As a colleague of mine and I were talking about the devastation of the still-raging Eagle Creek wildfire, he mused about the environmental impact of this single man-made event. My curiosity got the better of me and I wondered whether the good deeds of environmentally-friendly Portlanders who buy Priuses have been undone by the firework-flinging teenager who (allegedly) started the fire.
This is a very quick and dirty analysis, but let’s assume for a minute that Portlanders own ten times as many Priuses as the national average. A total of 1.63M Priuses have been sold to date in the US, which equates to 1 Prius for every 200 people (since the US population is about 326M). That would mean that Portland (with a population of 640,000) would have approximately 3,200 Priuses on the road, so using our multiplier of 10, let’s say that 32,000 Portlanders have a Prius instead of a conventional car.
A Prius emits, on average, 2.6 metric tons of CO2 per year. This compares to a conventional passenger vehicle, which emits approximately 4.7 metric tons of CO2 per year. Thus, assuming that Portlanders jump on the Prius bandwagon ten times more than the national average, a total of 67,200 metric tons of CO2 would be removed from the atmosphere. Yay!
Now, what about the fire? Environment Canada estimated that for every acre of coniferous forest (the type found in Oregon) that burns, at least 3.85 metric tons of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. The Eagle Creek Fire currently stands at about 31,000 acres. Therefore, we could expect an additional 119,350 metric tons of CO2 in our atmosphere as a result of the fire.
So, assuming that Portland is as environmentally-conscious as even the most optimistic people might think, and the fire doesn’t grow any further, and we neglect all the other man-made wildfires currently burning in Oregon, and every Prius ever made is still on the road, and any number of other crude assumptions I’ve made, the Eagle Creek fire will indeed undo all the good of the Portland Prius army.
So taking a teenager under your wing and mentoring them to practice safe sex, not drink and drive and, you know, not throw lit fireworks into a parched forest is probably a good idea.