For most of us mortals, it’s enough to worry about the carbon emissions of our vehicles and devices. But when you’re a superhero trying to save humanity, shouldn’t you also be concerned about the climate-warming emissions of your Batmobile, x-ray vision, or spidey sense?
A couple of researchers at Stanford University thought so and took a look at nine popular superheroes to see how much they were actually saving the planet. And the truth hurts, man: Your favorite superhero might not be all that gentle toward Mother Earth, according to the research presented at the American Geological Union Fall Meeting Monday.
We all have our favorites. Mine is The Flash. His maximum estimated annual carbon footprint is on the higher end; even Ironman’s is smaller. But the research team included a range of estimates because they really could vary. For example, The Flash can keep his annual CO2 emissions as low as 131 pounds, but those emissions can jump as high as 89.5 million pounds. It depends on how fast he’s running and what he eats, the researchers told Eos, since he eats more than the average person to make up for the calories he burns with his speed.
Others, like Superman, vary less from day to day. Superman has a very low carbon footprint—zero, in fact—because he absorbs the sun’s energy. Swamp Thing, meanwhile, has negative carbon emissions because he freaking sucks carbon out of the atmosphere. As ugly as he might be, he’s a real eco-warrior.
Study co-author Miles Traer, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at Stanford, used the storylines as a resource to determine which superheroes are the greenest. With hundreds of comics in his personal collection, the scientist had plenty of material to look through. Traer did the analysis to get people more interested in their personal carbon footprints, he told Eos.
“If I calculate my own carbon footprint, that’s depressing. If I calculate Batman’s carbon footprint, that’s hilarious. So let’s go with the hilarious,” the geological data scientist told Eos. “It’s a way of tricking people into learning.”
Next on the team’s list? Supervillains, naturally.