficient light fixtures or furnaces, or from machine-drying my clothes instead of hanging them out in the fresh sunshine of my parkside back yard. These simple pleasures let my family use about 80% less gasoline and 80% less electricity than the typical US household. The comparison is even better if we compare ourselves to similarly high income US households. No virtue or sacrifice required – I get a life that is more fun, much wealthier, and happens to cause less harm to other people.

But What About the Rest of It?

If you’re like me, you’ve made some improvements over the average rich world resident, but your life is still plenty gluttonous, and unsustainable if everyone on the planet lived that way. What can you do? You can erase your footprint with a few clicks.

Companies like TerraPass and CarbonFund have popped up to efficiently channel money into projects that soak up or prevent CO2 emissions. Preserving or planting forests, or building wind farms, catching and burning methane from cow manure for power generation instead of dumping it into the air, and plenty more interesting stuff.

Since most people don’t care about this stuff yet, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit to be had. Planting a single tree can sequester a ton of CO2 for a century, yet a single person can plant hundreds of trees in a day. One of my sisters lives on a 50 acre farm that was deforested a century ago, then eventually the farming side of it was decommissioned. It’s not great farmland, but the forests in the area do just fine. So with the help of an environmental fund she is planting over 4000 trees to reforest the land, with a net cost to her of less than a thousand bucks. An entire lifetime of carbon absorbed (and a beautiful new woodland for future generations of kids to grow up running through) for the price of a set of truck tires.

Hey, I can do this right NOW.

carbonfund_cartHeading to CarbonFund.org, I am filling up a shopping cart with the energy use from my household. Wow, that’s cheap, $37 to offset all my household carbon? When I add in 2000 miles in my Scion xA, there is another $5.

But then there’s our annual flight for 3 people to Canada to visit family: about $17 total. Wow, does $17 really offset three plane tickets? Not bad at all.

We might as well throw in an offset for all the meat and dairy eating my whole family does. Call it 2 tons of carbon and add 20 bucks – it’s only ten dollars a ton.

How about my trip to Ecuador? Absorbing the carbon for that entire trip is only $12. But really, that was the third annual trip, and I played a large part in inviting the other 24 people who attended each year, alongside my co-conspirator Jim Collins. I doubt that the other attendees took the time to offset their own carbon. Let’s chalk my responsibility up as 75 roundtrip flights, or $900.

I’m going add all of that up to get final bill: $37 + $5+  $17 + $20 + $900.  $979 to erase not only my own family’s footprint, but the equivalent of an entire human lifetime of trips to the equator.

That is about the amount of money this article will earn from people using that Amazon Affiliate link to buy energy efficient light bulbs to save themselves money.  This is a win/win situation.

(Update from a reader: get these even cheaper ones if you don’t need the recessed light style)

I can (and will) buy solar panels to power my entire household with electricity to spare, for about $3,000. Free electricity for life, for three grand. I fail to see the “lose” in this win/win.

I can swap my gas-powered car for a nearly-new Nissan Leaf, which you can get on Craigslist these days for under ten grand. The car will charge from my solar panels or from my city’s wind-powered electric program, to which I’ve been subscribed for the past 10 years.

A decade or more of high-powered luxury electric driving, never having to buy gas (or change the oil, or replace a muffler) again, for ten grand. The car is silent on the highway and brings you Zen-like joy in traffic jams. This is not a sacrifice, it’s just another win/win.

The money we pour into supporting these new projects and technologies, and divert away from drilling holes in the ground and manufacturing disposable gas-powered vehicles, will create billions of new, better jobs. When we invest in productive infrastructure rather than temporary toys for ourselves, society’s wealth grows much more rapidly.

It’s all really easy, and a lot of fun, if we just give the slightest bit of a shit. So I think Bill Gates can update his equation.

Here’s my final checkout and the cute certificates they emailed me as receipts, Photoshopped together for blog-friendliness:



So, no more complaints or worries about climate change – only action.

  • aleksey March 20, 2016, 5:06 pm

    Love this article! Keep it up man!

    On my trips to america i’m often just shocked by the amount of “stuff” people have. And then they complain about the recession… The amount of waste is just mind blowing.. Just purely from a self-sustaining financial point of view, but when you factor the environmental impact its just terrifying.

    • Jim Wang March 21, 2016, 11:25 am

      It is almost like people think with two minds – the one in the ivory tower and the one firmly planted in their own life. Very rarely will the ivory tower ever meet the firmly planted in life mind.

      It’s like they talk about how they can’t save enough for retirement but demand the latest gadgets, stuff they will use for six months and then drop in a box in the closet. I’m not as far as MMM on the anti-consumption spectrum but sometimes it boggles the mind what people knowingly waste their money on!

      • Stockbeard March 29, 2016, 4:28 pm

        Sadly it’s difficult to even engage on that topic with some people. I have a colleague who pretty much denies that any of his actions have a significant impact on the environment. He cranks up the A/C all the time and believes global warming is a scam. What can you do…

        • Aaron March 31, 2016, 11:40 am

          Talking to someone directly about something (especially if it sounds preachy, such as diet/carbon footprint/etc) is usually a good way to get them to tune out. I’ve found success by having someone ask you about it instead. There are lots of way to do that, but it all depends on the individual. For myself, I’ve been Paleo for years. I talked it up so much at first, but it seemed to always fall on deaf ears. More recently my family’s been getting onboard with it and they’ve become paleo evangelists. I think it’s funny, because they talk about how their friends tune them out when they did the exact same thing to me for years!

          Human psychology is involved here. I’m not an expert, but if you can somehow pique the person’s interest or get them to think it was their idea by planting ideas here and there, then you might be able to talk to your colleague without it falling on deaf ears.

  • DA March 20, 2016, 5:11 pm

    It is great information. I didn’t know about carbonfund.org before. My family is not using the car unnecessarily. Stopped the use of paper towels at home recently. I love the badassity of doing things. Wish i learned to ride a bike when i was young. Walking and planning errands carefully is working for us now.

    • Simply March 21, 2016, 9:26 am

      It’s never too late to learn! I’m 30 and have taken a few courses to learn how. I’m not quite there yet, but I plan to go out and practice this weekend. Search for a local bike group in your city, they may offer adult learn to ride classes. I’m also starting swim classes next month.

      • Jim Wang March 21, 2016, 11:26 am

        When I first started lifting weights, I’d do exercises that targeted a single muscle group. As I’ve educated myself, I’ve learned that there are better exercises to do because you can target multiple muscle groups with one motion – giving you more economy.

        A bike is like that. Transportation AND exercise AND less fuel/waste, one action with multiple downstream benefits.

      • SisterX March 21, 2016, 11:17 pm

        Good for you!!! You’re never too old to learn life skills, but many people feel that education is for childhood and once they’re adults, they just stop bothering to learn as if they’re static. So, way to fight that mentality.

        • lurker March 25, 2016, 10:24 am

          never rode a bike until I was 15 and now I ride every day…..it is really fun and worth learning at any age I think……great way to get around and stay in shape…..and as badass as you want to make it or as you happen to feel on that given day. cheers!!!!!!

    • FianceClever March 23, 2016, 7:46 pm

      Never too late to learn indeed! My wife “learned” when she was 25 (not too old but not too young either).
      The first few times she rode her bike to work I had to go with her because she was terrified to ride at the beginning. Fast forward to today, her badassity has increased to the point to where she rides to work and back, by herself, pretty much every day.

  • Dan March 20, 2016, 5:28 pm

    Ugh. More carbon footprint crap. Is there any way we can stick to financial stuff? Please!

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 20, 2016, 5:37 pm

      Sure Dan, you can go to the rectangular box at the top of your web browser and type a URL that is not mrmoneymustache.com.

      There are loads of finance websites out there with no interest in the bigger picture of what the human race is up to. But this has never been, and will never never be, one of them. Bye!

      • Troy Rank March 20, 2016, 9:34 pm

        Thank you Pete. Making money and becoming rich really isn’t that complicated. You’re financial posts have served to educate many people and that is not without profound merit. However, the whole system approach is what keeps me up at night. How can we solve the general problem case.? This is exactly what this article illustrates, numerically. Thank you for teaching me how to maximize my badassity on all fronts.

      • Jim Wang March 21, 2016, 11:28 am

        MMM – I was hoping you would simply suggest clicking the X button. :)

        • Eric M March 22, 2016, 7:01 am

          Howdy Troy! Big fan of yours :) Jim and MMM – these posts need thumbs up because I wanted to second what both of you just said.

      • Ms Blaise March 22, 2016, 6:10 pm

        That is such a good reply. How I laughed. I figure the site is about your life and values and educating and inspiring others to take up the challenge in their own lives. Write about whatever you like. I’ve just started reading it over the last month, here in New Zealand, and am really loving it.
        I thought I was a savvy saver ( living on one income and saving the other etc), but now we are starting to change our whole approach to our money. I think we are at 60% savings now, but need to run the numbers. You’ll be pleased to know that reading your blog has stopped me from selling our lovely modest home and buying a “McMansion” so our one child to have more playing room ( What was I thinking!). A real estate agent had actually convinced me that our 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house “would not work for the teenage years”. New plan. We are going to enjoy living in our house and enjoy its access to the green belt, native bird sanctuary and walking distance to every amenity as well as great neighbours. We also cancelled our expensive backyard “landscaping”, and my man is taking annual leave and working as a labourer with the builder on a much more modest plan.
        Thanks MMM. Love your work.

      • Kyle March 23, 2016, 10:04 am

        You are the man. For those of us already on the same page with finances and lifestyle, I think this is the best article you’ve written. I will be financing some carbon sequestration today and consequently enjoy my life even more.

      • Greg December 3, 2016, 5:37 pm

        OMG MMM, this! Outstanding (and appropriately respectful) direct and to-the-point perfect response. Bam!

    • Josh March 21, 2016, 4:48 am

      Two comments that come up frequently I wanted to critique.
      1) The one on ‘sticking to the financial stuff’: Interesting people do not balk at other less-directly-financial posts, it just this one. This is evidence to me that that is due to the emotional trigger this issue brings up, not how relevant this article is to finance.
      2) The one on ‘stepping out of your field against scientific consensus’: We read this blog to listen to an non-financial-degreed blogger go against the mainstream thoughts of financially-degreed experts. Finances are different than the physical sciences, however, there are valid biases any expert consensus can fall to. Again, I think the driver for this argument is more the emotional trigger this issue brings up, less that people believe we should only listen to consensus from experts.

      • Chris March 21, 2016, 10:29 am

        Not emotional….political.

        • Eric March 23, 2016, 1:51 am

          If there’s anything that should be a universal bipartisan goal, it should be making it so that our coastal cities (including the capitol) don’t end up underwater. Too bad that requires large scale coordination to pull off, and a large number of people distrust the government to the extent that they can’t believe the overwhelming scientific consensus, because believing it would also suggest that we might need to do something that doesn’t fit nicely with their idea of the form that government should take.

          • Eric March 23, 2016, 1:53 am

            Not to mention the potential for a mass extinction event which could wreck the massive and complex food chain upon which we rely.

    • Matt March 21, 2016, 8:16 am

      This is all still financial, since all that carbon people waste is wasted money as well. Pretend the headline is “Get Rich With: Carbon Reduction” if it makes you feel better.

      • Zephyr911 March 21, 2016, 9:33 am

        Well said. I’ve been making money from solar, wind, and efficiency for years. Passive income from renewable PPAs and cost savings via reduced consumption figure large in my FIRE strategy.

    • Jonathan March 21, 2016, 9:53 am

      Here’s some financial stuff for you. I live in New York, as I’m sure you know we recently were hit with a pretty devastating hurricane, the effects of which were augmented by rising sea levels and overall global climate change.

      Estimates of immediate damages hover in the tens of billions, but there is also the long-term economic impacts that have gone woefully overlooked, including the plan to shut down the “L-train” connecting bedroom communities in Brooklyn with Manhattan in order to repair the damages caused by the flooding in Sandy. This train delivers just shy of 100,000 commuters to their offices EVERY DAY. Offices owned by companies you no doubt have prudently invested in (to speak nothing of all the folks relying on the trains to get to Wall St. to manage and grow YOUR MONEY). All the money to repair the system isn’t just appearing out of thin air, either. Even if you don’t live in New York, the federal government has been heavily subsidizing these repair projects, thanks to the enormously generous disaster package passed by Congress in 2013.

      So, just to recap, climate change is directly:
      1. impacting your profits by disrupting the economic engine contributing to your stock holdings
      2. forcing you to spend more money just to get number 1 back on track
      3. speeding up that financial treadmill pulling you backwards as you scramble just to recover lost gains, and all that opportunity for further growth squandered just to get back to where we were in 2012.

      Think before you whine.

      • ALJ March 21, 2016, 10:26 am

        YES. THIS.

      • Julia March 21, 2016, 4:30 pm

        Thank you Jonathan!

      • isaac March 21, 2016, 7:28 pm

        Couple things, you can’t positively contribute any single event to global warming. At best you can say “it probably would not of been as bad if it weren’t for global warming”, but that is about it.

        Hurricane Sandy wasn’t that big, it just hit at high tide and in the time since the last hurricane has hit NYC, they’d paved over most of the marshland that acts as a buffer against incoming storm systems

        • Jonathan March 24, 2016, 9:10 am

          I pretty explicitly stated the effects were *augmented* by global warming, not exclusively caused. A tropical storm that strong, that late in October was helped in part by atypically warm ocean surface temps. Further, according to NOAA (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sealevel.html), since 1992 the oceans have risen about 2.4 inches (0.12 in. per year). Not in itself all that much, BUT, when added to the additional 9.2 inches estimated since 1900, the effect becomes pronounced.

          The astronomical high tide usually adds about 2-3 feet to a typical high tide, yes, but without the additional foot of global-warming-induced sea level, there simply would have been far less water flooding Lower Manhattan, and much less of a chance for breaching the subway system. (Not to mention, lower-sea-level would also have correlated with a much cooler sea-surface, meaning Sandy would have weakened much more rapidly in its trek north and been far less devastating on the whole.)

          And the hurricane immediately prior to Sandy that hit New York was in 2011: Irene. Even if you stretch it back to 1999 (Floyd) or 1985 (Gloria), you’ll find that a lot of the area that flooded out had been paved over for a period of time measuring in centuries. Especially in FiDi.

    • TxPaladin July 7, 2016, 8:31 am

      I don’t know whether climate change exists or not. If it does, I don’t trust the people in my government to make hard decisions.
      So, I pretend like climate change is a fable. But since I still believe in “leave it better than you found it” I still am working to reduce my impact. Energy, food, waste, clothes, fuel, whatever. Less is more. I save money, I use less, and end up being more environmentally friendly while simultaneously thinking both political sides are trying to piss on my head.

  • Brandon Curtis March 20, 2016, 5:39 pm

    Haters: addressed. Advice: actionable.

    Carbon offset and renewable energy certificates seem really inexpensive, and I’ve always wondered if they’re real. In a similar vein, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) now offers a Solar Choice program, which only increases your cost per kW•hr by about 20%: http://www.pge.com/solarchoice. Some regions have access to community solar subscriptions and power purchase agreements.

    How much do programs like these actually encourage development of new solar resources? I’d love to hear from an environmental engineer or policy person who studies this stuff!

    • Gina March 21, 2016, 8:59 am

      I know that my electric company offers the ability to buy wind power for something like an additional 20% through the ‘Blue Sky’ program. The specifics of the the regulations governing the utilities determines how much good it does. Here in Albuquerque, it used to be that you would pay extra for wind power that the electric company would use to meet it’s regulatory requirements. They would have had to pay for it either way, but instead you were paying for them! However, regulations changed and now the Blue Sky program needs to provide renewable energy above and beyond the regulatory requirements.

      • Brent March 22, 2016, 12:59 pm

        Also in Albuquerque, The PNM “Sky Blue” program can only count for up to 85% of your usage and does not guarantee that they are above regulatory standards for wind/solar. It does get calculated into the rates when increasing the standards though so there is some good from it (but not as much as it sounds on the surface). Doing solar panels would be far more than the program if you have the ability.

    • DanProv March 21, 2016, 9:20 am

      Thanks for the info on PG&E solar. I just signed up for 100% solar!

    • LennStar March 21, 2016, 10:45 am

      When the global carbon cap-and-trade scheme was introduced, the price was thought – by scientist – to be around 70 EURO to be effective. That price is a function of how many carbon certificates are out there.
      Then the countries started – Surprise!! – giving their contries industry more free certificates then intended.
      The price plummeted to 7 Euro and is not far away from this today.

      I dont know if the certificates you buy are real, I dont know the companies, but the price, unfortunately, is.

    • JC March 21, 2016, 2:15 pm

      I self-installed 3KW of grid-tied solar PV on my roof 10 years ago. For most of those years, I’ve contracted to sell the Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SREC) generated by the system – as I live in a state with Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) legislation. The SRECs can be sold a variety of ways, such as on the spot market, at auction, or by negotiating long-term contracts. I’ve sold for $70-200/Mwh


      What this means – I’m working the carbon offset game MMM described above, in reverse. That is, I sell the “benefits” of my electricity to power companies that are not meeting legislated requirements for clean energy on their grids. So, while I’m not able to claim that I’m carbon neutral for my power use – someone else bought that “right” – I am responsible for supplying ~3Mwh of clean energy every year to the region, and getting payed to do so until the rest of grid catches up.

      Now that my city has smart meters installed, and can track power flow in both directions (@ 15min intervals) – I am anticipating time-of-use billing structures to emerge. That is, charging more $ for power at peak use periods when it is most costly to produce & supply. Peak use correlates nicely with solar power generation (sunny summer afternoons) so that surplus power I sell back into the grid will be worth multiples above the base rate – and effectively zero-out my power bill.

    • Glen March 23, 2016, 7:46 pm

      Your investor-owned utility is required to meet a certain percentage of renewable generation in its portfolio, but it has no incentive to buy additional renewables since they are more expensive = less profitable. Signing up for the solar billing option pays the differential cost between solar and conventional sources, so they can sign contracts for additional solar generation without losing money. I believe this will encourage new solar development. I recently signed up for the Green Rate offered by my local utility, Southern California Edison, which also happens to be my employer. I believe they offer two levels: 50% or 100% which would correspond to an increase in your monthly bill of 10% or 20%. Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Southern California Edison.

      • Mike March 25, 2016, 11:14 am

        This is increasingly not the case, particularly in Colorado. If we look at the last bulk renewable energy purchase by the largest regulated utility in Colorado, Xcel Energy (aka Public Service Company of Colorado), they attempted to purchase 200 MW more wind and 50 MW more solar than initially intended, and more than required to by Colorado’s RPS. This was an “all sources solicitation” where wind and solar were being compared side by side with gas-fired generators in an effort to select the lowest cost portfolio; most previous solicitations for renewables have been in special solicitations where only wind, solar, and certain other “renewable” technologies were allowed to bid. Xcel found that the lowest cost portfolio contained more wind and solar than initially envisioned; the PUC expressed concern that Xcel wanted to significantly change the energy mix late in the game, so disallowed the preferred portfolio and directed Xcel to select a portfolio with less wind and solar and more gas – a more expensive generation mix.

        Examples abound; in Texas, which alone in the US operates a de-regulated “energy only” power market, wind is the cheapest source by far. In Southern California, SDG&E exceeded their mandated energy storage purchase when bids came in far cheaper than expected, making utility scale batteries in certain locations more economical than a gas-fired peaker.

        Yes, these examples are based on subsidized prices. However, as anyone who is honest about the power industry will tell you, all power generation technologies are subsidized one way or another by federal and, in some cases, state policy. If you want to know which sources would be cheaper sans policy support, look at Department of Energy LCOE calculations, (Levelized Cost of Energy).

        I think we may be seeing the point now where the market starts to take over from government policy where energy is concerned. Once we pass that point, there’s really no going back.

  • Tyler March 20, 2016, 5:45 pm

    I really enjoyed the contrast you created to Bill Gates. It created a very powerful argument, for me at least, that made good ol’ common sense. I started here 1 year ago because of the financials, and frankly, I’ve stayed because everything you have written resonates so, so strongly with me.

    Thank you so much for everything you’ve done and made available to me and more importantly to the public, and thank you so much for everything you will do.

  • Carl March 20, 2016, 5:50 pm

    Here! Here! on 80 degrees indoors in the summer.

    It’s insane that we expect people to dress up as if we were in a cool maritime climate (England) in the summer in the U.S. where it actually gets hot in the summer once away from the Pacific coast.

    On the other hand, a sweater or tweed jacket makes sense in the winter. The reason for turning down the temp in the winter is less to save energy than to reduce skin drying.


    If you want more people to take up your bike instead of drive philosophy, you need to address the crime problem that persists in this country. End the drug war and replace welfare (and the progressive tax system) with a citizen dividend, and crime will drop enough that riding a bike in the old grid streets will feel safe. And the impetus for bike/pedestrian unfriendly cul-de-sac mazes will be less.

    • Andres March 20, 2016, 6:48 pm

      Actually, the main thing that needs to be addressed is lack of safety from cars. Over and over again, polls and research shows that the main reason why most people don’t bike is due to not feeling safe on our roadways when sharing space with cars.

      http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/why-women-dont-cycle/ – “79 percent of the women cited ‘distracted driving’ as the biggest barrier to them cycling.”

      http://road.cc/content/news/28431-road-danger-biggest-barrier-cycling-says-research-commissioned-dft – “Six in ten people in England who are able to ride a bicycle are deterred from cycling to work because they believe that ‘it’s too dangerous for me to cycle on the roads,’ and half say that they would cycle, or would do so more often, if there were greater provision of cycle paths”

      http://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2012_Dill-and-McNeil_Four-Types-of-Cyclists-Testing-a-Typology-to-Better-Understand-Behavior-and-Potential.pdf – “A majority (56%) of the region’s population fit in the Interested but Concerned category –
      thought to be the key target market for increasing cycling for transportation. The analysis
      indicates that reducing traffic speeds and increasing separation between bicycles and motor
      vehicles, such as through cycle tracks, may increase levels of comfort and cycling rates.”

      That’s not to say the things you mentioned aren’t issues, but we get the best bang for our buck by building safe biking infrastructure everywhere.

      • Carl March 20, 2016, 8:00 pm

        These are bigger factors in suburban areas, where you cannot get anywhere without getting on or at least crossing major thoroughfares. It’s also a huge factor on country roads where I live — which is why I don’t ride a bike.

        In old grid neighborhoods, the traffic is naturally slow — close to bike speeds. In much of the country such neighborhoods are associated with danger from criminals. Sometimes this danger is real; sometimes merely assumed.

        • Andres March 20, 2016, 8:52 pm

          Nope. Guess where I’ve gotten hit riding my bike? It wasn’t on suburban country roads, it was in east coast grid cities that were part of the original 13 colonies. Boston, NYC.. perception there is that roads are unsafe to bike on unless they include bike lanes (NYC in particular has come a long way since I was there 10 years ago, but that’s because of building separated infrastructure. We’re talking about perceived safety, here. Let’s not forget about the stress of riding next to trucks and SUVs, aggressive drivers, etc.

          Now, when we talk about actual safety – yes, those old grid neighborhoods are actually pretty safe. If you get hit on your bike there, you’re pretty likely to walk away from it (unless you’re pulled under the wheels of a right-turning truck, which happened to someone last year in the Boston/Cambridge area). That’s because vehicle speeds are slower. However, if you get hit in the suburbs while riding, you’re more likely to die thanks to the higher speeds involved.

          That reality is presented nicely in this graphic: http://www.bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/speed.jpg

          • wild wendella April 6, 2016, 12:18 pm

            It’s really upsetting. I also live three miles from work, have biked in a few times, but feel the risk is absolutely not worth it. I just got back from Switzerland where I saw lots of people biking, without helmets mind you. The cars were driving slower and I heard no one honking. I live in the tri-state area (of NYC) and every regular cyclist I know has been hit at least once.

      • Liz March 20, 2016, 10:00 pm

        I would love to bike to work since one of my buildings is only a couple miles away but am terrified due to the traffic around here. I’ve never been a confident bike rider and I’d probably end up walking my bike half the time! I also live on a mountain that gets quite icy in the winter and is a big challenge to walk up also. I guess I’d get in good shape quickly! Heck, event the thought of riding a bike around here make my heart race, lol. We need big-ass bike lanes!! I’m pretty sure my little helmet will not be much of a match for one of the thousands of SUV’s in good old upstate NY.

      • brent March 21, 2016, 9:07 am

        I’d love to ride my bike around town again. If there were no cars on the road due to some Twilight Zone-like episode I would be happy as a clam.

        Unfortunately, when I tried a few years ago I had 3 near-accidents. Driver’s fault. Scared the crap out of me.

        Distracted or even aggressive driving behavior persists in my little college town in the Southeastern US. Every article in our local paper (online) receives dozens of hate-filled comments directed at cyclists. A lot of this, I’m sure, is brought on by the very irresponsible cycling habits of college kids who routinely break traffic rules. The rest of the law-abiding cyclists pay the price.

        When I drive and sit in traffic, or at intersections, or view oncoming drivers, I see maybe 5/10 drivers with a phone at their ear or even worse, texting. I see them routinely doing last-minute swerving out of the way to avoid hitting cyclists as well as pedestrians. Why would I want to get back on my bike?

        If we had separate and safe lanes, little bike highways, with barriers, etc. I would we be all over it. Until then, I’ll happily drive and stay out of the hospital. Mountain biking only for me.

        • gj March 22, 2016, 7:11 am

          reading these post makes me sad. We should have so much more infrastructure for cyclists! Also, is there no policing in your town to reduce people using their phones in the car?

          Over here in the Netherlands (a VERY cycle-minded country) we are lucky to have so many facilities and bike paths. It always amazes me that most of the world does not even have the most basic things like bike lanes. For example, check out this area around a medium-sized train station:

          The orange/red asphalt are bike lanes, and the big recessed area is not a parking garage for cars but for bikes. Over here, most roads have a bike path apart from the road, unless it is in very low-speed conditions (<20 miles/hour or 30 km/h)

          • Ralph2 March 24, 2016, 9:09 pm

            In OZ we have some areas with good bike facilities and some that would be suicidal bike facilities.
            Where I am the local big city has excellent bike paths etc, but to get there I need to navigate an 80-90kph zone for 18km which has 7 high speed crossing areas that many do not indicate to use, decide to change and turn at the last moment or overtake and cut across just as the access finishes.
            There have been many vehicle accidents etc where people needed to be cut out of the car, a person on a pushbike would be in serious trouble.
            My suburb is not too bad though.

          • JT March 27, 2016, 1:24 am

            I dream of such facilities in the UK! Similar in Germany, I believe. I’ve visited Karlesruhe where cyclists, cars and pedestrians are all treated equally and there are plenty of police( on bicycles) to ticket transgressors!
            Might have to move to the Netherlands!

  • Bliss88 March 20, 2016, 5:53 pm

    Thanks much for the great article linking badassity/early retirement-promoting frugal habits with ecological sustainability!!!

    Quick q: I must have missed the post describing that you do own a car (I had assumed your family is car-free). Can you pls share why you went w the Scion Xa?

    I am in the market for a car (mostly w-e trips out of the city and drives to regional parks). I had a Prius which smushed like a soda can in a front end collision. So looking for a 4-door field efficient hatchback that drives w a little better power than the Prius did.

    Thank you!!!

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 20, 2016, 6:37 pm

      Blisseth – we currently have two mostly-unnecessary cars: a Scion xA (2005) and a giant luxury Honda Odyssey van (1999). You will have to search my old articles to find the whole story, but start by searching for “top 10 cars for smart people”

      A Prius is still one of the safest cars with more than enough power – I’d just start searching Craigslist for a replacement if you drive a fair amount.

      Also, for those considering SUVs and other 4WD trucks for on-road use, a Prius (or even my Scion) with snow tires will do great in those conditions. All wheel drive does not make you safer:

    • Huck March 21, 2016, 12:32 pm

      I have a prius. What the heck is wrong with the power in it?? Does it go 80+ mph on the highway? Yes. Does it get me to work faster than horse and buggy? yes. Then what’s the problem?

    • Javahead March 21, 2016, 3:48 pm

      “Smushed like a soda can” is actually a *good* thing – modern cars are designed to crumple and absorb the shock of impact so that their passengers experience less.

      Unless you’re driving something as heavy and durable as an army tank or a big rig, hitting another vehicle will still result in your coming to a sudden, high-G-force, stop. Designing a car with crumple zones does more damage to the car by slowing the deceleration the passengers experience. So that yes, the car may look worse – but the passengers have a much better chance of walking away without major injuries.

      This is one area where I’m quite willing to accept “lower damage resistance” in a product.

  • Gwen March 20, 2016, 5:58 pm

    Ooh Pete’s getting snarky and I like it. As someone who has taken one of those trips to Ecuador, thanks for covering my flight. Remind me to get you a beer next time we hang out.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 20, 2016, 6:45 pm

      Sweet! That’s about a third of my carbon offset spending refunded right there, and with good company too! Thanks Gwen.

      • Wade March 21, 2016, 2:54 pm

        Who ends up getting the “carbon offset” money? I’m curious what percentage of each $1 goes to offset.

        • Brian March 31, 2016, 2:30 pm

          95.5%, according to Charity Navigator. Carbonfund.org gets 4 stars through Charity Navigator, which is a good rating.

  • MamaKate March 20, 2016, 6:21 pm

    Agree with your overall premise here, and also believe we’re moving in the right direction Asa society overall. But, I’m not sure Bill Gates & his foundation are as evolved from their wealthy predecessors as you suggest. I am most familiar with the Gates Foundation work in education. In this area they’ve consistently used their financial power to undermine public schools and replace them with mediocre charters. The only “improvement” this offers is for the wealthy and powerful, who redirect public dollars, earmarked for education, towards private enterprise focused on the bottom line, rather than students. Look at how this has played out in Chicago for some glaring examples that would fit right into your paragraph 2…

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 20, 2016, 6:34 pm

      I’m sure they make mistakes like any humans.. but as an immigrant from Canada I find this US charter school system to be a pretty neat idea.

      If we set aside the idea of existing public schools (and the careers therein) being sacred, couldn’t the disruption of charter schools prove to be a great experimental testing ground? After all, complacency is the enemy of competence in any system involving lots of people. And it’s better to make mistakes than to be afraid to make changes.

      I really don’t know much about the issue, so this is just a question rather than an ideology. Do you find that these charter schools in your area are actually focused on making a profit? I thought that unlike private schools, they had to be run on a non-profit basis?

      • A. Guest March 20, 2016, 8:29 pm

        There are for-profit and non-profit charters. The for-profit ones tend to be worse about things like overworking Teach-for-America grads and suspending/expelling disruptive or disabled students to raise test scores and graduation rates. Even the non-profit charters funnel public funds to the educational industrial complex: a network of consultants, curriculum providers, online platforms, and faux advocacy groups.

        Their effect on urban public school systems has been pernicious: racial resegregation, backpack funding, neighborhood school closures, and children subjected to harsh and demeaning disciplinary structures.

        Also, when you say “experimental testing ground” . . . unlike software development, kids only get a window of a few years to learn reading or algebra. Failed experiments are unethical in education.

        There is a reason you don’t find charter schools in affluent suburbs.

        • Katie March 21, 2016, 5:54 am

          The affluent suburbs around me have charter schools. They are all Montessori based and people love them.

        • Marcia March 21, 2016, 1:33 pm

          My affluent suburb has charter schools.

        • Commenter March 22, 2016, 6:21 pm

          My affluent suburb has a Montessori Charter school. Just put my kids in it. Saves me 15k a year! STEM Charters are the other option. Charters are popping up all over my affluent suburb.

        • SpaarWalvis March 22, 2016, 7:20 pm

          In my semi-kinda-affluent suburb, charters are just about the only highly rated schools (think 8 on GreatSchools instead of 3-4).

        • reader in the rockies March 22, 2016, 9:58 pm

          My very affluent suburb has charter schools. My kids went to the regular public schools and I was sadly unimpressed. They got “processed” more than educated. The educational level was pathetic. It is all about teacher’s unions and preserving the status quo. Kids’ education seemed barely in the picture. Speaking of an experiement! Now that’s what I call unethical. Sorry to be so blunt but that was my experience in an affluent suburb. I can’t even imagine an inner city school district.

          • A Guest March 23, 2016, 6:53 am

            Ok, you guys! Other states must have different arrangements, or perhaps you are confusing charters and magnets. What we’ve got in my area is urban charter chains right in town, and the powers-that-be are stacking the deck in their favor. I still somehow doubt suburban parents would put up with the harsh and humiliating disciplinary practices of KIP and Success (making students sit on the floor until they “earn the right” to a chair, e.g.) or accept their kids being taught by Teach for America grads with only a couple of weeks’ training.

            • A Guest March 23, 2016, 6:59 am

              ps — my kids are in an urban MAGNET high school and are getting a fantastic education. My daughter is a junior taking three AP’s (one as a guided independent study), an advanced engineering class (digital electronics), 3D modeling and animation, and taking a class at the local Ivy for free after school. The school culture is supportive and positive. I really have no complaints except that it all seems fragile based on the budget.

      • MamaKate March 20, 2016, 8:35 pm

        In theory charters are a good idea, and they began their lives that way.
        However, in practice, they helped lead to the “discovery” that education can exist as a profit center. Since that discovery, many charter networks have become predatory, particularly in low SES urban areas (such as parts of Chicago).
        Not all charters are bad (and not all public schools are good…), but the charter movement has “jumped the shark.” What started as an incubator for innovation has now become home to many corporate “networks” that promote the lowest common denominator of educational theory (drill and kill, teaching to the test, authoritarian brain washing, etc). They are also highly politicized, with contracts to open schools in high profit areas (low ses/ many students receiving free lunch federal funds) often traded for political favors or financial kickbacks.
        I know this isn’t the topic of your post so I won’t take too much time on my soapbox about the topic…
        I hope you’re right that this is a lapse in judgement by the Gates Foundation. But if you follow the money in education, it appears they may be as tied up in the world of political connections and bribery as the publishing and oil barons they’ve replaced…

        • MamaKate March 20, 2016, 8:40 pm

          Also, just wanted to add in response to your question. Yes… charters are run as non-profits for tax purposes. There is still plenty of money to be had under that umbrella.

          • Edifi March 20, 2016, 9:29 pm

            This mistake is well documented. Statisticians have done studies suggesting Gates missed the math.

            • MamaKate March 20, 2016, 9:47 pm

              Perhaps Gates missed the math. Perhaps he had goals that were not as altruistic as it might seem. I honestly don’t know which, but watching this unfold over the last decade has made it very clear that there are many people out there who seek to profit at the expense of disadvantaged children.

      • Tara March 21, 2016, 6:58 am

        Charters have made segregation worse in urban environments. In areas around Philadelphia and New York City, charters target motivated kids and kids without learning disabilities, forcing public schools to end up with kids with more learning and emotional problems–this is why charter schools “test better” they don’t have an “equal experiment” to begin with. Success Academy Charter (a chain of NYC charters), who pays their head over $400k a year (NYC public school head doesn’t even get half that) has been in the New York Times as of late for these practices.

        In Philadelphia area schools, charter schools get more funding per kid than the state gives public schools, so already poor performing schools like Chester, PA schools (worst in state) get drained of money they desperately need for their higher rates of special need kids (who don’t get accepted into charter schools).

      • steve March 21, 2016, 8:07 pm

        While Bill is very intelligent and ambitious, I’m not convinced that Gates is some born-again hero. He bought DOS, then created a monopoly driving out better innovative companies (i.e. IE copying and forcing out netscape, excel replacing lotus, etc). Microsoft lost that 1999 lawsuit but it was too late for netscape.

        Now good ‘ol Bill is teaming up with Monsanto to unleash GMO seeds on poor countries. Yes, farmer Bill is “helping” small farmers increase their mono-culture yield (GMO seeds allow them to spray the hell out of crops with Roundup). And roundup must be safe because Monsanto says so as do their former employees at the FDA. FDA is a revolving door of Big Ag execs. http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/OfficeofFoods/ucm196721.htm
        hmmm…. vice president for public policy, Monsanto Company…nice… he must be unbiased, right

        Govt regulation is a joke – how long did it take for cigarettes to be banned….

        Then good’ ol teacher Bill pushes Common Core which has not worked so well either. http://thestir.cafemom.com/tweens_teens/164292/teen_totally_destroys_common_core

        As far as charters schools, around here you have to actually apply to be accepted – so in poorer areas, the parents that give a damn send their kids to charters, and the public schools are left with more of the parents that don’t or kids who didn’t win the charter school “lottery”.

        Gates in education, crop production, etc is like Zuck literally wasting $100M in Newark. I appreciate the efforts and thoughts, but money does not solve problems alone and I’m not convinced one entity should yield so much power. I recall a TED talk about a guy who was in the peace corp or an organization like that – they were helping Africans plant tomatoes and they were so excited but the Africans were not interested and we’re trying to explain it wouldn’t work – right before the tomatoes were ready, a pack of rhinos came and ate all the plants.

        MMM, efforts like yours, to spread knowledge and hope, are far more effective than throwing around money like a billionaire trying to atone for prior conquests.

        • Viren March 27, 2016, 11:37 pm

          I’d like to offer a counter-point, that I often bring up when Bill Gates gets discussed. My mother works for the WHO as a finance officer, and according to her, before the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO funding was about 80% governments and 20% private. Since they’ve come on the scene, that ratio has become reversed.

          In addition, because Gates is a hard-nosed numbers guy, the *kind* of data collection that he forces WHO to have on hand has made the whole organization much more efficient than previously.

          Also, as an Indian guy, the work that WHO and indeed the Gates Foundation have done towards public health, isn’t something that can be dismissed out of hand. Polio has been effectively eradicated in this massive country of 1 billion people. It’s a great achievement.

          Finally, I LOVE what Microsoft has given me. Excel was objectively better than Lotus by the time it replaced it. Microsoft promised to put a computer on every desk, and they did it. As a mechanical engineer, a Macintosh is useless for me because many software that my (niche) specialization uses are only available for Windows (admittedly, only because Windows is ubiquitous). And now, I love my Surface Pro 3 which is super portable, and yet does everything a heavier laptop would do.

          Sure, it wasn’t a daisies and unicorns pure pursuit of egalitarianism that got us here, and Microsoft spent years ignoring UX design, and making us suffer through a decade of horrible beige boxes. The counter-point here, and something Joel Spolsky talks a lot about on his blog, is that Microsoft, since Day 1, has been super-focused on developers. To the point that they’d have engineers working on modifying the code of the OS just to ensure that *one* particular software would work with the newer edition. That’s the reason they succeeded. They knew that an OS is a platform for developers, and therefore, developers are king.

          So, yes, Bill Gates might not be our messiah or our savior. But, compared to fucktards like Soros, or worse, Koch brothers, I’ll take Mr. Gates any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

        • Thirty Something March 29, 2016, 10:57 am

          That was a great TED talk – I thought the veggies got eaten by hippos. But proves your point either way.

      • The Professor March 22, 2016, 9:54 pm

        As one who has spent considerable time in education I have to agree with MamaKate on this one. Some charter schools are probably doing a good job but I’ve seen many that exist that are focused on for profits.
        Follow the money trail. The teachers in those schools may be doing a good job but the backers do not have the altruistic intentions that one would like to believe.
        Charter schools like private schools can be “selective” in their students while the public schools have to take whatever walks through their doors. Is there a lot that can be done to improve the public schools? Yes but the negative sentiment and public bashing (pushed by the wealthy benefactors of (some) charter schools doesn’t help.
        Maybe that’s a topic for another day though.

        Enjoyed your post. I’m a big bike advocate in southern CA. car Armageddon land out here. Sadly my 10 yr. old daughter is not as enthusiastic about taking the bike to school every day.

      • Donna March 27, 2016, 2:46 am

        This is the first year Charter schools have been alowed in Western Washington State. We voted “Yes” for them. Now the State is hell bent on shutting them down. My opinion is that they are giving the kids a much better education. One-on-one interaction and attention, as the class sizes are much smaller. They are not, in my opinion, simply focused on making money.

        They are interested in the best interest of the kids and they do work. I also noticed they are fair to all and offer grants and/or financial assistance for lower income families.

        I hope they do not close the Charter schools here. They really do seem to be working and give the kids a much better education.

        • Rebecca B April 11, 2016, 9:48 pm

          The objection that many Washingtonians have to charter schools is that they are run as a business, with privately chosen administrators, but they do it all on taxpayers’ money. In public schools a school board who is elected by the people are held accountable for how taxes are used to educate students. In a charter school, the public has no say. The Washington state supreme Court also declared charter schools unconstitutional for this reason, because those who spend tax dollars must (theoretically) answer to the taxpayers.

    • vmthunder March 21, 2016, 11:12 am

      And, here’s Anthony Cody’s book challenging the Gates Foundation’s educational initiatives. Cody not just wrote the book, he spearheaded a massive campaign against the foundation’s policies:

    • Laura March 21, 2016, 12:21 pm

      Let me chime in here as well. MMM, I’m glad that you called the Gates out on some of the BS that undermines their philanthropic philosophy, but I’m afraid that there’s a lot more controversy to their strategy than even this thread about education. Here’s a good article to start off: http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Levich-2015-American_Journal_of_Economics_and_Sociology.pdf

      In the philanthropic/nonprofit world, where I come from, a lot of people are justifiably skeptical and even distrustful of the Gates Foundation and other major philanthropic institutions simply because of the amount of power they yield–and their ability to control entire systems of addressing problems. There’s no shortage of opinions on how to solve the world’s problems, as I’m sure you know. But concentrated power, even in a supposedly “charitable” place, can be dangerous. And as you’ve said, the Gates Foundation believes that technology is the means to solving the world’s problems. It’s a highly westernized, privileged, and objectively-leaning perspective.

      Please don’t get me wrong here, I deeply admire the time you’ve devoted on this blog to living a more sustainable, balanced, and conscious life. We have to address climate change. But I would caution all those who read this blog to be equally critical of our western status quo when it comes to philanthropy and how to solve big problems like climate change. IMO, it’s going to take a lot of different and big, as well as small, ideas.

      • Shane March 21, 2016, 12:51 pm

        Another thing about Bill Gates — he is no nice-guy when it comes to doing business — think your own personal experiences with Microsoft products, and more importantly, read up on how Bill managed to make Microsoft into the monopoly it is: https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/r/rohm-microsoft.html

  • Neil March 20, 2016, 6:31 pm

    Nice to see you showing your true colors these last two posts MMM. We always knew this was a thinly disguised environmental blog in a FIRE wrapper.

    • Bill March 22, 2016, 10:42 am

      Waste is waste, whether it’s money or energy. What if we accidentally made a better world and global warming turned out not to be real? THE HORROR!

  • Mr. Thriftyskate March 20, 2016, 6:41 pm

    My favorite part: “I’m asking you to judge yourself”. No one is perfect and you laid it all out there MMM. All of your lavish consumption – note my extreme sarcasm – fully addressed and environmentally neutralized.

    Over the past few years I made an effort to endure slight discomfort by setting the house air conditioning to 82 in the summer. Half way through this past summer we turned it down to a frigid 80 when Mrs. Thriftyskate was pregnant – she was a champ with the heat up until the third trimester. Can’t believe I used to set it to 68. Pains me to admit it.

    Picked myself up a used electric car last year too. Getting 22mpg with premium octane with the old car wasn’t just a financial drag, it was causing me to regret more and more the 175,000+ miles I had driven with it. I cringe at all the other wasteful things I’ve done in my life.

    Keeping the judgement focused on me and not eye rolling other people is hard though. Especially on trash day around where I live. The neighbors put out their bins and it seems like a week doesn’t go by where there’s a perfectly re-usable item – usually made of plastic – poking out from underneath a lid. More motivation to not be as wasteful I suppose.

    How did you select the organization to offset your carbon footprint? Is there some type of certification or organizational approval to look for? Giving money online to an organization that provides a product which is never seen may be difficult for a lot of people. Maybe a perception kind of thing.

  • Ashley March 20, 2016, 6:54 pm

    In a society that seems to view continued climate change as an inevitability (recent example from a friend: ‘We’re thinking about moving to Oregon. Pretty soon with climate change it will be like California’ …wtf?? That’s not even how climate change works), it’s so refreshing to hear your viewpoint. It is possible to live an acceptably (even luxuriously) comfortable life without destroying the environment. It doesn’t look like the typical lifestyle we have going on these days, but you are blazing the trail MMM!

  • zephyr March 20, 2016, 6:59 pm

    YES- thx just got inspired to investigate electric bike. Normally take the prius, but could go further. We live in a rental so the solar panel thing is not possible, try to do as much as I can in other ways.

  • Geoff March 20, 2016, 7:01 pm

    Yes! Another superb, thought-provoking post MMM. By moving beyond merely financial matters to the more profound issues, you’re really setting yourself apart from most. I’m impressed by many financial bloggers, theminimalists.com for example, but they’re merely scratching the surface of what really matters – which is us and our little planet.

  • Tracy March 20, 2016, 7:07 pm

    thirteen years working as an environmental engineer – easily described as being a janitor cleaning up others peoples messes. What it has taught me is the importance of prevention.

    After experiencing catestrophic mind blowing messes costing hundreds of millions to remediate first hand: There isn’t a day where my conscience doesn’t get me on the wastefulness I create and the mess I leave behind eventually for someone else to clean it up.

    I’m talking about landfills storing my garbage, mining activities to mine the gold/diamond that I have, wasting water to generate more electricity, etc. And eventually all of these landfills need decommissioning, mines remediated and water treated -and never to return back to pristine conditions. And the last site I worked on costing 900 million to remediate one toxic site filled with 237000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide…greed is the cause of that mess.

    Best to live a minimal lifestyle, avoid overconsumption and reuse as much as possible.. I’m lucky in Ottawa to have a city wide composting program to help out.

    If everyone was conscience of their purchases,1) how it was created, 2) where it could end up 3) recommendations for minimizing impact (ex: an email or an app that gives you a warning of those 3 things) – this first step of awareness could lead to massive momentum to change.

    • Steve March 22, 2016, 5:54 am

      Thank you Tracy for pointing out that when it comes to environmental situations, it’s almost always much harder to clean up after the fact compared to not doing the damage in the first place. This is why I am deeply skeptical of spending money on carbon offsets. The ecological economics are very murky, even if the plain dollar economics seem to make sense on the surface.

    • Bill Muffi September 16, 2018, 8:29 am

      Great post. We need to think about small solutions that have major impact. For example I always have a leather wallet. I saw a family member with a Raw wallet. I also converted my brother over to one!

  • Dragline March 20, 2016, 7:14 pm

    What’s old is new again.

    Look up “Carnegie Libraries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnegie_library

    He essentially built the equivalent of the internet circa 1900.

    • Sarah Jane March 21, 2016, 3:43 pm

      Thanks for mentioning this! I read all through the post and was like, dude, you forgot about Carnegie!

      • m March 22, 2016, 4:23 pm

        Don’t forget Peter Cooper! Spent his time and fortune inventing and helping others in New York City. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Cooper I was, most gratefully, recipient of free college education.

  • Tyler March 20, 2016, 7:17 pm

    An alternative to attempting to directly offset your impact with a donation would be to donate instead to the most effective charities that we know about. I suggest this because I’m not sure if the mechanism for these carbon offset programs has been vetted as thoroughly as some of the other potential paths to make the world a better place. I recall you mentioned reading “The Life You Can Save” several years ago, which is one of the sources of this suggestion. Give Well and Animal Charity Evaluators are both “meta-charities” that work to identify the most evidence-based interventions and encourage donors to support these programs. I found out about this under the umbrella of the “Effective Altruist” movement, which I think your focus on rationality and positive-impact could really get behind.

    • Rachel March 22, 2016, 12:08 pm

      For those who care about such things, looks like carbonfund.org has a ridiculously high rating on Charity Navigator.

  • Seja March 20, 2016, 7:19 pm

    I LOVE THIS POST!! (sorry for shouty caps, but I feel that strongly about it).

    I’m not sure why the environment isn’t the most pressing issue in the current election (since immigration kind of doesn’t matter if we don’t have clean air to breathe and water to drink), so thank you for making it a part of your widely-read blog.

    With the amount of idling cars in grocery store parking lots (idling when I walk in and still idling when I walk out) and disposable cups overfilling trash cans outside of said grocery store, I feel like our country is in desperate need of a wake-up call.

    Sharing this one with everyone I know!

  • Tissue King March 20, 2016, 7:31 pm

    Great post. Too many people think our environmental issues are made up. I truly think they are on crack. People need to get real and acknowledge that we are killing our planet. This just happens to be the only planet that I know of and we are going to be the root of our own demise. Keep up the good work MMM. Love the post.

  • Shirley Goff March 20, 2016, 7:35 pm

    I have to disagree about the Gates Foundation. They have spent over a billion dollars to force GMO’s on the third world, to “feed the world.” These GMO seeds are the ones that allow dousing with RoundUp and other chemicals. They require much more expensive inputs and machinery to cultivate than small farmers the world over have. They are forced off their land into the cities. The GMO seeds are not tailored to the environment where they will be grown, either. in other words, it’s a giant land grab, small farmers out, Big Ag in.

    • Huck March 21, 2016, 12:38 pm

      Pretty much all of this is nonsense scaremongering from anti-science lunatics that would rather see poor people starve. Good job.

      • isaac March 21, 2016, 7:39 pm

        Growing food starts with good soil, take care of the soil and it will produce a sustainable and bountiful harvest. Don’t take care of the soil and your land will go barren eventually no matter how much fertility and how much top soil you started with.

        If you want to feed people sustainable you need to take care of the soil.

        GMOs aren’t taking care of the soil, they are encouraging the overuse of pesticides that kill soil life and render it sterile.

        • Huck March 22, 2016, 6:35 am

          That is completely unrelated to GMOs. What do they have to do with soil?? Modified crops are made to need LESS pesticides, it’s called efficiency. Farmers pay for pesticides, why would they want a product that require more?

          “Organic” pesticides are less efficient so more are required. 7x more in one study I’ve seen.

          • isaac March 22, 2016, 10:06 am

            ……… Resistance to roundup encourages more use of roundup.

            • Martin March 23, 2016, 11:27 am

              I would like to see an MMM post about this. The more I read into it the more I think comment’s like those from Huck are correct. GMOs are not necessarily bad , in fact bad GMOs are the exception and not the norm.

            • Debbie M March 29, 2016, 8:50 pm

              GMOs can be good or bad. When the goal is to increase drought resistance or bug resistance, they can be good. When the goal is to increase pesticide resistance or to make them seedless so you have to re-buy your plants from the company every year, that’s bad. We mostly hear about Monsanto, Dow, and other high-profit low-morality inventors, but universities and other groups have a better focus.

      • Steve March 22, 2016, 6:00 am

        The problem is that GMO-based farming requires lots of cash inputs, which is not something poor, third world farmers have in abundance.

        GMO seed use requires buying *more* GMO seed every year, rather than allowing a farmer to save some of their own seed every year.

        Forcing poor, third world farmers to unduly participate in the cash economy – an economy with a currency largely controlled by a murky central bank halfway around the world (the Federal Reserve) does not increase freedom, autonomy, or prosperity for said farmers.

  • Adam O March 20, 2016, 7:37 pm

    The Super Hero hiding in this article is really a Super Food. Lentils are a powerhouse of nutrients and look at how much CO2 is used in their production, next to none!

  • isaac March 20, 2016, 7:47 pm

    The solutions proposed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation tend to be stupidly complicated and expensive; there solution for sanitation is a fancy toilet (not dependent on plumbing or other infrastructure) that costs over $1,000 each. A bucket with a copy of “The Humanure Handbook” by Jon Jenkins translated into the local language would cost less than $30 each and rather than merely reduce groundwater contamination, it would also provide a rich source of fertilizer and help to close the nutrient cycle.

    Keep It Stupid and Simple AND serviceable.

    • MamaKate March 20, 2016, 8:38 pm

      And, from what I’ve seen, often these complicated and expensive solutions are to the benefit of their wealthy and politically connected peers…

    • vmthunder March 21, 2016, 10:50 am

      As a long-time reader of MMM, I feel motivated, just like some other readers, to point out that Bill Gates’s ‘philanthrocapitalism’ is not what it seems to be on the surface. This review of a book by Linsey McGoey is a very good introduction to the incalculable harm being unleashed on the world by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through their charitable initiatives:

      This link is another detailed overview that suggests human depopulation or eugenics is the real intent behind the Gates’ Foundation’s charitable efforts:

      • isaac March 21, 2016, 7:16 pm

        His backing of common core, and his refusal to send his children to schools that follow it seems to have classiest undertones.

      • LuckyOz March 21, 2016, 9:10 pm

        Huh? Bill Gates who could spend his days doing whatever he wants, sets up a foundation to give autism to developing world babies? Take off the tinfoil hat.

        They may not always be perfect, but the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation appears to do more good than most non-profit organizations.

  • Jason March 20, 2016, 7:55 pm

    Excellent article MMM, the reason I keep coming back to this Blog is that it isn’t just about finance. Once you start to open you eyes, you can see waste everywhere. The total waste the car has brought is mind boggling. Here’s two ideas I think are worth pursuing:

    1. Reducing the Number of Single Person Cars at Rush Hour
    – Each morning thousands of cars are stuck in traffic and each only has one occupant each going to more or less the same destination. Could the government take Uber’s lead and develop a ride sharing app, where they actually encourage and support people to car pool. They could do criminal checks, post their driving records, make sure they have adequate insurance, etc. to make it safer. Provide enough car pool lanes so these cars get to their destination much faster than the single person car.

    2. Support Technolgoy so People Don’t Need to Commute
    – I am fortunate to work for a company where I don’t need to go to the office very often and am provided all the tools necessary to be productive. The technology exists for many jobs to be done remotely, why are we still insisting people sit in a cube, all rushing to work at the same hour, in inefficient cars, I’m still on my third tank of gas this year, where my last job I filled up about 4 times a month.

    Of course, if you can bike to work, this is an even better solution, but I don’t have faith that the masses will take this approach anytime soon.

    However, as long as our politicians continue to get funding from the large car and oil companies, not sure they have the legislative will to really do much about this.

    Keep up the good work!!!!

    • mike March 20, 2016, 8:50 pm

      that ride sharing app idea is brilliant !!

    • Dave March 21, 2016, 11:09 am

      Jason, you bring up two excellent points. Regarding the app, I was sad to see you mention that the government should do it. We have to get away from the idea that the government is usually the solution. Take this blog, it is all about individuals getting informed and then taking action ( or giving a shit, per MMM). Developing such an app would be the perfect use of technical skills of say, a reader of this blog.

      • Jason March 21, 2016, 2:13 pm

        Hi Dave,

        Yes I agree that the govenement might not be the best to develop. I suggested that because they might have access to some information that isn’t available to private companies such as driving record, criminal record, ensure blanket insurance etc. One of thing that bother me about Uber is I’m a bit leary how much they actually vet their drivers. They also could use their existing facilities like bus stations, subway stations, etc. as drop off and pickup points. Maybe they get someone competent to build it but I think they need to integrate it into the public system. Call me crazy…

  • PoF March 20, 2016, 8:09 pm

    We love the story of the lifted Lorax! Knew the book by heart before there was any movie or theme park attraction. Our boys got to see the Onceler’s house with the word Unless written below just a week ago.

    I’m glad to see you’re beginning to find ways to use the proceeds of the blog to do good works. I’d love to see more posts where you detail how you are utilizing this ongoing windfall.


  • Eddie March 20, 2016, 8:18 pm

    I like your honesty that you admit you’ll be more ethical if you switched to a vegetarian or vegan diet, and adding the your way of life “for now at least” part to signify that you are still open to changing your diet. I also liked that you included animals into the equation. There’s a video on youtube on the ethics of eating animals called “Best Speech You Will Ever Hear” by Gary Yourofsky, and that speech really changed my life for the better. Also for those who haven’t watched Cowspiracy, that is a great documentary on the environment.

    • Marcus Lehman March 22, 2016, 9:31 am

      I agree, and yet it’s amazing how much the animal product industries impact the environment, and how little a part of the attention they get. It’s quite disproportionate! You could do more by eating no meat and animal products one day a week than you could doing half of the suggested measures!

  • Mrs. Healthywealth March 20, 2016, 8:32 pm

    Good article on an issue that doesn’t get discussed enough. When we were trying to figure out where to donate, carbonfund.org won over children and wildlife…why? Cause nothing else will matter if we have a planet we can’t live on.

    Also, People think we’re weird cause the AC gets turned on only if the temp hits 100 degrees…and that’s was the ask even with 2 newborns, they were fine.

    As for biking, would love to do it BUT we don’t have any bike lanes and I go to some sketchy neighborhoods and carry confidential patient info. We drive less, so that helps.

    Overall, you’ve made an impact for us on increasing awareness about wastefulness, plus made our wallet fatter–thanks!

  • Jeremy March 20, 2016, 8:38 pm

    Great article, thanks. How do you get a solar system for $3000? Even with government subsidies and a small system, all the quotes I’ve gotten are over $10k. I’m in the North Carolina, maybe they are just more expensive here.

    • Hogan Haake March 21, 2016, 7:39 am

      I don’t think you can… It took 24K to get a 3.6 kw system installed on my roof in 2010. Lots of rebates brought the price down as I show in my post, but it isn’t cheap. It generates approximately 4,000 kWh per year of usable power. I would be curious to see if Mr. Money Mustache uses less than that much power in a single year.

      I’m happy with my system, but I know that it wold 4x the number of panels to potentially take me off the grid. That doesn’t include the fact that in the winter time, I get significantly less power per day.

      • Kevin March 21, 2016, 11:00 am

        In the carbon calculator image he posted it says he uses 3,000 KWH/year somehow!


        I’ve never had to pay for natural gas. He had 200 therms which google says is 5,860 KWH. So, really his overall consumption is 8,860 KWH if it was all electric. All of my household energy is electric and we use about 8,500 KWH/yr.

        • Kevin March 21, 2016, 11:09 am

          And that 8,500 includes using an electric clothes drier! With our rainy winters, our clothes would mold if we just hung them to dry.

        • Paul March 24, 2016, 6:40 pm

          3kWh/year is not that hard. Just get rid of your vampire drain, and it shouldn’t be an issue. If your no-load drain is around 80-90 W, you should be good to go. Just make sure you turn everything off when not in use, *especially lights*.

          I have an extravagant 3000 sqft home, which I have heated almost 100% with an air-sourced heat pump, and I used 4.5kWh for the entire of last year. So, without the heat pump, I’m using even less than MMM.

      • Mr. Money Mustache March 21, 2016, 3:14 pm

        You might be right, depending on if I get any subsidies:

        In the last year, my house used right about 2600 kWh of electricity. Through a math coincidence and with my area’s level of sunshine, to cover it I’d need a 2600 watt system.

        High-end panels themselves are about 72 cents per watt (for example the Sharp NDF4Q300) , which would bring us to $1872.

        That would leave me $1118 for an inverter, which isn’t quite enough for a quality grid-tie unit.

        But if you include the 30% US federal tax credit on the whole thing, $3k should nicely cover the panels , inverter, and wires required. So I think it’s still a good guess.

        – It will also take me a solid day of work to install everything, so account for that how you wish
        – To get the tax credit you may need a licensed electrician to do the paperwork
        – These costs scale with your household energy use. Since the average house uses about 5x what mine burned last year, it would need more like a $10-15k system. But the savings would be correspondingly larger too.

        • Steve March 22, 2016, 6:04 am

          MMM, you need to allow for mounting racks, at least one combiner box with appropriate over-current protection, cabling, and so on too. Granted, the panels and inverter are the largest ticket items, but the others add up too, especially no so since the panels are dropping in price.

          • Mr. Money Mustache March 22, 2016, 10:34 am

            Thanks Steve and good point. I was going to weld up my own racks because I have specific (aka fancypants) aesthetic wants for how this solar system will look after installation. But someone with less free time will want to account for that too.

            I’ll present a full bill of materials after the thing is built. My solar setup was going to mount on a new studio/garage building I’m currently making, so I have to get that done first.

            • lurker March 26, 2016, 3:36 pm

              when are you going to read up on permaculture and grow more food around your house???? your son might be just the guy for that project????? just a suggestion of course. I love all the environmental posts….critical as what is the point of being retired in a ruined world?????

            • Kyle March 29, 2016, 1:08 pm


              I’ll be interested to see your BOM and setup and can offer advice if need be. I installed my own 28 panel solar array back in early 2012. Paid about $0.78/W for 28 panels at 205 Watts each. Total panel cost was about $4500. The rest of my BOS components, permits, etc. cost roughly 10K. I used microinverters. They are a bit more expensive than a regular central inverter, but offer better efficiency and reduce the need for large power wire runs. And they are great for shading. You only lose power to one panel rather than the entire system. I would also recommend flashing for any mounting penetrations through the roof. Some folks skip the flashing (to reduce cost) and just caulk the hell out of the holes they drill for the mounting feet. I would advise against this. The flashing I used had built in stand-offs for the mounting rails to anchor to. As you can see the cost really starts adding up. The installation was the easy part. Only took two weekends with one helper. I did all the electrical myself and even helped our local electrical inspector understand solar better. Word of caution too on your local AHJ/building permits. My county required a licensed professional structural engineer’s stamp of approval for load bearing on my roof truss system. A bit ridiculous considering the total weight of the panels is equivalent to about 2 inches of wet snow. Set me back almost $900.

        • Hogan Haake March 22, 2016, 7:04 am

          Thanks for the reply! I’m impressed with your power consumption level. Your posts are thought provoking and challenging.

    • Kevin March 21, 2016, 10:31 am

      Yeah, really! Here in the Western Washington, the quote I got was about $23,000 for a 5.6KW array, total costs. With incentives and rebates, they said it would be paid off in $4.6 years at $175/mo (loan), so that’s a total cost of $9,660 after incentives. It would take me about 9.5 years for the return on investment if none of the production incentives change… they will soon with my PUD. So, since I still have debt to pay off and I don’t know how long I want to stay in this house (seems a little too big), there is no way I’m going to take that jump any time soon.

    • Frugal Bazooka March 21, 2016, 11:08 am

      Good question. That “3k for solar” line got my attention as well. If I could find a solar “system” for 3k…even one I could install myself, I would buy it tomorrow.

      So if it does exist, someone give me the website or phone number and I’ll get my solar on.

      • Michael Oberg March 21, 2016, 1:11 pm

        For my 2500 sqft home (bought before I was fully aware of FIRE / MMM principles), I use about 200 – 250kWh per month (which I am a bit ashamed of, really). I rarely use a clothes dryer (even before MMM I figured out that if I hung dry my clothes they would last *decades* versus a year or two), do not watch TV and am good about use of lighting. The home has an electric range and oven, is lit mostly with CFLs, and uses propane for heat. One of my hobbies is car and motorcycle restoration and fabrication, so I have near 1kW of lighting in the 3-car garage, which adds up when I am in there working. Switching to LED lighting throughout the home, and converting the kitchen appliances to propane will help reduce use in the future, but even given a 250kWh / month use here is the math I believe would be used to size a solar system to come very close to covering all of my use (for Boulder, CO with great southern exposure with no shading):

        (Modified from http://www.homepower.com/articles/solar-electricity/design-installation/pv-array-sizing-kwh)

        3000 kWh/yr (250kWh/mo) ÷ 365 days/yr = 8.22 kWh/day
        8.22 kWh/day ÷ 6.3 sun-hours/day = 1.305 kW
        1.305 kW ÷ 0.75 efficiency factor = 1.740 kW array

        (6.3 yearly average daylight taken from NREL chart for my location: http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/pubs/redbook/)
        (0.75 efficiency from Home Power article minus the shading factor)

        eBay: 13 Kyocera 220W panels for $1866 + freight shipping (lets say $2k total for ~$153 per panel). I only need 8 of these panels so can sell off 5 (at approx $180/ea, given pricing from denver.craigslist.org searching), which gives ~$1100 for 8 220W Kyocera panels delivered:

        Use grid-tie microinverters (similar to these products http://www.gogreensolar.com/collections/types?q=Grid-Tie%20Micro%20Inverter) on each panel ($135/each * 8 = ~$1100) to simplify wiring and allow for easy expansion. Add in a couple hundred extra for mounting and wiring (DIY, maybe $200-500 max?) it seems like a sub $3k system is *quite* possible, even straightforward:

        $1100 for 8 Kyocera 220W panels
        $1100 for 8 grid-tie microinverters
        $200-500 for mounting and all wiring from solar panels to main electrical panel
        $2400-2700 total

        Add in a Tesla home battery system for another $3k and you have a really nice setup.

        • gj March 22, 2016, 7:23 am

          you can also calculate these things with the following tool:

          and i must say, the expected yield in Boulder is insane! In the Netherlands you’re lucky of your 3 KW installation produces 2800 kWh in a year. Apparently you can get 4300 to 4700 kWh in a year in Boulder :-O amazing!

          • Michael Oberg March 22, 2016, 12:48 pm

            Thank you for the link to that resource – it is quite good and I did not know about it before. Sun here in Colorado is incredible – I really think that the majority of folks would invest in solar for their homes if they knew how cheaply it could be done. Just like poor retirement calculators, the PV industry calculators size solar installations to satisfy a very high consumption, which makes the PV install $20-30k and seems untenable. So you get installations for the small number of individuals who are doing it for environmental reasons. If folks were better educated about LED lighting, hang drying their clothes, etc they could be completely satisfied with *much* smaller installations. I am amazed at how much power can be generated from a 1.5 – 2kW array! A $3-5k install could provide for a significant amount of their yearly use and would make tremendous financial sense.

        • Frugal Bazooka March 23, 2016, 1:49 pm

          Thanks for the great info.
          I’d love to make this happen and my consumption is very low so I know I could come in with a relatively cheap version of solar panels to cover my use.
          What would be great is if someone created a DIY solar panel installation kit that let’s you buy variable amounts of panels based on the size and use needs.
          I’m not a fan of buying stuff a la carte on line and then finding out there’s compatibility issues.

          • Michael Oberg March 25, 2016, 10:41 am

            This guy did a fantastic job detailing his installation, and certainly can act as a guide for a DIY install:


            Any of the vendors should be able to verify compatibility, so if you have a DIY array configuration in mind just email the inverter company and have them confirm. I like the microinverters, as you can just treat the panel/inverter as a pair, then tie them together with the inverter company’s cable to the junction box right next to the panels, then the rest is just basic electrical wiring. Normal 240V 15A electrical cable is cheap, junction boxes are dirt cheap, disconnect switches are cheap, a 15A 240A breaker is cheap, custom mounts should be pretty cheap. After doing just a little bit of research, it really looks like it is much simpler than I originally thought for a grid-tie system.

            One option is to install a meter disconnect switch by your main electrical panel, run the normal home depot 240V wiring to the outside junction box, then order the enphase cables for the total number of panels that you think you will install long-term (up to 17 total on a single run with the enphase setup), and start building out the installation racks. Then just buy the panels and inverters in pairs for about $300 as you have the cash. Doing it this way lets you invest a couple hundred bucks for the solar array integration, and then buy the panels over time so you can start to receive the benefits without a huge cash outlay. I might do it this way, starting with say, 2-4 panels, just so I can get up and running with some renewable energy, then expand over the months/years up to what I think I need. It would also give a good ability to monitor and record the overall performance with your actual home to allow you to size it correctly, instead of guessing and maybe over or under sizing. I also plan on additional home energy efficiency improvements so could set a good target that I have to meet (i.e. I will do everything that I can to get under 125kWh/mo or something, so that X panels will supply 100% of my energy needs). Size the electricity use, instead of the solar array.

    • WageSlave March 21, 2016, 12:29 pm

      What is the cost of just the raw materials to install a solar system? I’m going to go out on a limb and presume that MMM is talking about DIY’ing his solar installation…

  • Keith March 20, 2016, 8:51 pm

    Great article. I do recommend checking out the work of the Savory Institute in relation to raising animals. In might change your perspective on eating meat, or at least some meat.

  • Joe in Spokane March 20, 2016, 9:09 pm

    The Nissan Leaf is a good car. But the Chevrolet Volt is a great car!

    In the Volt, the first 40* miles are all-electric. If you want to drive farther, that’s no problem! It can use gas, if you want to take a road trip or something, giving it a total range of 340 miles. And unlike the first generation of the Nissan Leaf, the Volt has great thermal management for the battery, which means it will last much, much longer.

    * 40 in summer, with a lot of air conditioning. 45 in spring and fall. 30 in winter, with a lot of heat. Newer models (mine is a 2014) get a bit more, older models get a bit less.

    The Volt recharges overnight from a regular 120V outlet, drawing 8 amps. Or you can get a “level 2″ charger if you want to charge faster.

    The back seat of the Volt, however, is not suitable for tall people, over 5’9” or so. I think the back seat of the Leaf has a bit more headroom, but I haven’t tried it.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 20, 2016, 9:15 pm

      I agree Joe – the Volt is a great design too. Probably better if you need a single car to do both extreme commuting and extreme road trips. But I’m finding that it costs more than a used Leaf plus borrowing/renting/owning a second gas car for occasional long trips.

      So which of these luxury toys to choose really depends on one’s lifestyle. But I’m glad both are on the market. Keep ’em coming, GM and Nissan! (The Chevy Bolt looks amazing as well).

      • Ev March 20, 2016, 11:38 pm

        I just switched from a full sized V8 4wd SUV to a VW e-Golf. I am really happy with the car. The torque is great and I’m averaging about a 100 mile range and 4.2 miles per kWh. With the Fed 7,500 credit and CA 2,500 rebate check there are some great deals out there. My lease is 169/ mo but I am saving 200/ mo in gas and 80/ mo in electricity by going to EV rates. Of course I am a high consumer compared to MM but I am taking a step in the right direction. The only issue with a used leaf would be the battery degradation and it falling out of warranty.

        • Ev March 21, 2016, 8:05 am

          • UrbanMoto March 22, 2016, 12:39 pm

            This deal seems amazing. Were I in Colorado I’d be looking to get one of these. A brand new Leaf for the price of a 3 year old, off warranty or nearly so, about to battery-fail used one? It would look great parked next to my new (used) Fit! And since my employer has ‘free’ chargers, my fuel would cost me nothing.

        • Frugal Bazooka March 21, 2016, 11:13 am

          Hi Ev

          I also live in Calif…so you’re saying there’s a 7500 fed tax credit and a 2500$ calif rebate on electric cars? And I thought they ended the fed tax credit for electric cars…

          • EV March 21, 2016, 4:49 pm

            Yes. The 2,500 is a check from the CA Clean Air Rebate. I fronted it for my down on the lease. The 7,500 is passed through to you on the lease price or a tax credit if you buy. My friend just leased a Focus electric for -500 down $1,999 drive off but CA check will cover that, and $166 month with leather and nav delivered to his house. Hard to beat that.

          • EV March 21, 2016, 4:56 pm

            There is also a 30% federal tax credit on the purchase and installation of a ESVE level 2 charger for the garage.

            • Frugal Bazooka March 23, 2016, 1:06 pm

              wow, they’re making it really hard not to do this.
              Wife is looking for an electric car and all tax incentives say do it now.

              thanks for the info!

            • EV March 23, 2016, 2:58 pm

              I’m also Actively getting bids on solar now. Assuming a $.07 or $.08 kWh cost on your solar, you are getting your fuel costs for $.02 per mile fixed for 25 years which is the normal panel production warranty period. Fixed. No inflation on gasoline and all the feel good of less pollution.

      • Julia March 21, 2016, 4:14 pm

        Our family has an e-Golf and a C-Max Energi, which is a plug in hybrid. We are able to keep both cars charged via a single extension cord, no fancy charger needed. Just being able to skip the gas station is a treat. We got 1000 miles on our last tank of gas for the C-Max because it mostly runs on electricity.

        • Julia March 21, 2016, 4:33 pm

          These two cars both work for tall people, unlike the Volt (sadly – a friend has a Volt and he LOVES it).

    • Todd March 21, 2016, 12:15 am

      I have to correct you; the Leaf is a GREAT car just like the Volt. I actually only bought one after seeing an MMM tweet back in Sept about how cheap they were on Craigslist. A few weeks later I sold my fairly new fancypants Mercedes diesel and ended up buying a new Leaf because they were only a couple grand more than used after all incentives. Since I would be using it for some longer trips I thought the better battery from the latest model years would be good. Not to mention Nissan throws in free charging for two years!

      The Volt is a nice concept and great for someone that needs more range. But for commuting it is massive overkill. You end up spending extra money maintaining a complicated machine that has two types of power plants. I bought the Leaf because it is incredibly simple. Almost no moving parts means my maintenance costs will be near zero. Combined with my solar panels that I finished installing last year for about $10k less than the pros and my homemade level 2 EVSE, I have free fuel for life.

    • Huck March 21, 2016, 12:42 pm

      Yeah, but it’s a chevy. So an unrelaible piece of junk. What goes is saving money on gas if you spend it all on repairs? No thanks, I’m sticking to asian cars.

      • Mr. Money Mustache March 21, 2016, 3:25 pm

        Dude, you can’t make that generalization without links to back it up! Holding on to old knowledge and biases works to your disadvantage. GM has moved up to above average in recent years:


        You never truly know about any car’s reliability until you add up the experience on models that have been around 10+ years. However electric cars have proven pretty durable so far, because there are thousands fewer moving parts. Think of a cordless drill: if it works out of the box, it’ll probably just keep working.

  • Edifi March 20, 2016, 9:31 pm

    I can’t wait to read the article where you finally sit down with Billy G! In the meantime, maybe you can grab Jimmy Carter, who may just be the original presidential Mustachian!

  • Elle March 20, 2016, 10:27 pm

    This post makes me happy and inspired.

    First, it made me feel pretty good about some of the things I already do:
    1. I have solar panels on my house
    2. I have lots of plants in my backyard, including one 30+ foot avocado tree that not only provides TONS of delicious, nutritious avocados, but also is great for the environment
    3. Chose a job close to home
    4. Walk to said job. No car necessary!
    5. Buy all clothing (excluding undergarments) secondhand

    I’m not perfect either. I eat meat and I like traveling by plane.

    I know that I can and should be doing more for the environment, and this is a priority for me.

    But I am so happy that I found this blog early enough that it shaped a lot of my consumption habits for the better.

  • dave March 20, 2016, 10:34 pm

    with all the hate about the ICM and cars contributing to global warming why does the airline industry mostly get a free pass? Surely they contribute as much as cars. Are they working on hybrid airplane engines?

    • str8cash32 March 24, 2016, 8:46 am

      Yes just like all industries they are burning far less per person than in past years. The Boeing Dreamliner is a hybrid of sorts, with lots of cool battery technology and they will continue to improve from here. This world isn’t all evil as many people seem to believe, misguided some of the time sure, but even massive oil companies help heat a lot of homes for people of all types of backgrounds. Seems like this post shows that with optimism and a few more Johnny Appleseeds and few less Al Gores we will all be just fine. Thanks for a shot of Optimism MMM:)

  • Adventures with Poopsie March 20, 2016, 11:34 pm

    I usually like all of your posts, but one that quotes Dr. Seuss has to be up there as an all time favourite!

    It was in one of your past articles that I first heard about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I still don’t know a lot about it, but you did prompt me to investigate further and what I found, I really liked. As you admit in one of the replies to a comment here, they’re not perfect but I’m happy to overlook a few small things I may not 100% agree with for what they are trying to do: make the world a better place.

    Surely we can all try to leave this world a little better than we found it. Thanks again for the inspiration MMM!

  • Tom March 20, 2016, 11:42 pm

    LED bulbs at 880 lumens running at 13W for $7.89 each
    LED bulb at 800 lumens running at 8.5W for $2.19 each


    35% less energy, 70% less cost.

    Just swapped my whole apartment out with TCP (Great Value) brand LEDs. Love the warmer color compared to CFL, and the energy savings mean you can’t NOT go LED, now that prices are this low. I even found and replaced 2 incandescent bulbs (closet and refrigerator).

    • Frugal Bazooka March 21, 2016, 11:16 am

      thanks for the tip…just bought a bushel

    • Huck March 21, 2016, 12:48 pm

      To be fair those are not track light bulbs

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 21, 2016, 3:32 pm

      Great find, Tom! I’ll add that Walmart link to the article.

      That type of bulbs is ideal for lamps or traditional fixtures.. but I really prefer these PAR30 directional spotlight bulbs for the recessed ceiling fixtures.

      I figured many people with modern houses would have 10 or more to swap out if they haven’t done so yet (there are 24 recessed lights in my house, 8 in the kitchen alone). With so many running at once, the difference in consumption is huge.

      • Tom March 21, 2016, 6:59 pm

        Very true! For recessed fixtures, or directional floodlights, you will want those slightly more expensive and brighter bulbs.

        I also researched and read around, and it seems that the TCP/Great Value/Walmart brand vs Cree (North Carolina company) vs any other brand is not very relevant. Quality and durability will be very similar, if not exactly equal. Apparently all the LEDs you’ll buy as an American consumer are built in the same few factories in China, many times these different brands are even on separate parts of the same factory floors.

        Some people don’t like Walmart, and I’m sometimes one of them. If you’re feeling anti-Walmart, you can price match Walmart at many stores that you find less ethically objectionable – search “stores that match walmart low prices”.

      • Steve March 22, 2016, 6:13 am

        I think the trend towards newer homes having lots of can lights is very regrettable. My old home has almost no can lights and I think the lighting is much better coming from traditional table lamps, ceiling lights, and whatnot.

        No matter what kind of bulb one puts in a can, the can still throws the light down more or less vertically, requiring a room to have more can lights than it would regular lights which means more NMB cable, light fixtures, and so on is needed.

        Then too, punching holes in ceilings for can lights, while it can (no pun intended) be done somewhat efficiently, generally invites more heat loss into the attic through said ceiling holes than would be the case otherwise, even with the somewhat “sealed” newer can light designs. There is always more heat loss with a ceiling cut up with numbers of can lights, compared to a ceiling that isn’t populated with the things.

        • Mr. Money Mustache March 22, 2016, 10:32 am

          I disagree with this somewhat: directional light is much nicer and more Sun-like. A non-recessed light fixture in the ceiling (unless it’s a track) is REALLY bad light.

          It’s easy to throw in a few wall sconce lights and lamps for when you don’t need that overhead stuff.

          They can however cause leakage if they are poked into the attic. I super-sealed all of mine and did a dense-packed unvented ceiling design (http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2014/05/01/beating-the-stock-market-with-diy-insulation/).

          I think your concern is probably valid because most people don’t get to insulate their own houses.

          You know what would be great, is if every house, new or old, came with a fuel efficiency rating (i.e. the results of those home energy audits you can easily get done these days), and people actually looked at them and cared when buying a house. This falls into the category of “giving a shit” that I am so fond of.

          • scott March 22, 2016, 11:33 am

            Quick question, regarding those LEDs from amazon. Which color would you recommend for a kitchen, bright white, or cool white?

            I am completely ignorant when it comes to lighting but I read that kitchen lights should be in the 3000k – 4000k color range.

            Thanks for the link! I am excited to support the blog and it’s mission.

            • m March 22, 2016, 4:56 pm

              I just switched out a ton of recessed lights in my new apartment with LED. After much research (and a few flops) I found the Color Rendering Index (CRI) to be the important factor when choosing bulbs. A link somewhere on this website let me to investigate the Hyperikon bulb. They are fabulous. The high CRI index really makes colors distinct and accurate. I went with 3000k. They are slightly warm but they still show colors very true and rich so the overall effect does not look yellow or dingy. The slightly warm color suits my home. The 4000k might be a better choice if you know you like cooler light. That is still not a super high k level.

          • Dawn March 28, 2016, 9:38 am

            I live in Slovenia, and they’ve recently started requiring exactly that: an energy audit certificate for each house and condo that goes on the market. “Passive” forms of construction and many other energy-saving features are being encouraged through subsidies and regulations: for example, we received a subsidy for putting in a heat pump water heater, and we’ll be applying for another soon to add insulation to our 1960s-era house.

            • Dom June 25, 2018, 1:06 pm

              Hi Drew. I’m also form Slovenia. I’m a new reader on this blog and I have been wondering if you know any other mustashians here in Slovenia?

  • Alison Van Gorp March 20, 2016, 11:53 pm

    This was a great post. Thanks for speaking up on these issues. If you haven’t already, you should consider divesting your investments from fossil fuels. There are a number of great investment options coming online in this arena and it’s another easy way to put your money where your mouth is. From everything I’ve read, your returns should remain on-par with traditional investments in the near term, and will likely outperform them over time. I’d love to see you venture into making recommendations on how moustachians can divest!


    • Ben Kerr March 24, 2016, 12:27 am

      Alison – Glad to see someone else thinking about divestment when reading this. Thank you and please keep spreading the word! I’ll do the same.

      MMM –
      Greetings from North Carolina! Greenhorn, here, just one week into your blog and thoroughly enjoying it! I was intending to send a private e-mail, but decided to take a stab at my first post. Perhaps other readers will benefit from, and contribute to, any potential public back-and-forth on divestment, particularly as it relates to the Vanguard funds you recommend. Since you take tangible action toward sustainability in your own life and are passionate about awakening folks to the severity of climate change, I want to make sure you’re aware that you are investing in and supporting the fossil fuel industry with some of your main investments (at least as listed on this site). Take VTI and VXUS as quick examples. VTI consists of large holdings in Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Schlumberger, to name a few. VXUS holds a multitude of international oil and gas companies including the well-known Royal Dutch Shell.

      I contend divesting from fossil fuel investments (whether direct or indirect investments – you may have to dig to see how connected you are) is much more imperative and impactful than any number of LED bulb installations or miles of bike riding..etc. you do. I also recognize it can seem much more daunting. Though I have plenty to learn myself, and it may be a challenge to your preferred investment methodology, I would welcome the opportunity to recommend cleaner investments for consideration. [note: If you no longer have these Vanguard funds, please forgive my oversight, as I work to catch up on years of your writing.]

      Lastly, it sounds like you’re ahead of me in living a clean, sustainable life, so please know these words are not coming from atop a soap box / ivory tower.

      All the best to you and your family!

    • Ben March 24, 2016, 4:53 am

      I intended on posing the same question to you, MMM. If corporations are a large driver of climate change, why don’t you speak in a language they understand and invest your dollars only with responsible companies? With the readership of this blog, you have the power to make a case for responsible investing and influence the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars in capital. THAT would send a message!

      Perhaps we could get an article on the relative performance of a “Green” total market index vs. the S&P 500?

      • Sarah Jane March 25, 2016, 8:06 am

        24 page guide on divesting… thank you! Divesting from fossil fuels is one of our three goals this year. In January I liquidated our taxable accounts and we put the cash into paying off our mortgage (goal #2). We will be ready to invest again later this year (goal #3), but I don’t know how! All the personal finance people say “index funds” which is no longer accessible if I’m trying to avoid any of the fossil fuel companies. Going after our taxable accounts was low hanging fruit, but I need to actually learn about these different funds and other options and I need to see what I can do within our IRAs and 401ks to get a little cleaner. I feel like I have no one to guide me in this realm. I wish people like MMM had already gone down this path…

  • Evan March 20, 2016, 11:54 pm

    MMM, good article. Something often lost in these debates is the individual both in terms of what one can do as well as the fact that no one is perfect. I agree with you that we must all take individual responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

    I think an important distinction that you’ve touched on that, perhaps, may be overlooked is that there is a big difference between saying “you’re a bad person” and saying that an action is bad. I agree that finger wagging isn’t the way to go. I do think, however, that we all make judgements on what is ethically right and wrong.

    You might call someone a wasteful, complainypants not in the sense that they are a bad person but rather to draw attention to the fact that they have the opportunity to be more efficient, save more money, and do less harm to the environment.

    We need some yardstick to measure behaviour on. Without that, everything would be “ethical”. You seem to mention your yardstick above as not harming other people, which is probably one of the most cherished moral principals (although I humbly challenge you to consider why sentient being who feel pain, emotions, and have a will to live are not included for moral consideration). You also seems to have a carbon emissions yardstick in play.

    I would say that the vast majority of people get the judgement of themselves vs. the judgement of actions mixed up (I do at times). The discussion of anything ethical in nature makes people immediately feel judged, feel like they must defend or explain their behaviour, regardless of the intent of the other person involved in the conversation.

    Giving a shit starts with a willingness to see the world as it is, see the consequences of action, regardless of how we judge ourselves for knowingly or unknowingly taking those actions. We must separate the judgement of ourselves from the judgement of the actions we take.

    Only from that place can we start to take meaningful action that aligns with the realities in which we live.

    At this point I’m kind of rambling, I know.

    Thank you for mentioning/clarifying your thoughts about veganism. I have been curious of your thoughts on it for a long time, not in the “I’m going to judge you for it” sense but in the sense that you’re an intelligent person who cares about climate change and seems to research topics of interest. I really respect that you have looked at the climate change impacts of animal product consumption and made a decision based on that.

    I like you, and I want you to write blog articles for a long time, so as a side note, you really need to research the impact of eggs on health. A thousand eggs a year isn’t doing your arteries any favours. I’m honestly not trying to push you toward one diet or another, I just want you to make informed decisions. Have a look at nutritionfacts.org for some easy to digest summaries of the impact of eggs on human health.

    • G. Oz March 21, 2016, 1:45 pm

      I’m pretty sure MMM reserves a healthy respect for “all living things” even if he just used the term “people.”

      My only beef (pun intended) is your last paragraph on eggs; such tidbits of information regarding food in general should really be left for others to discover wholly on their own. The website you name strikes me as a very die-hard vegetarian/vegan one, though it is hardly unique in its preaching of what people “should” eat. Scour the web thoroughly enough, and you’ll quickly realize that information/opinions quickly become contradictory, to the point where foods that make perfect sense to consume suddenly have perceived “bad” qualities. I’m not getting into specifics because, like I said, people really need to discover these things for themselves if it’s to get any real traction. MMM strikes me as someone whose done his research, weighed the pros and cons, made an educated decision, and weighed the impact over time to determine if he should maintain it. That’s really all anyone can do…

      I’ll leave with this: Steve Jobs was a vegan, he’s dead. Don Gorske has lived on Big Macs since he could drive, he’s alive and well when common perception of fast food dictates he should have died years ago. I’m not condoning or damning either of their respective diets (ok that’s a lie, STAY AWAY FROM McDs!!), just highlighting the fact everyone’s different. Education is paramount, but what works and doesn’t ultimately comes down to listening to your own body.

      • Evan March 22, 2016, 7:26 pm

        Hi G. Oz,

        Thanks for the reply. I always encourage people to do their own research. Take what nutritionfacts.org or any other source says with scepticism. Read primary sources.

        With that said, food is a very emotional subject and people often seek to confirm their own behaviour rather than seeking the truth of the matter. You could claim that I am doing that by referring to nutritionfacts.org. That’s your call. I can say that I’ve done the research from multiple angles, I’ve read books like The Paleo Diet and others. At the end of the day, my conclusion has been that you have to go back to the primary, peer-reviewed research. There are lots of great sounding theories out there but have they been tested.

        Nutritionfacts.org, in my opinion, is presenting peer-reviewed research in a way that helps the public understand what the research is saying. If you have a comparable sources that presents peer-reviewed findings that would expand my understanding of nutrition, please share them.

        I disagree that NF is preachy as well. It appears to be backed by the science. You can, at least make a choice based on research rather than opinion. I find it far more preachy when I’m told to do something because it’s “primal” or “natural” or “the way we were meant to eat”.

        I agree that there is a lot of contradictory information out there on nutrition. I disagree with you that conclusions cannot be found about nutritional information. I think similar to you, I would encourage people to continue researching and I think certain patterns will come into focus.

        I also don’t agree that we should rely on anecdotes while making health decisions. I completely agree that people should listen to their bodies, but I don’t think that means ignoring research or avoiding experimentation. On a population scale, the research is immensely important. You could get unlucky, that is life but I want to give myself the best odds possible.

    • Julia March 21, 2016, 4:19 pm

      Eggs are a very good food. They do not clog your arteries, that is so 20th century!!

      I’ve kept hens in my backyard for almost twenty years, and I eat a LOT of eggs. I have a family history of heart disease. My cholesterol levels are below average and I’m in excellent health.

  • Tom March 21, 2016, 12:04 am

    I’m all for reducing carbon emissions.

    But two things seem implausible in this article.

    1. Treehugger.com’s idea of food’s carbon emissivity. Really doubt some random blog from 2011 has the right answers on this issue, conveniently displayed in a shitty infographic. For how emissive various foods are, I would trust a source like NASA, or at least a paper published in more than 1 respected journal.
    2. Some website can and will actually offset the harm from taking long international flights for a few dollars. One thing I know that makes this even more dubious is that trees are on their own carbon cycle, and it has very little impact on the larger planetary carbon cycle whether humans plant or burn trees. For thousands, and likely millions of years, there has always been roughly the same amount of trees alive, dead, rotting, and recently burned. So the living tree carbon cycle is its own thing, and it doesn’t significantly affect the planetary carbon cycle, and therefore climate change. The idea that you can plant a tree to offset the oil burned in a trans-continental flight is preposterous. By all means, plant trees. But you should NOT have a clean conscience about flying around the world just because you planted a tree. An analogy is the idiots who think they “earn” donuts or other sugary treats by doing a workout. No. Mustachianism is about becoming stronger as a person and ending the sugar addiction. In the same way, Mustachianism is about becoming stronger as people and ending the fossil fuel addiction. Build a healthy lifestyle with good habits in diet and exercise. Similarly, build a healthy culture with solar energy instead of fossil fuels.

    • Tyler March 21, 2016, 6:35 am

      I agree, thus I was a bit shocked when the tail end of this article suggested to “offset” instead of just hankering down and advocating becoming more badass. The author is obviously only willing to go “so far”, so why should others?

    • Heather M March 21, 2016, 8:12 am

      Awesome reply! This points out that it is easy to get lost in the details and miss the big picture. Like others have said above, trees have their own Carbon cycle and do not take it away and lock it up. When they rot at least some ends up back in the atmosphere…some ends up buried turning into oil and gas millions of years from now.

    • Huck March 21, 2016, 12:47 pm

      I thought it was found that several of those carbon offset schemes where borderline (or outright) frauds? And I’ve always been highly skeptical of their actual effect, it seems pretty dumb. A way for rich people to buy a clean conscience, or environmental atonement.

    • Julia March 21, 2016, 4:39 pm

      I disagree on trees. There are a lot fewer trees on the planet now than there used to be. Humans are pretty awesome at destroying forests. Does the phrase “Cedars of Lebanon” ring a bell? Yeah, that dusty little desert country used to have towering cedars that were world famous. Most of the middle east used to be wetter.

      Desertification is a thing.

      Luckily, it is a thing we can reverse. We need more people to be taking on this work, but I’ve seen amazing things happen. A permaculturist I respect has said:

      “We need to stop worrying so much about our footprint and starting working on our handprint.”

      Meaning: let’s start doing the things that bring more life to the surface of our planet.

      • SMG March 21, 2016, 5:57 pm

        @ Julia and Tom – I am a sustainability consultant and I agree with you both… planting trees isn’t enough. I recently met with a restorative ecologist and where I live, trees are actually worse for the local watershed and ecosystem. I also agree with Julia that we are cutting down too many trees in general, and yes, desertification is real, but we need to stop using old growth trees. Planting new trees is just not feasible for carbon sequestration given how long they take to mature. Additionally, if they don’t support the local ecosystem, then we end up with greater problems. We need to reduce our use of resources first and think in terms of systems and life cycle, not just carbon.

        • Tom March 21, 2016, 7:11 pm

          YES! Everyone should read SMG’s comment above! It comes from a very different viewpoint and set of experiences than I do, but this person clearly knows what they’re talking about.

      • Tom March 21, 2016, 7:02 pm

        The wonderful thing about objective reality is that it’s not opinion-based.

        You “disagree on trees”? Lovely.

        Show us how many trees are on the planet now, vs whatever time “used to be” refers to?

        If you’re not gonna bring evidence, your opinions are worse than worthless: they’re willfully ignorant.

        • Julia March 25, 2016, 2:34 pm

          Dude, the middle east used to be forested. You want a photograph of this?

          Sorry, can’t help you.

          Here, some video evidence of deforestation and subsequent reforestation, this time in China: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/green-gold/

          • lurker March 26, 2016, 4:07 pm

            and trees are awesome!!!!! I love them…..even if I did not think they can save the world I would want to plant more of them…….they rock as living things go……really gorgeous.

          • Tom March 27, 2016, 9:35 pm

            No I don’t want “a photograph”. That doesn’t prove jack shit.

            Show estimated counts of trees from different years.

            Data, not anecdotes.

            I’m not saying there aren’t less trees today than some other time. I’m saying we must assume there are roughly the same amount of trees as always unless/until someone shows us evidence that the total amount of trees is changing significantly over time.

            You made a bold claim. “There are a lot fewer trees on the planet now than there used to be.” Such a bold claim requires quality evidence to be believed. A single photograph will not suffice. Anecdotes of specific regions of the planet losing trees will also not suffice. You need to bring data that supports your claim that there are less total trees on the planet than there used to be. You are still WILLFULLY ignorant in this matter.

            Therefore, nobody should believe your claim until you present some evidence to support it!

            And, more importantly, YOU shouldn’t make up your mind about this until AFTER you look at evidence and weigh it carefully. You’ve decided in advance that # of trees in 2016 is <<< # of trees in some other year. A rational skeptic makes no opinion/belief about the # of trees in 2016 vs the # of trees in some other year until AFTER they look at evidence.

            I am a rational skeptic. Please either bring some evidence or stop making bold assertions.

      • Steve March 22, 2016, 6:16 am

        One problem with counting on trees to ameliorate one’s airliner pollution is that the trees will take decades to pull the CO2 out of the air, while the jet puts the CO2 in the air *now* and that’s no small problem given how quickly higher CO2 effects are now being seen.

    • medusa March 23, 2016, 2:57 pm

      Well, you asked for it:


      This one may require subscription, but there you go:


      Literally took me fewer seconds to find this compared to the time it possibly took you to type out that comment.

  • Mike March 21, 2016, 4:43 am

    Hi MMM,

    I recently saw a documentary about the fact that solar power has reached it’s tipping point. Electrical energy was created from a 200 MW solar plant and sold for a price per kilowatt which was lower than electical energy from gas.

    This means that clean energy is no longer viewed as belonging to the domain of tree hugging hippies, but instead in the domain of smart predictable investment opportunities (which it has been!) that our ‘business as usual’ financial market can work with. Tax cuts and other government incentives are then no longer needed.

    Another interesting piece was that China decided to use emission heavy industries to produce a lot of wealth which in turn is used to mass produce clean energy (solar) sources in order to drive down production cost and by doing so make it cost effective to move away from emission heavy industries on a large scale. (and dominate the clean energy sector).

    the documentary is in dutch, but most interviews are in english so you’ll get the gist of it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iC0fokt5Nfo

  • Dave March 21, 2016, 5:26 am

    Great article! I think the chart would be a lot more informative if it used kg of CO2 per calorie of food rather than kg of CO2 per kg of food. Peanuts and lamb have a lot more calories per kg than lentils for example.

  • KMB March 21, 2016, 6:27 am

    What good does sequestering carbon – for a lifetime or 100 years do? Eventually those trees release all that carbon right back into the atmosphere, correct? If we aren’t putting it back into the ground permanently it doesn’t seem like these offsets are anything more than window dressing.

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 9:09 am

      That’s correct, sequestering carbon in trees does NO GOOD as I wrote about in my comment above.

      It is actually FAR WORSE than window dressing, because it makes smug asshats feel better about things that are really harmful, like flying to Ecuador.

      What can individuals do to emit less and therefore do less to push our great-grandchildren’s Earth toward hellish catastrophe?

      1. Fly less
      2. Drive less by fossil fuels
      3. Buy less shit

      What do the alternatives look like today?
      1. Invent electric airplanes or use Skype and stop flying places, or travel slowly in Nissan Leafs and electric trains.
      2. Bike, walk, electric public trans, Nissan Leafs
      3. Buy fewer, higher-quality things with longer service lifetimes (LEDs are a great example!), or flat-out non-consumption

      Nothing else is even worth mentioning. Replacing some calories of meat with veggies is a rounding error on an American lifestyle’s emmissions. Total meat ag emmissivity is estimated at 3% of C02-equivalent emissions worldwide, and that’s even considering that methane is something like 4x more greenhouse-y than C02. (Source: American Chemical Society) Each US-Ecuador flight is roughly one year’s worth of emissivity. There is NOTHING you can do that “offsets” this. It’s a giant shit you’re taking on the Earth your future descendants will inherit, and we rich people are doing it alarmingly often. Like MMM, I also fly internationally a lot. And just as he writes in this article, I’m not trying to judge him, I’m trying to make him judge himself! MMM should NOT feel good about flying to Ecuador just because he pays someone $5 to plant trees. C02 doesn’t work that way.

      • Jeremy March 21, 2016, 11:32 pm

        Thank you for posting this. MMM says his trip to Ecuador is okay because it makes him really really happy, but then shits on everyone who does other things that are bad to the environment that make them happy.

        If driving a truck makes someone happy, how is that any different than your trip to Ecuador? And yes, Carbon offsets are much more about making people feel better about themselves so they can get back to bashing others, not about doing good for the environment.

        • lurker March 26, 2016, 3:44 pm

          hi jeremy it is his blog. not yours…..he can say what he wants….you can always go elsewhere, preferably on a bike….

    • Julia March 21, 2016, 4:23 pm

      The truly great thing to do is to increase the carbon content of soil. Soil with more organic matter grows more plants, which capture more carbon and improve the soil even more (assuming the soil isn’t plowed, allowing all that great soil to wash away when it rains).

      If we were to improve the tilth of damaged soils all over the world, we could create beautiful places while also sequestering all of the carbon released in the past hundred years. Check out “Greening the Desert” with Geoff Lawton or John Liu’s video about the Loess Plateau in China.

      • Tom March 21, 2016, 7:09 pm

        Yes! There are so many projects people are working on this space, it’s very exciting. From the simplest, oldest techniques to really imaginative and complex technological solutions.

        I even remember seeing an idea where you could basically “zap” carbon out of the air and into the soil with electric power and some special catalysts, and a contraption that looked like an antennae with tree branches.

        • Julia March 25, 2016, 2:46 pm

          Uh huh. Right.

          How about we go with photosynthesis? It’s a proven system, works everywhere there is sunlight.

          Here’s a cool 12 minute video about ranchers in Canada, North Dakota and Mississippi who are sequestering carbon in their soils using cattle. They are spending less, making more, and have more free time.


          • lurker March 26, 2016, 4:09 pm

            bring back the bison in massive herds if you ask me….delicious and seem to help the carbon problem when moved around correctly.

      • lurker March 26, 2016, 3:46 pm

        Geoff Lawton is incredible. all vide0s worth viewing…..permaculture baby!!!!!

  • Tyler March 21, 2016, 6:29 am

    Do as I say, not as I do?

    Basically what you said is as long as you enjoy doing something, you shouldn’t stop doing it. What about all the people where driving an SUV genuinely makes them happy? Or someone who travels constantly, racking thousands of air miles monthly? Just because you can’t understand why they enjoy it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to them. Happiness, unfortunately for this article, is pretty binary. You’re either happy doing something or you’re not. I, like you, value a varied meat-based diet and I doubt I’ll ever give it up. There are probably other things I value that emit more carbon than you that I will never give up. And vice-versa.

    The two root problems stopping anyone from actually giving a shit about their carbon output is (a) capitalism, and (b) psychology. It just so happens that the two are highly correlated: think status anxiety. People will do whatever they can to get to the top – and will do even more to stay there. This blog is the epitome of capitalism since its for-profit, and the rationalization for offsetting your carbon output is backed by a capitalist mentality. The mentality of justifying the donation to CarbonFund with the proceeds from this blog post illustrates exactly why a capitalist society will never care too much about the environment in any meaningful way.

  • Billy March 21, 2016, 6:46 am

    The Gates Foundation, as you alluded to, are more concerned with less “world suck” as they are with environmental issues. I don’t think they’re an appropriate comparison for making the environment better since their focus lies on improving the poorest countries. If anything, making these improvements takes an incredible amount of resources which no doubt produces an incredible amount of carbon. Their cause is a great one, but it’s not necessarily environmentally friendly.

  • kruidigmeisje March 21, 2016, 6:51 am

    That is the way to go, indeed. Quick question on the electric cars: the environmental impact of those is CO2wise a lot less (hooray), but the metals are nasty bits, environmentally speaking,meaning ions and metals that do not degrade. And they are not recycled, but just tossed in all countries (even here in NL where we recycle a lot already). That is a detail that pains me still. Does anybody know of ideas or projects or companies that are active to fix this?

  • Teresa March 21, 2016, 6:51 am

    Wow, for a guy who likes to call people complainy pants and mock their clown cars, he is the biggest wimp of all for not choosing the most effective way to reduce their carbon footprint…..go vegan!!! But I guess you’re not such a badass after all if you don’t have the fortitude to give up animal products. Until you’re a vegan, don’t even bother trying to school anyone on reducing their carbon footprint, because no prius in the world can reduce a person’s carbon footprint as much as eliminating animal products from your diet. Local, organic, pasture fed or whatever, are not sustainable for the entire planet. Going vegan is the most effective method and it’s not even close. There is no such thing as a meat eating environmentalist. And on top of the benefits to the environment, vegans are healthier which would save money on the cost of healthcare. Double whammy mustache right there buddy.

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 21, 2016, 9:55 am

      I appreciate the challenge Teresa, but from what I can tell, meat eating is only a medium – sized portion of an American carbon footprint. Especially if you minimize beef (I do this, at least). Air travel, car use and electricity/heat for buildings are much bigger.

      Ethically however I agree with you: depending on how much you value the rights of other semi-intelligent living things, eating them feels pretty cruel. Stay tuned for my article on farming and eating crickets!

      • Teresa March 21, 2016, 11:18 am

        You’re a good guy MMM, I’m glad you saw my comments as good natured rather than attacking. I realize it’s tough to give up meat, but there is so much evidence that it would benefit your health and the environment to do so. There is a lot of evidence pointing to meat consumption and environmental degradation, I think you’d really enjoy Cowspiracy, it is a really good documentary to watch. I’m so glad you’re considering insects as a source of proteing because the carbon footprint there is much lower than for cows, chickens and pigs, not to mention much less cruel! And one of the biggest insect farms in North America is Canadian!!
        Keep up the great work, you are an inspiration to many :)

      • Keith Schroeder March 21, 2016, 1:36 pm

        Hey, I have a farm and I’ve been know to roast a cricket or grasshopper over the fire pit. Once you get past the idea you are eating a grasshopper they are rather delicious, especially with salt. Did I mention I live in the boondocks? Hit a deer a couple of years back; ate that too.

        FYI: Grasshoppers are good to eat whole, but crickets are kind of like eating sunflower seeds, shell and all, IMHO.

      • SMG March 21, 2016, 5:42 pm

        Hi MMM & Teresa – I am a professional sustainability consultant and the environmental issues are so much more complex than most people realize. I was also I was a vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) for over a decade for environmental and ethical reasons. I starting eating meat at the recommendation of my doctor and I have way more energy plus my bloodwork improved and I lost weight. I am also a certified Primal Blueprint Expert and the science is pretty clear that eating animal products on a Paleo type diet is quite healthy. If you are going to eat vegan, I at least suggest reading Eat to Live by Dr. Fuhrman, which is more of a paleo-style vegan diet. We can put a man on the moon, but I don’t think the medical community will ever know or agree on the exact healthy diet in our lifetime!

        Additionally, people can trade internet articles all they want, but there is also a big difference between sustainably raised cattle and factory farming any animal. I suggest reading parts 2 & 3 in Omnivore’s Dilemma to get an idea of what ‘systems thinking’ is about. Sustainable animal farming is very healthy for humans and the environment, much more so than organic monoculture vegetable farming. I also suggest “The Vegetarian Myth” written by a long term vegan turned paleo due to health problems. Another good one is “Defending Beef”, written by a vegan, environmental lawyer turned sustainable cattle rancher.

        Additionally, monoculture farming, even big organic, is terrible for the environment. It is killing off the pollinators and changes the ecosystem substantially. Rice farming is just as bad as cattle because it emits methane which is several times more impactful to climate change. Not to mention that rice farming is incredibly water intensive. Bananas are also a food to avoid if you want to eat in a socially and environmentally conscious manner. Then we could talk about coffee and all the processed vegan junk foods which are terrible for the environment.

        Also, driving any vehicle is environmentally destructive, despite the gas mileage. It is the building of roads that is the worst… i.e. sprawl, breaking up ecosystems and habitats, storm water runoff that pollutes drinking water, urban heat island effect, etc. There’s that systems thinking again. If anyone loves animals, the most humane thing they can do is to stop driving and live in walkable areas.

        The real problem with the environment, whether it is cars, houses, monoculture vegan diets or meat, is overpopulation. Thom Hartman suggests that the earth can only really handle about 500M people. That is a huge jump.

        And, I think that people who can adjust their consumption to retire early or work part time are much more environmentally friendly than the mass population. This point is brought up in Annie Leonard’s book “The Story of Stuff” and also from Colin Beavan in “No Impact Man”.

        Unfortunately, we really can’t reduce our footprint to zero, so like MMM says, choose those things that bring immense value, whether it is food for energy or trips for vitality.

        • Joe March 22, 2016, 1:18 pm

          This was my favorite comment. Mostly because it suggested great new reading material! I can’t wait to learn more about this issue. Thanks a lot!

      • Chris March 29, 2016, 6:56 am

        Doesn’t this response fly in the face of everything you’ve previously said.

        “Only a MEDIUM-SIZED contribution.”

        Your blog is filled with rants on doing your own shit even if it only saves you $10 a month. Switching from Verizon to an MVNO only saves you around $500 a year. This is only 0.5% of a six-figure income, yet you proudly advertise for Republic Wireless (which I use).

        What gives?

        That said. Diet is very tricky. I read where you said you tried veganism, but it didn’t work for you. I’ve had the same experience. I first tried it and felt great for about two months, but then found myself skipping meals when nothing was available, losing weight (and hair), and feeling fatigued. It takes a lot of planning and habit changing. For the past several months I have been eating about 1 to 2 servings of meat a week. I do a much better job of planning meals and snacks, and now these have just become habits.

        Keep trying. I think you’ll be rewarded.

        Veganism is more than a millenial trend. (I’m 39 btw). There’s plenty of data supporting a plant based whole foods diet.

        Try http://www.nutritionfacts.org. It is the best resource I have found for actual dietary science on the web.

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 10:41 am

      The content in Teresa’s comment is false.

      In terms of emissivity, it’s 9% for all agriculture, animal and plant, in the US

      A guy from the American Chemical Society estimates animal ag at 3% of world equivalent C02 emissions (most of animal ag’s contribution is CH4, which is much more potent than C02). Choosing to eat meat is barely a rounding error in terms of environmental harm.

      If you want to make a difference, as a rich country resident, you need to, in order:
      1. fly less
      2. drive less, by walking, biking, or taking public transit
      3. buy less shit


      This nytimes article clearly supports the truth I lay out above, which is that a single long flight is often equal in emissivity to the rest of a person’s entire lifestyle for an entire year. Yes, it also mentions eating less beef, but if you look at facts, you will see that [eating meat] vs [replacing those meat calories with vegetable calories] is at best a rounding error on a lifestyle’s carbon impact.

      Stop spreading disinformation about meat. It’s healthy and tasty and not worth discussing in the conversation, “what should we do about global warming?”

      Your comment on this blog is more harmful, in terms of emissions, than eating a hamburger vs an eggplant.

      Your comment uses some fossil-fuel generated electricity, will be hosted forever on MMM’s servers, and is made possible by the multi-trillion-dollar communications network called the Internet, which spews carbon, terraforms land, and destroys and divides habitats. You made the comment from a device that uses rare metals mined from all around the world, and components manufactured mostly in Asia.

      “There is no such thing as a meat eating environmentalist.” can be rewritten:
      “There is no such thing as an internet-using environmentalist.”

      because the internet is an environment-destroying machine. It just happens to be worth the destruction it causes, and it should become less environmentally destructive as we shift toward large-scale solar energy production.

      A hamburger does very similar harm by a fraction of one cow’s methane-emissive life plus fossil fuels to transport that delicious meat to the grocery or restaurant.

      The important issue is everyone finds the harm from flying and driving and using the internet socially acceptable. If we want to fix this problem, we need to make flying and driving socially unacceptable, or invent electric airplanes. We do NOT need to make eating meat socially unacceptable, because it won’t help significantly.

      Priority #1 is change grid energy production from fossil fuels to solar.
      Priority #2 is change petroleum-driven transportation to electric.

      Things like veganism are not even worth mentioning in the same breath, because they don’t have significant impact on the environment, and there isn’t quality evidence to suggest better health outcomes by avoiding animal products. There is however tremendous evidence suggesting better health outcomes by choosing fats (sourced mainly from animal products) and avoiding carbohydrates.

      • Chris March 21, 2016, 11:17 am

        OK, Tom, but globally, the picture looks to be different.
        Animal agriculture accounts for 18% (as compared with all transportation which is 14%)
        https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html. In fact, it could even be more: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/study-claims-meat-creates-half-of-all-greenhouse-gases-1812909.html

        Finally, MMM, I’m a little surprised by your response to Teresa. I mean, a daily Starbucks habit probably isn’t even a “medium sized portion” of your average Consumer Sucka’s financial footprint, but that’s no reason to give it a pass, is it? So if we’re going to give meat eating a pass, while acknowledging the truth about its inefficiencies and environmental costs (to say nothing of its other ethical aspects), then we need to be open and honest and about our reasons for doing so. As you can imagine, I look forward to your farming article!

      • Teresa March 21, 2016, 11:32 am

        The Stanford Environmental law journal stated the issues best:
        In addition to emissions, there is the issue of water usage. Since you like using the NYtimes as an information source:

        • G. Oz March 21, 2016, 2:32 pm

          You found vegan-ism and it worked for you, and now like a religious zealot you wish to spread the goodness and anyone who doesn’t see the sense is either hopelessly ignorant or too stubborn to accept it. I truly am happy for you, and anyone who “gives a shit” should be too.

          With that said, be logical: people need to crawl before they walk. Instead of trying to convince people to give up meat, try starting with Fast Food and the myriad negative impacts it has from source to table. Most people in this community likely maintain solid nutritional intake of wholesome foods and are already many steps ahead of your average consumer (35% adult obesity rate anyone?). There are studies out the yin yang pointing to almost any conclusion you choose to advocate; believing you happened upon the one true beacon of light is naive.

          I’ll provide one example: the “Okinawa diet,” how can you go wrong, the people are living proof right? WRONG!!… forget all the nutritional macro/micro mumbo jumbo, the first mistake is dissecting their diet when in fact it’s their entire lifestyle that makes those lifespans possible.

        • medusa March 23, 2016, 3:14 pm

          Your ACS guy is Frank Mitloehner, and he receives grant funding from the National Pork Board and Ely Lilly Elanco, a company that stands to benefit by increased animal meat consumption.

          Any other articles you’ve got there?

          • medusa March 23, 2016, 3:15 pm

            And to clarify, I am not a vegan, just someone who has a fine nose for bullshit.

          • Boris March 25, 2016, 12:56 pm

            Mitloehner seems to be an industry lackey who can hardly be taken seriously. With the zeal that Tom’s comments are dropping with it makes me wonder if he is Frank Mitloehner himself.


          • Tom March 27, 2016, 9:55 pm

            Here’s an analysis of his funding. Yes, about 5% is from animal ag-biased sources.


            How about we take the numbers from the obviously-biased-against-meat EWG, the group behind the shitty infographic in the MMM article.

            Now, combine them with the stats about how much beef and poultry Americans eat from this WSJ article:

            Calculate for yourself:

            Americans eat 75 lbs of beef and 55lbs of poultry per year. That’s 34kg of beef and 25 kg of poultry.

            The EWG tells us beef emits 27 kg of CO2 (equivalent) and 6.9kg of CO2 (equivalent) for chicken. That means the average American is pumping 1090 lbs of CO2 *equivalent* by eating meat.

            So 1/2 ton of CO2 EQUIVALENT. That’s <1/40 (2.5%) of the American average of 20 metric tons annually, and, if you substitute that meat for, say, rice, calorie for calorie, you're only going to shave a fraction of the CO2 equivalent emissions off.

            So, let's say we wave a magic wand, and everyone in America immediately swaps all dietary meat for vegetables. Maybe we get a 1-2% improvement?

            Recall that beef is primarily so high in CO2 equivalence because of CH4, which is many times more potent than CO2.

            Now can you see why 3% is a reasonable estimate? See why 14.5% or any estimate that puts meat's contribution higher than that of all global transport combined is ridiculous?
            Source for 20 metric tons average annual CO2 footprint: calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?tab=8

      • Zac March 21, 2016, 12:50 pm


        I’ve read many of your comments over the past two articles and all I have to say is:

        Thank you.

        have a great day, sir

        • G. Oz March 21, 2016, 2:09 pm

          I second this.

  • Stuart March 21, 2016, 7:15 am

    Great post MMM,

    Nothing makes complainers look like bigger twerps than someone just going and doing the thing they were complaining about.

    The Trees Ontario program is fantastic. I work to help farmers improve habitat on their land in Ontario. One farmer recently wanted to plant a couple acres with trees, but after I showed him what it would cost using the Tree’s Ontario subsidy, he decided he wanted to plant everything. 30+ acres!

  • Blake March 21, 2016, 7:41 am

    Where can you buy solar panels that cheap? I’ve been under the impression they were 10 times that much so I’ve sat around waiting on the likes of Solar City to come in and make panels a commodity. Does anyone have any links?

  • Chris March 21, 2016, 7:50 am

    MMM, I’m a long time reader and thrilled to see these last two posts and the response they’ve garnered. I was hoping you would consider possibility of delving a little deeper into two of the ideas that have received a passing mention either in the posts themselves or in the comments/your twitter feed. (1) The idea that you are not/stopped being political. (2) Veganism/vegetarianism. With respect to the first, I wonder what exactly you mean by this (if indeed you meant it at all, and I simply missed some sarcasm). On the one hand, you seem to have a well developed sense of the direction you think society should move in, and you have no problem proselytizing (if I can use that word). Some might call that political. On the other hand, it strikes me as at best a shame and at worst a travesty that someone with your communication skills and control over your time would not choose to actively engage in the political system, for all its faults. I understand that you are engaged in other ways, but I’m curious what your reasons are for not using at least some of your freedom and talent in this direction–indeed, to be (apparently) actively against such participation. With respect to (2), this is a bit of a bugbear of mine, and I certainly don’t want to come off as judgemental, (returning the favour, as it were). A vegan diet combines at least three things that should, on the surface, be extremely appealing to someone of your stated philosophy. (a) It’s vastly more efficient than eating meat. The plant based calories, water, etc required to feed a cow could feed more humans than the cow itself. (b) It’s environmentally more sustainable. I’m sure you’ve heard that factory farming and its related elements account for something like 20% of current CO2 emissions. (More than all the clown cars, I believe.) And (c) it’s often less expensive to live on a plant based diet. Admittedly, this last one is not a hard and fast rule. But the first two seem undeniable. And yet the only reason that I could find for why you personally do not adopt such a diet is your feelings about what works for you. Far be it for me to tell you what works for you. However, and I don’t know for how long you actually tried plant based eating, but considering the effort you put into your other efficiencies, I’d be truly shocked that if you’d put the same level of experimentation and research into it you wouldn’t have found a ‘solution’ that worked for you. (If there’s a story there, perhaps that could be a future post?) Now, there are other reasons I think we should all be moving towards plant based diets, but these are beside the point I want to make here. Just as you might feel about someone complaining about having no money to pay down their debt while they truck off to the mall in their SUV to buy the latest watchamathingy, so I feel when I get lessons in efficiency from someone chowing down on a beef burger or chicken wrap. (Silicon valley types and, with respect, engineers of all stripes, are often the worst offenders here.) I feel more comfortable with the thermostat set to 72 when it’s 80 degrees outside. But we agree it is not sufficiently more comfortable to justify it given the cost. I love the taste of roast lamb as much as the next carnivore, but surely only a complaineypants would use this as a reason not to give it up in the face of all the other reasons to do so. (I love the taste of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, too; but I’d rather ‘stash my cash.) Since you are clearly not a complaineypants, I wonder if there is some part of the equation that I’m missing.
    Thanks for all the great work.

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 11:12 am

      ” (b) It’s environmentally more sustainable. I’m sure you’ve heard that factory farming and its related elements account for something like 20% of current CO2 emissions. (More than all the clown cars, I believe.)”


      There was an FAO report that estimated animal ag at 18% of CO2-equivalent emissions, but it was totally flawed, and even the FAO revised it down substantially.

      If you want to make a difference, as a rich country resident, you need to, in order:
      1. fly less
      2. drive less, by walking, biking, or taking public transit
      3. buy less shit


      This nytimes article clearly supports the truth I lay out above, which is that a single long flight is often equal in emissivity to the rest of a person’s entire lifestyle for an entire year. Yes, it also mentions eating less beef, but if you look at facts, you will see that [eating meat] vs [replacing those meat calories with vegetables] is at best a rounding error on a lifestyle’s carbon impact.

      Stop spreading disinformation about meat. It’s healthy and tasty and not worth discussing in the conversation, “what should we do about global warming?”

      Your comment on this blog is more harmful, in terms of emissions, than eating a hamburger vs an eggplant.

      Your comment uses some fossil-fuel generated electricity, will be hosted forever on MMM’s servers, and is made possible by the multi-trillion-dollar communications network called the Internet, which spews carbon, terraforms land, and destroys and divides habitats. You made the comment from a device that uses rare metals mined from all around the world, and components manufactured mostly in Asia.

      A hamburger does very similar harm by a fraction of one cow’s methane-emissive life plus fossil fuels to transport that delicious meat to the grocery or restaurant.

      The important issue is everyone finds these harms socially acceptable. If we want to fix this problem, we need to make flying and driving socially unacceptable, or invent electric airplanes.

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 11:15 am

      CO2 equivalent emissions from all agriculture, animal and plant, are 9% of the total in the US

      A guy from the American Chemical Society estimates animal ag at 3% of world equivalent C02 emissions (most of animal ag’s contribution is CH4, which is much more potent than C02)

      • Chris March 21, 2016, 11:20 am

        Sorry, Tom, I saw your reply to Teresa before I saw this. Please refer to my reply there. Can you please link to where the FAO reduced its estimates?

        • Tom March 21, 2016, 3:23 pm

          • Huck March 22, 2016, 7:36 am

            The revised number is 14.5%, which is still pretty high. I don’t know whether to believe that or the 3% number.

            From a link here I got curious about insect as a protein sources and found a Canadian farm the sells it. But at $40/lb! No thanks

          • CV March 22, 2016, 7:45 am

            Didn’t they only revise those numbers down to 14.5%? In that link they explain that this is still higher than the transportation portion. I see that the ACS report shows a different estimate. I think its important to keep in context that these are all ESTIMATES for something that is difficult to measure.

            • Boris March 25, 2016, 6:54 pm

              I don’t know which figures to believe but the ACS report showing 3% was funded by the meat industry so I question their credibility… The United Nations showed a figure of 51% on one of their reports. Unfortunately the meat industry has become very good at buying scientists and distorting the truth, we may never know the true impact of animal agriculture on our planet.

            • Tom March 27, 2016, 9:58 pm

              Here’s an analysis of Frank’s funding. Yes, about 5% is from animal ag-biased sources.


              How about we take the numbers from the obviously-biased-against-meat EWG, the group behind the shitty infographic in the MMM article.

              Now, combine them with the stats about how much beef and poultry Americans eat from this WSJ article:

              Calculate for yourself:

              Americans eat 75 lbs of beef and 55lbs of poultry per year. That’s 34kg of beef and 25 kg of poultry.

              The EWG tells us beef emits 27 kg of CO2 (equivalent) and 6.9kg of CO2 (equivalent) for chicken. That means the average American is pumping 1090 lbs of CO2 *equivalent* by eating meat.

              So 1/2 ton of CO2 EQUIVALENT. That’s <1/40 (2.5%) of the American average of 20 metric tons annually, and, if you substitute that meat for, say, rice, calorie for calorie, you're only going to shave a fraction of the CO2 equivalent emissions off.

              So, let's say we wave a magic wand, and everyone in America immediately swaps all dietary meat for vegetables. Maybe we get a 1-2% improvement?

              Recall that beef is primarily so high in CO2 equivalence because of CH4, which is many times more potent than CO2.

              Now can you see why 3% is a reasonable estimate? See why 14.5% or any estimate that puts meat's contribution higher than that of all global transport combined is ridiculous?
              Source for 20 metric tons average annual CO2 footprint: calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?tab=8

              We won't know the EXACT impact of animal ag, but we can get a lot closer to estimating the relative effects of animal ag than the FAO estimates.

  • Leah March 21, 2016, 7:58 am

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post Mr. MM! While I agree with your overall premise that we should all strive to reduce our carbon footprint, I urge you to dig more deeply into the assertion that a vegan or vegetarian diet leaves a smaller footprint. Now if you are comparing organically grown corn or soybeans that you purchased from a local farmer to the feedlot-raised beef shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to your local McDonalds, then I would vote for the grains. However, the issue is a lot more complex than that.
    First, anyone who has ever tried to grow anything knows that you need something for fertilizer. If this is not animal manure or fish meal, you need agricultural chemicals, which require massive amounts of petroleum and fossil fuels to manufacture. Second, row-crop tillage, as practiced to grow grains (soy, wheat, corn,) releases massive amounts of organic matter into the atmosphere, promotes erosion of soil, reduces the ability of the soil to hold moisture and destroys habitats of many wild animals. In contrast, regenerative agriculture techniques manage livestock to rebuild soil. Check out the work of the Savory Institute. Here is a link to a paper on their website describing the impact of rotational grazing on climate change with some cool before and after pictures showing restoration of desert to grasslands. http://savory.global/assets/docs/evidence-papers/2015-climate-a-restoration-story.pdf I also recommend Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin, The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Ceruli, and Cows Save the Planet by Judith Schwartz for more exploration of this subject.

    • Melanie March 22, 2016, 9:37 am

      Fervently seconded!! After cringing at the Treehugger graphic I came here to the comments to mention that the true costs of agriculture are widely and wildly misunderstood. I planned to offer the Savory Institute as a good place to start. I did a comments search before diving in with my own; because MMM readers are, I thought, much more likely than the average to understand the true, hidden, grossly misunderstood costs of agricultural production.

      Not disappointed :)

      Yes, CAFO is horrid environmentally (and ethically). Dig a little deeper, and look at even just one or two big picture results of Big, vegan Ag — e.g., look at the species death and habitat destruction resulting from irrigation — and discover that it causes severe environmental degradation — *more* degradation than small, well-managed, land-appropriate animal husbandry.

      • Evan March 22, 2016, 6:56 pm

        So the worst plant farming operations are worse than the best animal farming operations? Aren’t the worst plant farming operations mainly used to feed animals (GMO mono-crops)?

        So what you’re really saying is that factory farming of meat is the problem (both from the animal side and the feed growing side). Given that the vast majority of meat is factory farmed, doesn’t it follow that step one would be to eliminate the consumption of that?

        Wouldn’t it be more effective to advocate for that, rather than talk about how a tiny percentage of farmers are using novel farming techniques, particularly if you want people to take action immediately. Anyone can stop eating factory farmed meat today whereas shifting the agricultural system to a more sustainable path is both difficult and, perhaps, not immediately actionable.

    • lurker March 26, 2016, 3:50 pm

      Hi Leah. and there is Permaculture……agriculture that mimics nature and makes more sense…to me at least…check it out. best.

  • Machteld March 21, 2016, 8:09 am

    Nulling your CO2 emissions is great! But instead of making sure a tree is planted elsewhere, make sure a tree is planted close to you, or even better, plant a tree yourself. If you plant an edible tree, you can eat from it as well (and save money as you don’t need to buy the produce, so here’s a financial tip if you were looking for one :) ). And it is really cool to watch your own tree grow and prosper. My father (72 years old now) planted a walnut tree when he was 5 years old, that tree still exists today and it is HUGE! Fantastic!

    Instead of having a front yard lawn, plant it full with trees and scrubs.
    For ideas: look on youtube with “permaculture front yard” or just search the internet for ‘permaculture’.

    • Julia March 21, 2016, 4:28 pm

      Yes, Please! I wanted to urge MMM’s sister to look into a permaculture design for her farm – she can have much more than just carbon sequestration in trees, she can capture all of the water falling on her farm and create food, fuel and habitat as well with a good design.

      • lurker March 26, 2016, 3:53 pm

        brilliant suggestion!!!!! I must second that idea!!!!!!!!

  • Ryan March 21, 2016, 8:16 am

    One thing I’d be interested to hear you address in a future article is on the prodigious amount of energy used to maintain the internet and tech industry. While the web has had amazing effects on our ability to hold people accountable, learn, participate in society more equitably and communicate, it has also created huge environmental and social burdens here and abroad in harvesting the rare earth metals necessary for most phones and computers (and other tech), poor factory conditions with extremely high-impact pollution from their effluent streams, global transport of said goods and then insane amounts of energy and water to maintain data storage facilities. Not to mention the “upgrades” on most technology being fun but entirely wasteful (or to simplify it, the marginal difference between Republic’s Moto E and Moto X). The benevolent billionaire nerds, as you call them, are profiting off a lot of pretty harmful impacts on people and the environment themselves, not to mention a lot of the waste and lack of Badassity you normally ridicule.

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 11:01 am

      Yes! I keep harping on this when the crazy “vegans” come out and whine about meat’s emissivity over the internet.

      It’s an orders of magnitude thing.

      First order of magnitude problem is grid energy production going solar vs fossil fuels.
      About 1/3 to 2/3 as big as that is
      Transportation going electric vs fossil fuels

      Then orders of magnitude less, but still harmful, would be the internet and the electronic devices we use.

      Then, somewhere less than 3%, is shifting protein calories from things like beef and pork to chicken, and eventually to insects.

      The thing so many “environmentalists” get wrong is talking about and doing insignificant things. Avoiding meat and/or avoiding the internet aren’t good options because there aren’t high-quality alternatives, and these changes have insignificant environmental effects.

      Reducing air travel, riding bikes, riding electric buses, trains, and cars, and buying less shit are the individual actions that matter.

      Shifting the grid energy production to solar and marketing electric transportation to the masses are the society-scale actions that matter.

      Everything else isn’t worthwhile. Recycling, buying carbon “offsets”, going “vegan”, buying LEED-certified laptops or houses, all these things are bullshit. Doing them for other reasons is fine, like if you prefer a MacBook, great. You hate the taste of meat, fine. Just don’t let people pretend these decisions are environmentally significant.

      • Chris March 21, 2016, 11:51 am

        Name calling aside, Tom, a major theme of this website’s content is that small actions DO matter. Even if we accept all your claims, 3% is a BIG DEAL. A millionaire is made 10 bucks at a time, a wise man once said.
        The key to thinking it isn’t worrying about 3% is the claim that there’s no good alternative. In the case of the internet, that may very well be true. In the case of food, I’m happy to say it isn’t true. Don’t believe me? Look at all the wonderful options on this randomly selected Instagram https://www.instagram.com/bestofvegan/?hl=en
        or, if need to feel macho, check out http://www.thugkitchen.com/archive.

        • Tom March 21, 2016, 3:35 pm

          3% is an estimate of total worldwide animal ag. 3% is NOT an estimate of CO2 emissions that would be saved by switching diets from animal products to vegetable products. There are many ways that switching from animal to vegetable dietary products could INCREASE a person’s CO2 emissivity.

          While a millionaire is made $10 at a time, Mustachianism is more about saving thousands on the big 3: housing/transportation/food than it is about scrimping on the little things. Case in point: I haven’t paid for a “phone” in 6 years, MMM has paid for Republic Wireless or Google phone plans over that time, and yet MMM has millions of dollars in net worth, while I am still negative. Why I point this out is that a millionaire isn’t really made $10 at a time, or I’d be richer than MMM. The millionaire is minted by getting the biggest factors right: income, housing, transportation, food. Qualitatively, we’re both retired though, because we understand and apply basic principles of financial independence to get free.

          Similarly, I point out the “Big 3” for individuals looking to decrease personal carbon footprint, and it has nothing to do with substituting vegetables for animals in one’s diet.

          Also the “Big 2” for individuals looking to decrease our society’s carbon footprint has nothing to do with substituting vegetables for animals in one’s diet.

          Again, let me point out the absurdity: your decision to comment on this blog and eat vegetables is harming the environment MORE than my decision to eat meat.

          The difference between us is that I’m confronting reality as it is: I harm the environment ALL THE TIME with my transcontinental flights, my new tech toys, and my constant use of energy. But I don’t suffer from the delusion that my animal-product-containing diet choices can be mentioned in the same breath as my transportation and consumption choices.

          You need to confront reality: you’re harming the environment all the time. If you fly, if you use cars, WHEN you use the internet to whine about meat-eaters. I urge you, myself, and everyone to be honest about what orders of magnitude each of those decisions have on the planet our great-grandchildren will inherit.

          • wynr March 21, 2016, 3:55 pm

            Tom, you still have not referenced where the generally accepted 18% global CO2 equivalent from animal ag is really only 3%. If it is really true, then that is great, but where did you get that number?

            • Chris March 22, 2016, 1:53 am

            • Tom March 26, 2016, 1:17 am

              “Generally accepted” my ass. FAO’s 2005 report was 18%. The FAO recanted the 2005 report and revised down that number. I find it ridiculous when anyone estimates animal ag as emitting more CO2 than transportation worldwide.

              If you look at the numbers from EWG in the infographic, and combine them with this:

              you’ll see that the average American eats 75 lbs of beef and 55lbs of poultry. That’s 34kg of beef and 25 kg of poultry.

              The EWG (which I think we can all agree would be biased toward over-estimating environmental harm from meat) tells us beef emits 27 kg of CO2 (equivalent) and 6.9kg of CO2 (equivalent) for chicken. That means average American is pumping 1090 lbs of CO2 *equivalent* by eating meat.

              So 1/2 ton of CO2 EQUIVALENT. That’s <1/40 (2.5%) of the American average of 20 metric tons annually, and, if you substitute that meat for, say, rice, calorie for calorie, you're only going to shave a fraction of the CO2 equivalent emissions off. So, let's say we wave a magic wand, and everyone goes vegan overnight. Maybe we get a 1-2% improvement?

              Recall that beef is primarily so high in CO2 equivalence because of CH4, which is many times more potent than CO2. Now you see why 3% is reasonable? See why 14.5% or any estimate that puts meat's contribution higher than that of all global transport combined is ridiculous?

              Source for 20 metric tons average annual CO2 footprint: calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?tab=8

              And yes, to answer directly, I got that number from the ACS, which I sourced many, many times. But here, in this post, I showed you how to arrive at 2.5% for US CO2 equivalence by combining the EWG infographic 27kgCO2e/kg beef with how much beef Americans eat per year, and how many metric tons of CO2 Americans put out in total per year.

              The methodology of the FAO reports is laughably bad, even in their "revised" report. They're coming up with numbers 5x bigger than those in this comment. Seems wildly inaccurate.

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