Cathy Holt
2 min readFeb 25, 2023

Reflections on my fossil fuel footprint

I was curious about how much energy I’m saving by living in Colombia.

Household use

In the US, depending on location:

40–47% of the average household’s energy use is for heating

05–09% on air conditioning

17–32% on water heating

Thus, 62–88% of household energy use is for these three things, none of which I use in Barichara. (I use solar hot water, for showers only.) The rest would be gas for cooking, electricity for refrigeration, lighting and electronics.

A US household uses, on average, 60–90 million BTUs per year. So taking these numbers and percentages together, a conservative estimate of BTUs saved on home energy use by living here is 62% of 60 million = 37 million BTUs per year.

Car travel

The average US driver uses 650 gallons of gasoline per year. Each gallon holds 114,000 BTUs, so a year’s driving uses 74 million BTUs.

Living in Barichara and relying on walking, buses and shared rides, I’m probably saving 73 million BTUs compared to living in the US.

Added together: Compared to living in the US, I’m saving at least 110 million BTUs per year, not including other savings such as less appliance use, sharing a refrigerator with 2 others, lower consumption of manufactured and commercial goods, less lighting, less infrastructure spending such as road paving, more locally grown foods, etc. That would mean my yearly consumption of BTUs is somewhere around 190 million.

What about jet flights?

The figures for average Americans includes 2 flights per year. It’s scary how many BTUs are generated by jet flights: 135,000 gallons of jet fuel are consumed per hour of flying, and each gallon of jet fuel contains 4600 BTUs. Of course, divide by 366 passengers for a 747 jet. My rough calculations show about 18 million BTUs per passenger per 10 hours of flying. This is influenced by other factors such as number of plane changes/stops, because a lot of energy is used to achieve takeoff from the ground.

Sobering comparisons

In 2017 (the most recent year I found figures for), the average US citizen used 300 million BTUs per year, second only to Canada’s 401 million. The world average was 75 million. Japan: 146 million. Mexico: just 60 million.

Cathy Holt

Cathy has been living in Colombia for 2 years. She’s passionate about regenerating landscapes with water retention, agro-forestry, and biogas digestors.