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Seattle leaders have been making a big promise for more than 15 years: that our city will lead the nation in fighting climate change. And yet, Seattle is polluting as much as it was 25 years ago. What went wrong? How can we do better? Explore the stories in our new series, The Burning Question, below. our reporting team: David Hyde, Amy Radil, John Ryan. Editor: Gil Aegerter.

No more mangoes and meat. The hard truth for competitive clean living

Traffic in downtown Seattle is shown on Monday, July 17, 2017, from Rizal Park.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
Traffic in downtown Seattle is shown on Monday, July 17, 2017, from Rizal Park.

Apples over mangoes. Veggies over steak. Shorter showers and less driving alone. Those are some of the ways Seattle residents say they’re changing their habits as they compete to reduce their carbon footprints as part of the Taming Bigfoot competition.

In Seattle there are about 170 people on 25 teams who have determined their normal energy use and now have two months to see how much they can reduce it. Edmonds residents are also holding the contest, which was first organized in Port Townsend.

Contestants say they’re inspired to think about their climate impact by their love of marine life and the outdoors. And they want to find out ways to get bigger players, like private businesses, to change their practices as well.

Each team has to have contestants of different ages, and Ingraham High School juniors Olivia Coyle and Lucy Greeley said they are two of the younger participants. They learned about the Taming Bigfoot competition through an after-school environmental club.

“In biology this year we actually learned about the greenhouse effect and climate change and how it affects coral reefs and the Arctic, so that kind of gave me more of a global perspective,” Coyle said.

She always wondered about her carbon footprint but never knew the details. So she joined one of the teams devoted to finding out about their energy use and looking for ways to save. One area was in the groceries her family buys.

“We kind of stopped buying mangoes and tropical fruits that just obviously don’t come from Washington,” she said. “And we realized there are just a lot of produce options that we can get that are local, so we don’t need the tropical fruits.”

As 16-year-olds Coyle and Greeley both recently obtained their drivers’ licenses, and Greeley said that’s already part of her carbon footprint.  “I don’t bus as often as I probably should, or even walk to places that are close enough, so that’s definitely one I’m going to have to work on,” she said.  “Now that I’m driving I tend to take the car a lot more.”

But Greeley said her volunteer work at the Seattle Aquarium, where she’s learned about issues affecting the health of the oceans, and her love of the outdoors have motivated her to think about climate change.

“I love hiking, I always want to be able to see great views, and a lot of the animals that it does impact are really important to me, too,” she said.

Greenlake resident Cheryl Sykes said she joined a team at the invitation of a neighbor. She said she doesn’t use much energy for utilities or transportation. But one thing she’s wrestling with is her love of steak.  

“I am a major meat eater,” she said. “I will change for the next couple months and see how it impacts my cooking and eating, or how I feel about it.”

Fertilizer and manure produce greenhouse gases, while swapping in more vegetables reduces carbon emissions.

“That’s mostly what we need to focus on now, is, how are we going to change our habits,” Sykes said.

But one great habit she brings to the competition is a talent for clearing invasive blackberry vines and a love of planting trees. She said she’s been clearing those vines and planting hundreds of little cedar trees in the Nisqually delta, on family property and anywhere else people will accept them.

Contestants will spend March and April trying to reduce their carbon footprint and celebrate the winners when totals are announced in May.

Year started with KUOW: 2005