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Which of Your Favorite Superheroes Is Destroying the Earth?

Measuring the carbon footprints of your favorite comic book heroes, from Batman to Jessica Jones

From the Batpod to the Batcomputer, the Caped Crusader's gadgets use up a whole lot of energy and spew a whole lot of carbon. But when it comes to carbon footprints, Gotham's techiest hero has nothing on some of pop culture's other saviors. ( Ron Phillips / Warner Bros. Entertainment © 2012 )
smithsonian.com

Let’s face it: Thinking about how bad you are for the Earth is depressing.

First you have to think about your driving habits. Your utilities bill. Everything you eat and drink. Even the electricity you’re using to read this article right now. Add up all those energy costs over the course of a year and you'll have what's known as your personal carbon footprint: a measure of how many pounds of greenhouse gas you emit into the atmosphere annually. The average American clocks in at a whopping 44,093 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent. It’s enough to make anyone want to give up. 

But calculating the carbon footprints of superheroes? That’s a lot more fun.

Batman may be a prolific technology consumer, but his energy use can't compare with the likes of Oracle of the Flash. (Miles Traer)
The faster you run, the more calories you need. If you're the Flash, says Traer, "you're eating more calories per second than all of humanity combined." (Miles Traer)
Like Batman, Ironman is a heavy tech consumer. (Miles Traer)
(Miles Traer)
Spiderman's energy use all depends on what he makes his webbing out of. (Miles Traer)
Superman actually has one of the best carbon footprints, next to Swamp Thing. (Miles Traer)
As essentially "sentient plant mater," Swamp Thing is quite possibly carbon-negative. (Miles Traer)
Some superheroes spew more than others. (Miles Traer)
Just what is Firebird burning? (Miles Traer)

That was the thought that struck Miles Traer, a geologist and science communicator at Stanford University, two years ago. With "The Carbon Footprint of Superheroes," Traer took it u upon himself to calculate the emissions of nine superheroes from both the DC and Marvel Comics universes. Embarking on this undertaking meant asking the hard questions, i.e.: What is the fuel efficiency of the Batmobile? What kind of plant matter makes up the Swamp Thing? And just how much energy does the Flash need to consume to run faster than light? 

Hey, somebody's got to do it. 

These heroes surely do superhuman jobs. But do they also make a superhuman dent on the environment? From Batman to Jessica Jones, Traer painstakingly examined the unusual lifestyles of these fictional characters to see which heroes were killing the planet, even as they saved countless individual lives. Hang up your capes and enjoy the podcast below.

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