Fooling Yourself with Statistics?

April 4, 2010 at 6:56 am 1 comment

Yesterday’s Oregonian contained an article titled “Most Oregon greenhouse gas not what you might think” and went on to describe the results of a study recently published by Metro, a regional government agency that covers the Portland metropolitan area. The results can be summed up by the following pie chart which I took directly from the article:

The graph could easily make a person think that they shouldn’t worry about their transportation footprint because “it’s only 25% of my emissions,” but anyone who reads the chart that way is just fooling themselves with statistics. The pie chart only tries to show what we are doing collectively, not what each of us is doing individually.

Collectively, our choices as consumers are causing other folks to produce a lot of greenhouse gases on our behalf.  “Consumer” needs to be defined broadly. For example, we collectively “consume” the asphalt used to re-pave our roads each summer, the chemicals that treat our drinking water and sewage, the materials that will be used to build (and then clean up) Renn Fayre, and so on. Only a portion of our “consumption” lies in our personal consumer choices.

And then there’s statistics. Individually, I might be living lightly, but still traveling heavily with lots of miles traveled on every school vacation, i.e., I might not be your typical Portland-area resident.

Check out the original report (link provided above). It’s only 8 pages and it breaks down each of the sectors in the pie chart in interesting ways.


Entry filed under: In the News.

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