I think Neil Armstrong’s quote went something like this: “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Of course, in this case, Neil was talking about his first step on the MOON (or a Hollywood movie set), a step that was the ultimate result of $170 Billion, in today’s dollars, in government funding and the hard work of 400,000 employees and contractors over nearly a decade. It seems Mr. Armstrong has set the bar for profound and consequential quotations related to small steps impossibly high.
But alas! You too can attach importance to the small steps that you take on a daily basis. In fact, the steps you take here on Earth are far more important than any steps Neil took on the moon. He might have kicked up a little moondust and left some cool footprints, but your small steps have a material impact on the health of the Earth (where we happen to live at the moment…well at least until the base station on Vallis Alpes is complete) and that counts for a lot.
That begs the question: How much of an impact does walking have on the environment? Well, to try to answer that we thought about what we’re not doing when we’re walking: driving! That’s right, every mile of walking avoids a mile of driving… a simple assumption, but serves our purposes here. So let’s start with how bad driving is for the environment – every mile driven in a vehicle that uses standard gasoline, assuming a mileage of 30 mpg, which is generous, puts 0.59 lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere1. It turns out that the average step length, from initial point of contact of your left heel to the initial point of contact of your right heel, is about 31 inches. That means that the average person takes about 2,000 steps in one mile2.
So what does this mean? Well it means that if you take 6,779,661 steps a year, instead of driving an equal distance, you would have removed 1 ton of carbon from the atmosphere. So admittedly that’s a lot of steps, the equivalent of 3,390 miles, BUT that’s really only a little over 9 miles a day. Considering the average American walks about 2.5 miles a day3, and that doctors recommend at least 5 miles of walking a day for a healthy lifestyle, maybe 9 miles isn’t too far out of our reach. Regardless, even if you only walk that 2.5 miles, instead of driving, you would be removing 1.5 lbs of carbon from the atmosphere a day and 550 lbs a year! That’s a quarter of a ton!! To take it one step further (pun intended), given that trees can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon per year4, if you walk just 2.5 miles a day instead of driving, your contribution to the environment each month would be the equivalent of planting one tree! I don’t know about you, but I would love to say at the end of the year that I planted twelve trees.
Now if everyone did that…talk about a giant leap for mankind!
2American College of Sports Medicine
3Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise
4NC State University