Chicago's greenest person?

Tempo went hunting for the Chicagoan who has the lowest carbon footprint. We
found him: Ken Dunn, who rides his bike year-round, eats homegrown
vegetables and otherwise leads a sustainable lifestyle.


By Nara Schoenberg Tribune reporter


Chicago Tribune reporter


September 23, 2008



How green is Ken Dunn?


Greener than the social worker who last year commuted 16 miles a day by bike
in the dead of winter.


Greener than the woman whose rooftop solar panels generate so much
electricity she donates the excess to Commonwealth Edison.


Greener than the Chicago apartment-dweller who composts his own urine and


Dunn, 65, of Hyde Park, is so green that he beat out 11 other finalists,
identified with the help of local sustainability groups, to be named the
greenest person in Chicago by the Tribune.


And in an age when Hollywood celebrities are flaunting their hybrid cars and
brandishing their reusable shopping bags, Dunn, who grew up on a Kansas
farm, whittled down his carbon footprint the old-fashioned way: by riding a
beat-up old bike, air-drying his clothes, eating the vegetables he grows in
his backyard and heating his home with a wood-burning furnace.


"Much of our country had a very frugal attitude in the late '40s, when I was
first aware of household practices, and I've been trying to stay true to
that," Dunn says.


"And I think that's important for everybody when they think of a sustainable
lifestyle: Think of it as a return to the more community-oriented, richer
life of prior ages."


Dunn produces only 3,800 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, as compared with
the 44,000 pounds produced by the average American. He was one of two dozen
contestants we found with the aid of organizations including the Center for
Neighborhood Technology, the Chicago Recycling Coalition and the Natural
Resources Defense Council. Contestants were judged on the basis of personal,
not workplace, greenhouse gas emissions.


The difference between Dunn's annual emissions and the average is the
equivalent of chopping down 600 square feet of Amazon rain forest or driving
a Honda Accord 60,300 miles on the highway, according to figures provided by
Zeke Hausfather, chief energy scientist at Climate Culture, an Internet
start-up company that did contest calculations for the Tribune.


Stated another way, Dunn is already living at roughly the level of carbon
emissions that scientists at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change say the average human must achieve by 2100 if we are to avoid
dangerous effects of global warming.


"It would definitely make a huge difference if we all became Ken," says
Hausfather, whose company focuses on detailed carbon footprints.


Carbon footprint isn't a complete measure of a person's "greenness,"
Hausfather cautions, and he adds that his calculations rely, in part, on
estimates of contestants' shopping-related emissions. (Every product you buy
is associated with the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide,
which contribute to global warming, but there was no practical way for
Hausfather to catalog every single purchase made by every contestant.)


Dunn, the founder and director of the Resource Center, a Chicago non-profit
focused on recycling, reuse and urban farming, is the son of Mennonite
farmers from tiny Partridge, Kansas.


After college and a stint in the Peace Corps, Dunn arrived at the University
of Chicago's graduate program in philosophy, hoping to explore
sustainability-related questions. He got his master's degree but not his
doctorate, opting instead to pursue concrete solutions to environmental and
social problems in his work at the Resource Center.


On a recent weekday morning, a fitted sheet-hung to dry from the living room
door-greeted visitors to Dunn's upstairs apartment in a Hyde Park two-flat.
The porch has been overtaken, almost entirely, by the clothes-drying
operation. The backyard garden, bursting with tomatoes and basil and adorned
with morning glories, bespeaks hours of hard labor, as does the wood already
piling up in the backyard storage area in preparation for winter, when the
furnace gets a new log every eight hours.


But Dunn, tanned and very lean, isn't complaining.


Asked about feeding that furnace, he shrugs. Just part of the daily routine,
he says.


He'd rather focus on the apple he produces from his refrigerator: small, by
modern standards, and marred by the occasional bruise or worm hole, but
fragrant, flecked with red and gold, and remarkably crisp and full of


He likens the flavor of that apple, grown in his backyard, to the thrill of
learning how to ride his bike in the harshest winter weather.


Joy in life

"There's just a joy in it, and life is nothing if there's not joy in it," he


For the most part, the top contestants frequently rode bikes instead of
driving, kept the heat down in the winter, grew some of their own food, went
without air-conditioning and airplane travel, and spent little on clothes
and entertainment. Dunn pulled ahead of the others in part because he uses a
wood-burning furnace, which produces local air pollution but lowers carbon
emissions significantly. He also had an advantage in that he eats expired
and discarded food he acquires from stores and restaurants in his work as a
recycler and composter.


Dunn beat out second-place finisher Sayre Vickers, 32, in part because of
his living arrangements. Dunn, who is divorced with three grown children,
didn't live with his current partner and their two young children during the
period covered by the contest. But he shared his home heating bill-and split
the associated carbon emissions-with three people who live beneath him.
Vickers lives solo.Vickers, of Garfield Park, grows tomatoes, basil, wild
spinach, kale and peppers in front of the sunny windows of his apartment and
makes his own furniture from discarded wood. With no running water, he hauls
his 3 gallons a day from the bathroom one floor below.


The toilet is a bucket, with a 30-gallon garbage can nearby for storing
human waste layered with sawdust. Vickers has a friend in the suburbs who
allows him to park the cans when they fill up. The contents decompose,
forming compost.


In keeping with the claims of the Humanure movement, which promotes
composting as an alternative to waste-generating flush toilets, the smell is
undetectable from even a foot away.


Hausfather, the climate scientist, calculated that by composting his human
waste, Vickers reduced his carbon emissions by about 1,700 pounds. His total
carbon emissions are 7,000 pounds.


But like most of the other finalists, Vickers doesn't cite carbon emissions
as his primary focus. His lifestyle is influenced by a love of the outdoors
developed during his childhood on Lake Ontario, outside Rochester, N.Y., and
the waste and pollution he saw when he moved to Chicago to study
developmental biology at the University of Chicago.


Connected to nature

"In the city, I feel a lack of connection with nature, and I think a lot of
the things I do that could be termed green are about reclaiming that
connection with nature," he says.


Dunn sounds a similar theme.


"Be open to the real forces that are around, instead of the images and the
hype, and those would be nature," he says, in the course of arguing that
part of the thrill of year-round biking is learning to outsmart the


"It's such a lessening of the human being to go through winter hating winter
and go through summer hating summer."




The contenders 

2. SAYRE VICKERS, 32, Garfield Park. "In the city, I feel a lack of
connection with nature, and I think a lot of the things


I do that could be termed green are about reclaiming that connection with
nature." Carbon footprint: 7,000 pounds (versus 44,000 for the average


3. BRITT WILLEY, 28, North Lawndale, social worker and community organizer.
"My mom is a very environmentally conscious person. She's been a gardener a
long time, and she grew up poor, and that's just how you lived."


Carbon footprint: 8,400 pounds.


4. ANNA STANGE, 46, Blue Island, folk singer. "To me, being green means
having the least impact. It means not poisoning the environment for other
people and living in a way that's sustainable." Carbon footprint: 11,500


5. SARAH KAPLAN, 29, second-year student at Chicago-Kent College of Law. "I
just find waste to be kind of repulsive." Carbon footprint: 16,600 pounds.



Copyright C 2008, Chicago Tribune

Bikies mailing list

Reply via email to