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The Biggest Carbon Loser
caption: Biggest carbon loser contestant Bernadette 'B' Merikle waters plants with daughter, Julia Merikle, 4, at their home on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, in Snoqualmie. 
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Biggest carbon loser contestant Bernadette 'B' Merikle waters plants with daughter, Julia Merikle, 4, at their home on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, in Snoqualmie.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Lowering your carbon footprint when living the family life outside Seattle

Three contestants. Two months. One planet. A lot of carbon.

KUOW’s Biggest Carbon Loser series aims to see how deeply three Seattle-area residents can cut their carbon footprints — from travel, food, energy and more — while navigating their daily lives.

What will it take our contestants, and our region, to kick the carbon habit and help fend off climate catastrophe?

Many may try, but only one will take the coveted title: The Biggest Carbon Loser.

B

ernadette “B” Merikle lives a life akin to many others in the Seattle-area: managing a family outside the city and commuting to a job in the city center. As such, she does not face the challenge of lessening her carbon footprint alone.

She lives with her husband and two children in a house near Snoqualmie, making her commute nearly 30 miles.

B also frequently travels for her work, spending plenty of time on airplanes. And in addition to her family, B also has an au pair — so it’s not just her own carbon she has to watch out for under her roof.

Why a contest for The Biggest Carbon Loser?

As she looks for ways to lessen her carbon footprint, B has taken her home into consideration. Among the top contributors to her carbon footprint is powering her family's three-story house. For example, her young children love sitting in front of their gas fireplace to get warm at night – especially 4-year-old Julia.

“It’s a thing for us to be like ‘Julia, can we cuddle in front of the fire,’" she said. "Especially this time of year. And we have two fireplaces, one downstairs too.”

B is a Puget Sound Energy customer. According to KUOW reporter John Ryan, the utility gets most of its power from coal and natural gas, neither of which are too environmentally friendly. Puget Sound Energy does offer options for cleaner sources of energy, if customers want to pay more for it.

B’s carbon coach Kate Waind suggests making a game out of staying warm and saving energy. That way, the children are on board.

They can see how many sweaters they can wear, for example. So far, making blanket forts has gone over well. They also created a game out of making sure lights are turned off when they are not using them.

And who doesn’t like a nice, long, hot shower? B sure does. But this is yet another energy drain. Kate recommends choosing a shower song to help keep time and energy usage down.

“It helps to regulate how long you are in there,” Kate said. “You get to dance, and you get to sing, and you get to have a good time in the shower. But then the song is over. And that lets you know it’s time.”

Between the first week of January and the first week of February, B’s family cut their energy usage nearly in half. They accomplished this by keeping some lights off, watching less TV, and a few blanket forts.

B is just one of three contestants in KUOW's Biggest Carbon Loser competition. Read about them here and the challenges they face while attempting to lessen their carbon footprint.