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Airbnb or hotel? Chocolate or almonds? The climate-friendly answer may surprise you.

Five big takeaways from Experience's new climate change interactive.

By Schuyler Velasco

Planning a vacation? A dinner party? A wedding? Our new interactive explores how the choices you might make in those scenarios would impact the climate — and how many trees you would have to plant to offset the emissions attributed to each choice. Some of the calculations might confirm what you already know — air travel and steak dinners are bad; camping and tofu have minimal climate impact. But some are less obvious. To start, we’re sad to report, you might want to think twice before reaching for that extra piece of triple chocolate cake. Because when it comes to climate impact…

Chocolate is worse than you think

Serving chocolate mousse to 10 guests at a dinner party emits about 46 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent emissionsOur interactive calculates “Global Warming Potential” as an aggregate measure of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gasses — measured in units of “C02e,” or carbon dioxide equivalent, or C02e, while an apple pie would emit just 3 kg. Chocolate’s carbon footprint is high because of how and where it’s grown. All cocoa production takes place within 10 degrees of the equator, mostly in West Africa and Indonesia — areas that are vulnerable to the weather effects of climate change. Growing cocoa also involves heavy deforestation, which means fewer trees to offset carbon emissions.
Try out the “dinner party” scenario…

…and red meat is worse than chocolate

It’s no huge shock that red meat is bad for the planet; globally, animal farming accounts for about 14 percent of human-made carbon emissions. What is surprising is just how much worse it is than other dietary options. According to our calculations, serving lamb or beef to 10 guests at a dinner party emits 79.4 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere; serving chicken instead emits less than half that, at 35.3 kg. So you don’t even have to go fully vegetarian to make a noticeable carbon impact (although doing so is the most carbon-friendly option; serving a tofu-based dish emits just 2.4 kg of C02e).
Try out the “dinner party” scenario…

Airbnbs are more eco-friendly than hotels

Home rental sites like Airbnb have become a standard part of the vacation experience over the past few years, and they’re popular for a reason — residential rentals can offer a more relaxed, often-cheaper alternative to a traditional resort. They’re also better for the environment. A couple staying in a hotel for five nights will emit around 155 kg of CO2e; at an Airbnb, they’ll emit about 98 kg. Commercial buildings generally take more energy to construct and keep running than residential ones. Additionally, they’re more likely to generate waste in the form of single-use shampoos, conditioners, and towels.
Try out the “vacation” scenario…

Want a “green” centerpiece? Don’t pick roses.

Plant-based isn’t always the way to go! Flowers can be climate-friendly if they’re in-season and locally grown. But 80 percent of roses are grown in South America or Africa, and transporting them takes a hefty toll (for 125 guests, bringing in floral centerpieces emits about 300 kg of C02e). A better option? Candles. Those made from beeswax or soy are close to carbon-neutral.
Try out the “wedding” scenario…

Almonds: bad for droughts, good for emissions

Thanks in part to the severe California droughts a few years ago, almonds have become notorious for the huge amount of water they take to produce — perhaps you’ve seen this op-ed from “The Onion,” or watched Chidi on “The Good Place” guess that drinking almond milk has landed him in hell. But these water-guzzlers are carbon-friendly, because they come from carbon-scrubbing trees. Serving nuts at a dinner party for 10 guests emits just 0.4 kg of C02e. Serving cheese, meanwhile, will set you back 77 kg of C02e.
Try out the “dinner party” scenario…

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Schuyler Velasco is Experience’s senior editor.


Illustration by Benjamin Currie


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