Time Magazine’s carbon footprint comes into question after ‘Person of the Year’ choice

Chris White, DCNF

  • Time magazine named activist Greta Thunberg its Person of the Year and is promoting the 16-year-old while not addressing questions about its carbon footprint. 
  • One similarly sized magazine — Discover Magazine — fleshed out its carbon footprint and found that producing and distributing each edition produces more than 170 tons of emissions. 
  • Time magazine was also considering House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Donald Trump and an anonymous whistleblower for the honor before landing on Thunberg. 

Time magazine named Greta Thunberg its 2019 Person of the Year, yet the legacy outlet is being cagey about its overall carbon footprint as the 16-year-old activist advocates for stricter climate policies.

The magazine awarded Thunberg the honor Wednesday after she spent 2019 warning government officials about what she believes is a climate crisis. Time, for its part, has not responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for information about its carbon output.

Other media outlets have been more forthright about what they are doing to address climate change. Discover Magazine, for instance, published a lengthy article in 2008 fleshing out how the magazine’s supply chain affects the environment.

Discover, which had a total circulation of about 580,000 as of 2012, noted in the piece that each month’s issue in this process released the equivalent of 170 tons of carbon dioxide. As a point of contrast, Time had a circulation of more than 2 million in 2017, The Wall Street Journal noted.

Discover used the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GGP) to flesh out the emission levels of its supply chain, a process that includes paper mill operations, employee’s work travel, as well as printing and shipping. A coalition of groups created the GGP to gather data on how to make businesses greener.

The magazine estimated that 2 and one-tenth pounds of carbon dioxide is emitted when “we harvest trees, turn the freshly milled paper into your individual copy of DISCOVER, get it into your hands.” That number is the equivalent to “twelve 100-watt lightbulbs glowing for an hour or a car engine burning 14 ounces of gasoline,” Discover noted at the time.

The article’s writers noted that Discover also factored office space into the equation. Computers, fluorescent lights, printers and kitchen supplies “allow us to do our work,” so such energy-consuming devices were necessary to calculate when determining the emission levels, Discover added.

Discover estimated that it used roughly 9,091 kilowatt hours worth of natural gas and electricity usage to keep the lights on. The average single-family home used 1,000 kilowatt hours per month at the time, according to Discover.

Thunberg is the youngest person to receive the honor since Time started naming people of the year in 1927.

“She became the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet this year, coming from essentially nowhere to lead a worldwide movement,” Time Editor in Chief Edward Felsenthal said on NBC Wednesday. He also suggested Thunberg represented a coalition of young people protesting on behalf of social justice and environmental issues.

Time cut back on circulation and frequency of some of its biggest titles in 2017 as the magazine’s publisher attempted to reduce costs, with the company announcing that year that it would reduce weekly circulation by one-third. Still, Time is holding with a steady printed viewership.

FridaysForFuture, a movement that sprang up after Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish parliament in 2018 to protest a lack of action on climate change, has not yet responded to the DCNF’s request for comment about what activists think of Time’s printed edition. Thunberg, for her part, reacted to the honor with surprise.

“Wow, this is unbelievable! I share this great honour with everyone in the #FridaysForFuture movement and climate activists everywhere,” Thunberg wrote in a Twitter post Wednesday morning that included Time’s front cover photo, which shows the young activist staring out across the ocean and caption that reads: “Greta Thunberg: The Power Of Youth.” 

President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint in August ultimately set in motion an impeachment inquiry targeting the president were also under consideration for the award.

Thunberg traveled to the U.S. from her home in Sweden in August on a racing yacht to avoid taking jets, which activists argue are responsible for spewing tons of carbon emissions. Her visit was designed to galvanize American support behind action on global warming ahead of September’s United Nations climate summit.

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