The Cost of Campaigning for President on the Environment

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So I had a YIM chat with my good German friend Sarah this past Sunday as we like to do from time to time. She asked me if I was nervous about the election on Tuesday to which I responded “No, not really. Whatever happens…well… happens.” But she noted that polls were close amongst both major candidates being incumbent President Barrack Obama (D) and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R). She as well as much of Europe (and world in my humble opinion) are big Obama supports, but I’ll reserve my judgement as Joup will endorse neither candidate. Not that we don’t have our own personal opinions but Joup is attempting to remain impartial in this election as a whole. But what really sparked in our chat was how much each of the candidates traveled on a daily basis. And to what lengths they are going to become the President of the United States of America. How did these individuals impact our Earth’s environment in going to these lengths? I’ll do my best to give an estimate.

I will also note that there is still some debate as to whether our increase in CO2 emissions (burning fossil fuel and land clearing) increases the global temperature. To which for the sake of this article I say they DO based upon of the majority of current research. I use Scientific Daily and Skeptical Science winner of the Eureka Prize in Australia for it’s research on the subject. Also, an abundance of CO2 is actually not good for plants because they cannot absorb other nutrients as well. (again

(Photo by Whitney Johnson / National Geographic 2008)

The first thing is to establish how we’ll grade each candidate. Simply we can calculate the total CO2 each emitted into the environment based upon their travel schedule. I have omitted printing and TV ads because, as of now, there are not full totals as to how much each candidate printed nor how many hours their commercials aired. A great place to start is the website Here you’ll find a carbon footprint calculator. But let’s set this up first before we go into computation and comparison.

On and quoted from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “about 6.8 billion metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2) of greenhouse gases were emitted by the United States in 2010 (the last year the full inventory is available).” Let’s divided that by the population of the US Census in that same year 2010 (rounded to 309 million) and we have 22 metric tons per person (A LOT). But for PRACTICAL purposes the average person really emits 20 metric tons.(wiki answers). And yes this is STILL A LOT, but the good news is the US is on a slightly decreasing trend since the turn of the century.

Ok so we have an idea of our average “Joe” so to speak. But let’s get into the Chief of State and his running mate. I’ll go back to our original criteria: miles travels to get to destinations. Ok this is a bit more complicated then originally anticipated but I suspect the bulk of the their emissions will come from their plane travels. So let’s break it down like this 87% by plane, 10% by car/bus and 3% by train. I feel this is fair and there is hardly if any train travel used in this campaign as far as my research goes.

When I first started my research, I underestimated how much the candidates travel. So I took the month which both candidates did a bulk of their travel. Distance traveled in campaigning in miles (26/9-27/10): (according to BBC and Washington Post):

Obama: 22,896 miles (36848 km)

Romney: 17,742 miles (28553 km)

I will note however that according to the Huffington Post Romney covered nearly 15,000 miles in four days leading up to election day. What? That is just crazy talk. So that skews it back towards him in distance. Again these are all just estimates based upon campaigning schedule, but they are relative close enough for our comparison. So let’s say with those 15,000 miles, Romney’s total from Sept. 27th till election day is in the area of 37,000 miles (adding a conservative 5000 miles more with that gap between Oct 28 and Nov. 2nd). President Obama traveled 6,500 miles on Nov. 1st and 2nd ALONE so that brings his total to 29,000 miles. Adding another 7,000 for those remaining days before these two and up until election day and you have 36,000 miles. So Romney comes out slightly on top but really at the end it’s quite close.

Let’s go back to the breakdown of 87% plane, 10% bus and 3% train (again fair estimates). So that breaks down like this (remember since Sept. 27th):

Obama: 36,000 miles

Plane: 31,320 miles

Bus: 3,600 miles

Train: 1080 miles

Romney: 37,000 miles

Plane: 32,190 miles

Bus: 3,700 miles

Train: 1110 miles

Now let’s go back to that calculator from

Obama: 23.5 metric tons of CO2 offsetting nearly 950 trees

Romney: 24 metric tons of CO2 offsetting over 1000 trees

This calculation is far conservative as well. Carbonify calculates air travel at economy class not private as candidates fly with less people. Plus the lowest gas mileage for which it calculates is 15mpg, where a bus typically gets 10mpg at best. It also is not taking into consideration the print materials nor TV ads and this result is for about six weeks of their campaigns. So both candidates with JUST their travel alone (not including their staff or other parts of their campaign) emit more CO2 in six weeks then the average “Joe” in the US does OVERALL in a year.

Are you developing a cough?

In 2008, the current president lead in this department. the total carbon footprints of these campaigns? McCain – 58,568 tons CO2 Obama – 77,894 tons CO2. According to Standard Carbon, to balance out the CO2 pollution generated by the two front runners in the 2008 Presidential race, “approximately 18 square miles of new trees would need to be planted.” That’s 1,362,359 trees for the McCain campaign and 1,811,904 trees for Obama’s.

Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is still an artist developer trying to keep up with new technologies. Photography still has been one of his strongest passions. However, now his main focus has led him back to music where he teaches guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion privately. Music education can never be short changed.

One Response to The Cost of Campaigning for President on the Environment
  1. Lisa Sikorsrki Reply

    Wow! That is a staggering amount. I have often wondered if candidates wouldn’t be better off driving through the U.S. campaigning. They would meet people from ALL walks of life and in turn build empathy which tends to be lacking. It would be a better campaign, but that probably wouldn’t be any better for the environment.

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