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.

  • Jeff March 21, 2016, 8:18 am

    Regarding Bill Gates’ equation, the point of that equation is to illustrate that the only way to meet a net zero CO2 goal is to have one of those variables reach zero. You can lower per capita energy demands significantly, but unless that number reaches zero, it’s not a final solution. In the end, the only solution is energy technologies that produce no CO2. And as a gazillionaire, he is uniquely positioned to actually make this happen.

    That’s his job.

    Your job is to shame/exemplify the sexiness of better living through badassity (and well done, by the way!).

  • David Baumann March 21, 2016, 8:26 am

    I’d encourage everyone to check out http://www.takingroot.org for a carbon offset option that uses reforestation as a tool to mitigate climate change, restore ecosystems and improve livelihoods. This is achieved by encouraging smallholder-farming families to reforest the under-utilized parts of their farms using native tree species in exchange for direct payments over time as the trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

    • lurker March 26, 2016, 3:56 pm

      I love the idea of planting more trees. I wonder what the term “native species” can mean in a time of climate change and human environmental impact….permaculture planning and planting trees that thrive and produce food and other valuable stuff for many years may be a better idea??????

  • Giovina March 21, 2016, 8:27 am

    I love this and I wish more people thought the same way. I try to do my part to save the environment and money, but not as much as I could. As long as I’m living in a rented apartment there isn’t much I can do to improve the efficiency of my place, but I can still shut off lights I’m not using and turn down the thermostat a bit. I don’t drive a car and plan on living in bike and transit friendly cities so I never have to. I love how the more you bike and eat real foods that don’t come wrapped in tons of packaging the better you feel and the cheaper it costs to live. No one can be absolutely perfect, but there is always room for small changes that have a big impact on multiple levels.

  • NellieD March 21, 2016, 9:07 am

    I’ve been wondering how you feel about investing in funds like Betterment when they are invested in oil and gas companies?I recently rolled over my Roth IRA to Betterment, but am concerned about that detail.

    • Nicole March 25, 2016, 1:37 pm

      if you’re worried about that then stay away from Betterment and go with socially responsible mutual funds or EFTs.

      • Nicole March 25, 2016, 1:37 pm


  • TheHappyPhilosopher March 21, 2016, 9:14 am

    Nice article MMM,

    I think sometimes we focus on FI and early retirement as an end goal instead of the means to do something else meaningful. In reality, frugality increases our degree of freedom and allows us to live our life in alignment with our values (in your case, promoting conservation and environmentalism). One of the greatest forms of power we wield is how we choose to spend our money, and unfortunately we give away much of this power by spending inefficiently. Using less energy not only is good for the environment by decreasing overall use, but it gives us more power to influence society with the money we save. Hence, environmentalism makes us more powerful and who doesn’t want that? ;)

    • Greg January 12, 2017, 6:58 pm

      Nice comment. Like!

  • Sarah Jane March 21, 2016, 9:18 am

    I really appreciate you going “big” on this issue lately… thank you!

    Still curious about the carbon offset programs though. Have you read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate? I thought of you when I read the chapter about the short comings and failings of carbon offset. If you’ve read it I would be curious to know what you think… of all of it, not just the short comings and failings of carbon offset.

  • Anthony March 21, 2016, 9:33 am

    $3000 for the parts to install solar? You gotta share your supplier!

  • Sean Loughrie, CPA March 21, 2016, 9:35 am

    I would rather invest in sustainable energy projects than give my money away. A few of the stocks that I invest in are:


    My issue is finding investments that have enough of a yeild for me to invest in. I don’t invest without at least a 5% yeild.

    On the other hand, I installed 21k worth of solar panels, and a heat pump hot water heater, which has only lowered my electricity bill by $60.00/mo. Granted, I did get a 5k tax credit…. I still don’t know if it will pay off in the long run.

    Hopefully the investments will.

  • Shawn March 21, 2016, 9:36 am

    make sure you write an article on installing solar panels for $3000. Seems crazy cheap in comparison to what all the solar “leasing” companies charge.

    • Jeff March 21, 2016, 9:50 am

      He has a miniscule electric bill.

  • Justin March 21, 2016, 10:43 am

    I would love to see you create a post in the near future walking us through “Adding solar panels to your home for $3,000”. If it was as detailed and thorough as “How to replace your own furnace”, I’d do it to my home in a heartbeat.

  • Dave March 21, 2016, 10:45 am

    One of the most startling statistics is that the average USA automobile is only operating for less then 4% of the time.

    The opportunity for a network of self driving vehicles functioning in an Uber model will no doubt have a profound impact on consumer behavior to purchase a vehicle. Especially in the core metro areas

  • Ben in UT March 21, 2016, 10:47 am

    After discovering MMM, my wife and I bought solar panels and switched single vehicle out for a used Prius. These have been fun for our family (I spend a lot of time watching my panels work) + they were the best financial investments I have ever made. The Prius saves us $200 per month in gas and the panels another $75. The solar panels are like a stock that earns 12% guaranteed, but it’s saved money which is worth more than earned money.

  • RLepage March 21, 2016, 10:51 am

    The carbon offset industry bothers me. It’s an easy “fix” to something inconvenient; this is the catheter and bedpan for climate change. Instead of changing your behaviour, you can just click a button and pay away the guilt. This is just another magic pill to take to fix all of your problems and doesn’t solve our underlying problems of energy dependency, it just masks the symptoms.

    Not that this is much of a concern to Mustachians, but for the rest of the world, I worry this will be seen as a panacea to our life of overindulgence and luxury.

    • Sarah Jane March 21, 2016, 3:51 pm

      Yes, I would like for this to be addressed. I read Naomi Kline’s book This Changes Everything… and it discusses the industry in good detail. Very depressing book.

  • ALJ March 21, 2016, 11:39 am

    I really appreciate the environmentalist slant of this blog. It has made me think twice, and straight up not do many wasteful things and I think that everyone (maybe even the planet, just a teeny bit) is better for it. I just came back from a year of living in a very, very polluted major city in a developing country. Two things this made me realise: (1) clean air is the best thing ever. Cherish it. You will never feel truly healthy without it. And possibly not be alive, if it comes to it. (2) Garbage is awful, and when there isn’t a service to cart it away to a dump, it just stays, right around where you live, forever.

    One thing I’ve been struggling with in trying to implement a version of the MMM view is as follows. I don’t follow dirty energy ETFs or anything of the sort. But, these technology companies that–certainly at the time of the financial crisis–seemed to have a different morality from the wastefulness we saw in the financial sphere and traditional industry, are not as glossy clean as I would like them to be. First, a lot of tech products are manufactured in horrid conditions–see for example the articles on suicides in smartphone factories from a few years ago. Skilled labor, in this day and age, is not getting much better treatment than the sweatshops of yore, if it at all. Second, greed is greed. I was so relieved to discover that some of the tech companies I followed donated to causes I believed in, etc. But the working conditions for the white collar employees seem downright unhealthy. Further, there’s still plastic, packaging, etc that is highly wasteful as part of the production process. Finally, and this isn’t environmental, there are other issues with tech companies that make me highly nervous. For example, the tracking of personal information, privacy issues, etc.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on investing in a world where it is just really darn hard to find a “successful” company that one can’t find an ethical quandary over?

    Thoughts appreciated and thank you MMM for the post!

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 6:47 pm

      Don’t “invest” in public companies for ethics, invest in them for returns. If you want investment with ethics, invest in yourself, your friends, family, and local community. That way, you have CONTROL over what happens with your investments. But you are likely sacrificing some returns and/or accepting higher risk to get that control.

      Source: “Full time” day job has been daytrading for last 4 years, about 2/3 of my trades are shorting outright scams, a pattern that has existed virtually unchanged for well over 100 years — and that’s just in America. I have seen solar stocks, “clean” energy stocks, all kinds of environmental companies where the real purpose is to sell worthless shares to unsuspecting “investors” who aren’t investors, but ignorant speculators. If watching the markets every minute they’re open and reading 10Ks and 10Qs on the weekends doesn’t sound “fun” to you, I STRONGLY advocate you do what MMM, Warren Buffet, and I all advise to non-traders/non-investors, which is get into low-cost index funds, buy and hold forever, and sleep soundly at night.

      P.S. If that sounds fun to you, do it! People like us LOVE what we do, I’m retired and do this job “full-time” because it’s immensely challenging and fulfilling, and I love how it spills over into other businesses and social relationships.

  • Lee March 21, 2016, 11:54 am

    Since this covers the significant impact of solar panels installed on home roofs, has anyone conducted a cost-benefit analysis of installing solar panels on an aging roof? The eventual installation of solar panels seems to be an excellent money saver, but what will be the additional cost of removing and reinstalling the panels when replacing the roof?

    My house in North Carolina is 15 years old and has its original 3 tab asphalt shingle roof. The roof is in decent looking condition, but from what I have read I expect to replace it in the next 5 years. It seems like removing and reinstalling solar panels would be a pretty significant cost when replacing the roof and it may be better to put off installation until after the roof needs to be replaced.

    This would also buy more time to see where the trends in renewable power go over the next few years. There may not be a first-mover or early-mover advantage when it comes to installing solar panels at home. Energy prices from utility companies will likely decrease as large-scale renewable energy plants become less expensive. Home solar panel and battery configurations will become cheaper with technological advances and commoditization.

  • David Zetland March 21, 2016, 11:54 am

    Dear MMM — I just started reading your blog, so thanks for putting something related to my work (environmental economist) up “so soon.”

    (1) You’re right that offsets (etc.) are a bargain. That’s a real blow to the “end of the world if we tax carbon” crowd.
    (2) There’s a BIG need to move from privatizing environmental action (offsets that feel nice and *may* be helpful.) to socializing it (making sure that TOTAL emissions go down, which is the actual way to “save humanity’)
    (3) You need to get political to tackle (2), and — worse — lots of people have been convinced (by the oil/gas lobby) that such action will kill their babies, so… no action.

    Feel free to contact me if you want to know more about carbon taxes/markets, mitigation/adaptation, community resiliance, etc.

  • phred March 21, 2016, 12:10 pm

    A search of the internet states that it will take three or four 200 watt solar panels to recharge an electric car. Anyone could build a frame out of (recycled) 2 x 4s to hold the panels, aim it at the sun, and wheel it into the garage at night. Since it is only 3 or 4 solar panels, you could take them to work with you and set up there

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 6:37 pm

      I picture The Martian in suburban America:

      “Watney stopped his Leaf in the back of the parking lot, far from any trees, and climbed out. He carefully erected the makeshift frame, carefully aligning the panels perpendicular to the sun before duct taping them in place. If a dust storm struck, he might not collect enough energy to make it home in time for his son’s piano recital…”

  • Mrs. CTC March 21, 2016, 12:20 pm

    I love how a little badassity can get you far, and the whole planet while we’re at it. If we stop whining and stop aiming for comfort above everything else we can change the world quicker than we think. But sometimes it seems as if we’re afraid we’ll die without airco, or without long hot showers.

    I’m always intrigued by stories about people leaving all comforts of this world behind to start living in the wild, without any cars, airconditioning, grocery shopping, dryers, and the like. It’s my escape plan if everything else fails (and I think I’ll last a day :)).

    Keep the eco-posts coming MMM, it’s very inspiring!

  • phred March 21, 2016, 12:24 pm

    There is nothing particularly ethical about a vegan diet. Veganism is a religion invented by people with too much time on their hands so they can take advantage of the gullible.
    It has long been shown that plants can feel pain, communicate with each other, and try to defend themselves from the sharp cold steel of the harvesting blade.
    If we accept the thesis of the Wheat Belly Diet, then it is wheat that causes most of our problems with obesity, diabetes and strokes. So, how did beef get involed? Just like with second hand smoke the eating of cattle raised on grains passes through the grain problems. So, yeah, feedlot cattle is bad for you.
    Most land used for cattle ranching cannot be converted to crop land. It is too hilly, has too little water or is so hot that the plants will wilt.
    From Time magazine:
    It works like this: grass is a perennial. Rotate cattle and other ruminants across pastures full of it, and the animals’ grazing will cut the blades — which spurs new growth — while their trampling helps work manure and other decaying organic matter into the soil, turning it into rich humus. The plant’s roots also help maintain soil health by retaining water and microbes. And healthy soil keeps carbon dioxide underground and out of the atmosphere.”
    Let’s tell the truth for a change. With our puny human senses we do not — probably cannot — ever understand the totality of the plant kingdom. Besides, animals have such cute, furry little faces that it would be like eating Bowser.
    Excuse me while I fasten my leather belt, put on my leather jacket, strap on my watch with the leather band and go sit in my car with the leather upholstery. Or, would you prefer all these be made out of fossil fuels?

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 3:42 pm


    • Doctor K March 25, 2016, 8:33 pm

      Phred you are certainly entitled to your own beliefs but your facts and logic are way off my friend…

      • Micha March 27, 2016, 9:35 am

        Dr. K, I’m not going to start a link war with you, but would like just to suggest that feedlot beef, factory farmed pork and chicken are all terrible. Sickening treatment of the animals and unhealthy meat as a result. Yet, humans are omnivores. Our many times great grandparents ate a wde variety of plants and animals. Our long term health depends on dropping the factory farmed food, all of it. Big AG’s soy, corn and wheat too. Small, biodiverse farms, such as Joel Salatin’s are the answer. Each person should landscape with permaculture and food production in mind to do their part. Just not eating meat isn’t solving anything. I support a local farmer who raises grass fed and finished beef, pastured pork and chicken. And he supports my family’s health in return. Every year my garden gets bigger, my flock of chickens give me plenty of fertilizer along with the eggs. Next step is to see how much of their feed I can raise myself. Fun and healthy hobby!

  • phred March 21, 2016, 12:26 pm

    Electric travel through the air may not be that much of a stretch. A dirigible could be covered with thin-film solar

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 3:47 pm

      I’ve the last 10 years pondering electric dirigible transport, from personal scale up to cargo barges. Why did we stop using blimps? I know the Hindenberg was catastrophic, but come on, we invented Helium dirigibles to get around the flammability, (though I read He is getting expensive and rare), but then again, mankind has to have invented materials and technology that could make air buoyancy better during the past 100 years.

      Some of the challenges I’m aware of are weather-resistance and large volumes of displacement required. Is there some insurmountable challenge holding humanity back?

      • Florida Mike March 22, 2016, 7:42 am


        Maybe its because there are so many aircraft in the skies, blimps would get in the way? Have a look at any of the flight trackers online and its just incredible how many planes are in the air at any one time!

  • phred March 21, 2016, 12:28 pm

    For his next post MMM will row a (wooden) boat down the Colorado River on his way to Ecuador. Once on the Big Water he will hoist a sail made from hemp so as not to leave much of a carbon footprint.

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 3:48 pm


  • Julie and Will March 21, 2016, 1:06 pm

    We really appreciate what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does in terms of improving the world.

    Also, in a recent NPR report–perhaps broadcast only in the Chicago area because of its more limited geographic scale?–I heard that Laurene Powell Jobs (Steve Jobs’ widow) and former Education Secretary Arne Duncan are teaming up to try improving the lives of Chicago youth burdened with facing bleak futures, largely consisting of unemployment and violence.

    Hopefully more Billionaire Nerds follow these trends!–and we can all try to do our own little bit too…

  • WageSlave March 21, 2016, 1:16 pm

    I’d like to see some easy way to measure the carbon footprint of my (and my family’s) lifestyle. And I’m also curious how I compare to others. And most importantly, what is the *target* where I can confidently say that I’m doing my part?

    I don’t want to come off as just wanting to shoot for the bare minimum, but I don’t have an intuitive sense for all these things. Fly/drive less, buy less stuff, sure, no doubt—but how much less? My thinking is there is basically a carbon budget to the earth: if exceeded—as we clearly are now—climate change happens at an exponential rate, and stuff gets really bad, really quickly. Am I in the frontline in the war on Earth, or near the back of the ranks?

    As I wrote that last paragraph it occurred to me, it seems to be a parallel between our carbon budget and our financial budgets: we’re exceeding both. In the finance world, individuals, businesses, governments of all sizes: borrow and leverage away the idea of “budget”. Same with the earth: the increase in severe weather is Mother Earth coming to collect on the debts.

    Another random thought: what is the carbon footprint of a single Toys’R’Us store? The grandparents came to visit this weekend, and wanted to treat my kids to a shopping day for their birthdays. I can’t remember the last time I was in a Toys’R’Us, but it blew my mind: an enormous store, almost entirely filled with made-in-China plastic merchandise. And have you seen how kids toys are packaged? I’m not saying kids should be without toys, but I was just thinking of all the factories in China churning out this stuff by the shipping container-load. Transported here, so people can drive to buy it all up, and I’m guessing at least 75% of it ends in a landfill. As far as I can tell, almost all the stuff is tied to whatever TV shows are currently popular. So they’ll keep churning out new stuff as tastes and fads rise and fall in popularity. The disposable/planned obsolescence mentality starts very young.

    • Tom March 21, 2016, 6:31 pm

      I’ve thought along many of the same lines. One interesting idea I reached, was hey– maybe we don’t even need to cap-and-trade carbon, the dollar-cost of things is already a damn good estimate of their carbon emissions.

      So, if you’re FI and living on $10k/yr/person, you’re probably toward the back of the ranks in the war against Mother Earth. Some decoupling between $s spent per year and tons of CO2 emitted per year will be found in outliers who spend very little, but drive or fly a lot — people like me; I’m really awful to Earth because of my international flying habits.

      As to the carbon footprints of malls, they’re disgusting. I can only hope that Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba destroy the concept of malls quickly. The other half of the sukka-consumer lifestyle, highly visible beside The Grand Temple of Latter-Day Consumers (The Mall), is The Parking Lot, and software-driven electric cars are going to decimate the human-driven ICE cars’ numbers, which will dramatically slash environmental harm on that front.

  • BeachMama March 21, 2016, 1:39 pm

    Just wanted to say I’m enjoying the environmental stuff, then again my day job is Environmental Scientist :)
    I deal with environmental compliance and the ugly aftermath stuff – cleaning up oil/chemical spills, illicit discharge to storm sewers, etc. and I still get a lot of resistance from people. I dream of a day when people and businesses will take a pro-active approach to environmental sustainability rather than the reactive approach that keeps me employed.

  • Emily March 21, 2016, 1:53 pm

    I love these posts!!
    About a year ago I started reading MMM, and since completely overhauled my attitude to money and consumerism (reading every MMM article in about 4 months).
    This year my flatmates and I have been trying to be “zero waste” – so this post is spot on for me.

    When I get out of my own bubble and see the blatantly wasteful lives everyone seems to be leading I get kinda bummed out about it – we need more people like MMM educating people to improve their footprints.

  • Chris March 21, 2016, 1:55 pm

    Where are you getting solar panels for $3000? I want some of those. Recent quotes up in the Seattle area are about 20k, sure the incentives kind of pay for itself depending on legislation, but a lot of that expires in 3-4 years.

    • phred March 21, 2016, 2:38 pm

      it will depend on how many you need

  • Scott March 21, 2016, 1:57 pm

    Great article MMM,

    It frustrates me how easy this shit can be yet most people don’t take action. Engineers tend to focus on efficiency in all aspects of life (I know do), more so than your average person. Not sure if it’s inherent to the personality types that go into the field, or the education grinding it into you. All I know is I’m glad I learned to think that way. I consider it “Life’s Ultimate Cheat Code”. I have a feeling if our elected officials were predominantly engineers it would do the world a lot of good. No flashy campaigns just cold hard pragmatism.

  • stagleton March 21, 2016, 2:05 pm

    It drives me crazy how everyone obsesses over technology solving energy usage problems, but there is no focus on the low hanging fruit..ie smaller cars, smaller houses, more eco friendly outdoor activities, etc.

    • Dave March 27, 2016, 12:08 pm

      Yes there has been decent efficiency gains in the eternal combustion engine in the last 15 years or so. But these have been almost completely wiped out by people moving up to bigger and heavier vehicles. Even if cars go electric hauling around a huge vehicle is going to take lot more energy than a small vehicle.

  • Pat Walters March 21, 2016, 3:01 pm

    Thanks for your donation and writing this post. They are both so reassuring. Our daughter was born yesterday on 3/20/16 (she’s asleep on my chest right now) and this gives my family great hope for the future. Looking forward to incorporating our new addition into our MMM lifestyle.
    Hopeful Father

  • Chris P March 21, 2016, 3:07 pm

    I know you weren’t advocating forced behavior modifications, but many others in the “planet first” category are. That’s why this quote came to mind.

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

    ― C.S. Lewis

    • Wade March 22, 2016, 12:16 pm

      C.S. Lewis was a brilliant man. I’ve tried to read all/most of his works. Thanks for the quote.

  • Dmitri March 21, 2016, 3:29 pm

    Someone mentioned “scientific consensus” above, and my blood started to boil…

    What do cigarettes, secondhand smoking, flame retardants, DDT, acid rain, the ozone hole, and now climate change, have in common?

    A deliberate campaign of lies and misinformation – with identical tactics and led in many cases by the same exact people – since the 1950s – to discredit science and scientists, in order to manufacture artificial “doubt”, and maintain it for decades after scientific consensus on the issues was reached.

    Big tobacco was convicted under RICO of conspiring to deceive the public, but it took 50 years. We don’t have 50 years to wait for action on climate change.

    The challenge is known, the solutions exist, and the way forward is clear. We only need to take responsibility and walk the path that leads towards a better planet for our children.


    – Share
    – Watch the movie
    – Read the book – Merchants of Doubt
    – Use your voice
    – Take action


  • Tom March 21, 2016, 9:47 pm

    Here’s some shockingly simple math that either proves the offsets don’t actually offset the environmental harm of emissions, or stirs us to action that will quickly halt global warming.

    Assume MMM’s $979 offsets him and his family’s CO2 emissions.

    If that’s true, it implies that global warming ceases if every American contributes about $979/3, or $326 to CarbonFund.org. Let’s call it $325.

    $325 x 330,000,000 people = $107B

    U.S. Budget is close to $4T in 2016.

    For 3% of one year’s federal budget, we halt global warming today.

    Or, .3% of our budget, spread over 10 years, we halt global warming by 2026.

    This is obviously a very rough estimate, but I think, in terms of orders of magnitude, it’s most likely over-estimating. Most Americans aren’t as wealthy as MMM and don’t fly nearly as much. On average, Americans make 2 flights per year, and 1 order of magnitude), then we’ve got to act quickly and solve this problem.

  • Jenny March 21, 2016, 9:55 pm

    The carbon emissions offset thing had kind of fallen off my radar; thanks for reminding me.

    My employer, Emory University, came out with a 10 year Climate Action Plan 10 years ago (we’re about to release our next plan, of course, now that this one is up). Each school or unit sets their own individual energy and waste reduction goals based around the larger university goals. One of the overarching rules is that carbon offsets couldn’t be a part of anyone’s plan — not because they’re not awesome, but because Emory wanted to measurably reduce its own consumption without allowing any fudging of the numbers by letting offsets sneak in there. I love the creativity it fosters; several times offsets have come up in discussions about reducing our negative environmental impact, and it’s always fun to see people’s wheels turning when they realize that’s not an option for us. It’s very Mustachian.

    However, because offsets are forbidden in my work context, I forgot about them outside of work. I’ve been plugging away at the energy-reduction parts of my life — largely inspired by MMM — but I think it would be great to use offsets as part of my personal plan, too. Thanks!

  • Guido Stinnz March 22, 2016, 12:14 am

    Funny coincidence. I did carbon offsetting for my family on Saturday and then read your article yesterday.
    I offset our 25 tons by helping buy and protect a hectar of pristine rainforest in peru that was in danger of being cut down for plantations.
    Saving that hectar cost only 500 euro including legal costs and future protection.
    Imagine a million people doing that instead of ridiculing offsetting as buying good conscience.
    1 Million hectar rainforest saved forever.

    In my opinion ensuring rainforest is not cut down beats even planting trees any day in efficiency. Only problem is that you cannot get a certificate about just how much CO2 you saved.
    Thank you for this blog.

  • Nate C. March 22, 2016, 7:01 am


    Great post. Thank you of your work. I wonder how you think about the way in which shifting my consumption to e-commerce (from brick & mortar stores) affects my carbon footprint. Does fulfillment by Amazon (just one example among many) lengthen or shorter the supply chain for that good, and how does that impact the amount of fuel and resources consumed to send a book to my doorstep? Surely I am consumer more cardboard and packaging materials today than 10 years ago. Perhaps you’ve already written about this, so a response that simply links to previous writings (from you, or your loyal flock) is more than sufficient. Again, thank you.


    • Mr. Money Mustache March 22, 2016, 10:27 am

      I haven’t seen any detailed calculations on this, but I would guess that thoughtful Amazon shopping is much more efficient than using up prime central-city space for retail stores and the huge roads and parking lots that come with them. Even more so if you were to further clog up your own city by actually taking a car YOURSELF to those stores.

      With Amazon they have super-dense, cheap buildings located on cheap land, that fill up lightweight diesel shipping trucks, which follow a computer-optimized route to make their deliveries. When I watch the UPS truck drop stuff off at my house, it usually makes a stop at some other house within sight nearby, then its next stop is again within sight. In other words, my portion of delivery is only a few hundred meters of driving for this truck.

      I’m a big fan of retail necessities being located out of the cities and delivered, then the cities being denser with more parks and outdoorsy stuff, and social spots like restaurants/theaters/coffee shops/pubs providing most of the in city money spending opportunities.

      • Nate C (in Boston) March 25, 2016, 6:59 am

        Thanks for the response.

        To your point about getting retail out of the cities, have you read “The Walkable City” by Jeff Speck? Very thoughtful book on urban planning..

        You raise an interesting point: Amazon, UPS, FedEx, have the incentive to operate their supply chain in the most carbon-efficient way, at least in the sense of fuel consumption. The whole cardboard/packaging thing is a real bear, though, when you think about it at scale, and with the convenience of AMZN Prime. For example, I ordered an 18″ towel bar from Lowe’s online and they shipped the packaged product (max 24″ x 4″ x 3″) in a huge cardboard sleeve that measured ~ 60″ x 8″ x 8″, also stuffed with bubble wrap. Absurd. (I know: I should have made the towel rack myself.) The end-to-end carbon footprint of cardboard seems really relevant over the next 10+ years. Kudos to Amazon for doing an exceptional job with packaging efficiency.

        I understand you *heart* Buffett (me too. and charlie). If you don’t read the Bezos AMZN shareholder letters, you might consider adding them to your reading pile.


  • Florida Mike March 22, 2016, 7:38 am

    Ya know, I have been a reader here for some time but I must admit I went to a HUGE carbon-producing event this past weekend (Gatornationals drag races) and it was awesome.

    So yeah, call me a Carbon Hyppcrite. :)

  • Curtis March 22, 2016, 10:08 am

    Well, a lot of great points raised in Mustache’s post, together with a fair share of self serving rationalizations, which he acknowledges – just like all us in the 1st world countries, who basically do things just because we can. Still, all the dialogue slants in the right direction . . .
    I drive a vehicle, and would trade it in on a bike, but I live 98 miles from the nearest stoplight (and stores) in the far outback of So. Utah, zero public trans, so on the scale of who actually needs a vehicle, I rank pretty high, (and no I won’t leave slot canyon paradise for a city.)
    Now, veering off topic (is this allowed?) – does anyone know how to keep chipmunks from nesting in my vehicle? They get into the heater unit (hvac) and destroy it by chewing wires and creating a fire hazard by jamming the whole thing full of dried juniper bark, nesting material.

  • Seymour Butts March 22, 2016, 10:45 am

    Obviously there is a big gray area between financial independence and protecting the earth which individuals will have to determine.

    In the article MMM shows a website which allows you to pay to offset your carbon. It seems that no matter how much one consumes, if one has the resources to offset the cost of the consumption it will be a wash in the end.

    This assumes that the money paid will be effectively put to use and will in fact have the stated effect on offsetting carbon, not definite if you look at the efforts China has put into planting millions of trees (hint: they mostly died).\

    Without more evidence, it seems to me like the offsets are a modern ‘indulgence’ where sinners can pay to have their wrongs righted. Planting trees and caring for them on ones own would appear to be an actual way to offset some damage (of course, you could have planted those trees and not consumed anything, which would have had a positive effect instead of a neutral one).

    Everyone should be aware of the effects their clothing, food, and traveling have on those who we will probably never meet.

  • Monsieur d'Or March 22, 2016, 11:35 am

    There’s a recent episode of Planet Money that goes into some of the details of carbon offsets. It’s really a really interesting listen, if you’re curious about how it all works.


    • Monsieur d'Or March 22, 2016, 11:37 am

      PS – I meant “you” as in any reader of the comments, not MMM specifically.

      PPS – I hope the external link isn’t an issue. Just trying to expand knowledge.

    • Freedom35 March 22, 2016, 3:18 pm

      Interesting looking link. Is there a TL;DR version of what they found in their investigation or a text version of the article? (I ask as I prefer reading to podcasts).

  • Liz March 22, 2016, 11:45 am

    What about considering the cost of moving things into your life, not only moving yourself around and keeping your house running? Every time you buy an item or get one shipped to you, it has traveled all over the place. We should all shop much more ‘local’ than we do now, but I’d love a world where I can make a well-planned purchase of an imported item and know it was shipped to me using 0 emission energy.

    Let’s use less to the point that it enriches our life, and then figure out a better way to get what we need. I think you and Mr Gates meet somewhere in the middle!

  • Wade March 22, 2016, 12:12 pm

    Are these type of discussions a no win trap?

    I sell my car and rely solely on my bike. It is an $800 Framed fat tire bike. Now $800 is plenty for a bike, but it is certainly far less than you can spend on certain bikes. Was my $800 spent reasonable or did I allow others to explode their carbon footprint by the profit made on the bike. If I had a $10 bike from a garage sale or a local thrift store is that “acceptable”? Or did my $10 profit to the thrift store cause issues? Is only a “free” bike acceptable?

    I use this as an example, but where does it stop? It is fun/interesting to read the comments but wow does it make my head hurt at times. :-(

  • Paul March 22, 2016, 12:23 pm

    Are there any projections on how well an electric car like the Nissan Leaf will hold up after 10 – 12 years of use. The current iteration of electric cars started around 2010 so all we know is what to expect after five years of use.

  • Anthony March 22, 2016, 2:26 pm

    Hi MMM. In “The world’s poorest people will gradually move up to having refrigerators and indoor housing…” did you mean indoor housing? Indoor lavatories perhaps?

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 24, 2016, 5:40 pm

      No, I meant indoor housing – in the sense that more people will be housing themselves behind actual walls and doors rather than just under tarps or open scraps of rusty metal roofing. Toilets will be part of it too.

  • Gerard March 22, 2016, 5:56 pm

    I went to one of those carbon footprint calculator sites and, as I feared, my big plane travel (likely to continue for the next three years or so) is the major culprit in my carbon footprint. Still, surprisingly, I came out at the Canadian average (which is still high). I’m so low-impact in other ways (no car, commute on foot, low household energy use) that I balance out. That gives me hope for my retirement years, when I should be able to come in somewhere under Europe but above the developing world.
    It also made me realize (a) the relative proportion of harm done by each component of my life (my airline travel dwarfs my food choices) and thus how I can improve, and (b) that every little bit helps, and (c) that I could save a lot by living with others, by either home-sharing or not having a detached house.
    I need to avoid falling into a couple of easy traps: on the one hand, saying”I got on a plane last year, and I don’t eat crickets, so fuck it, I’m not making any effort whatsoever”, and on the other, saying “I ate lentils yesterday, so I’ve bought myself the right to fly to Hong Kong.”

  • AJ March 22, 2016, 6:29 pm

    I just saw this today. Apparently you can get a $20/month tax benefit from your employer for riding a bike to work 3 days/week. Make money, spend less money, excercise, and help the planet all at the same time.

    • gizmonte March 24, 2016, 9:26 am

      Wow. This sounded great until I read the following exclusion:

      “As long as you are not a sole proprietor, independent contractor, partner, and/or two-percent (or greater) shareholder of an S-type corporation, you are eligible.”

      nonetheless, I am sure there are many wage slaves out there for whom this will apply.

  • Andrea March 22, 2016, 7:10 pm

    1000 eggs? I am still recommending you get yourself some backyard chickens! They are environmental super pets and will enhance your lives. Did you know they love meat scraps?

  • n.Bock March 23, 2016, 10:54 am

    Thank you! And thank you for creating this blog; I have yet to read an article that I don’t 100% agree with. Your blogs offer a fresh perspective for my friends who–after years of listening to me beat the same drum–need some extra encouragement to engineer a lifestyle of sustainable health and abundance. In addition, your blogs have helped galvanize my own convictions and given me a few new ideas on how to escape the mind-numbing rate race we have all been duped into participating in.

    I am 30 and earning a modest salary at a corporate job I despise, but I am only a few years from financial independence (retirement). Joining the “cult” today!

  • phred March 23, 2016, 11:59 am

    Many believe they have reduced their footprint by shopping on the “Net, and by “visiting” via the Web. What they haven’t bothered to consider is the total ecological damage they cause every time they turn on their smart-fart phone.
    The messages you send and receive aren’t powered by your micro-wattage device; they are powered by vast server farms. A 50,000 square foot data center uses some five megawatts in a year. This could’ve powered 5000 homes. All the data centers in the U.S. in 2005 used enough electricity to power the entire state of Mississippi.
    While some servers are experimenting with fuel cells these may or may not be an answer if you consider the total life-cycle costs.
    Cell towers each have a diesel generator attached to them of about 12 kw. While for emergency purposes, these generators are run each day — I am told — to keep them in working condition. Diesel exhaust is considered a carcinogen. While some towere have solar cells, they then have a battery bank to go with them. Battery banks are not that eco-friendly.
    All of these loads don’t include manufacturing and running the networks themselves.

  • Sofie March 23, 2016, 1:05 pm

    The Co2 impact of meat depends entirely on how they’re raised. With holistic management, the emissions go negative. That’s right, livestock on grasslands can store carbon. https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI

  • Kingjoey March 23, 2016, 2:47 pm

    Long time reader, first time poster: What a great article! It inspired me to post my first reply. Kudos to you for your common sense approach to tackling a huge problem. While I try to practice conservation and saving money at the same time, here is a real world example of what we’re up against and why I think, unfortunately, that this will never work.

    (I know MMM has posted at least one other article that touched exactly on this, but I can top his real world examples.)

    Every day, I have 2 neighbors that wait for their children to be dropped off from school, right in front of my house. Admirable, yes. Over-protective, probably. Most times, they wait in their running vehicles. The bus stops, kids get off the bus, parents greet the kids and they pile into their climate controlled, respective vehicles. On an average day, I’d say these vehicles are running for about 5-10 minutes while waiting for the bus to arrive. After they get back into their vehicles, they drive to their respective homes.

    Now, here’s the kicker: Anyone want to guess how far they drive home? The one farthest away from home drives 147 feet! The closer one to home drives 53 feet! That’s right, I said FEET.

    How in the world will you get people like this to understand or change their wasteful habits?

    • Micha March 27, 2016, 9:56 am

      Its funny but until MMM complained of the same thing, I didn’t appreciate the crowds of kids, some with parents, who stream through my neighborhood, walking to school each morning. Now I silently cheer them on.
      To answer your question, it starts with a crack in the wall of noise that is our culture. Suggest articles, model better behavior, link this blog. The reason MMM focuses on finances is because nearly everyone wants a better financial situation. The rest of his points link up naturally, once you start examining your life.


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