Sunday, April 22, 2007

Carbon Reduction Suggestions

I was reading an Earth Day article yesterday about a family cutting back their carbon emissions 15% and began wondering what I could do to reduce my carbon emissions (and benefit the planet in general). The family commented that they had already done what was easy (turning off lights, turning thermostat down at night, owning a relatively fuel efficient car . . .) and would have to take more difficult next steps (actually using their compost bin, cutting back driving, replacing light bulbs).
The Mister and I already do those next steps: we compost, we walk to work, I hang out clothes when it's not raining. So, instead of feeling like a smug environmentalist (a completely hypocritical state for anyone living in a warm/cool house that ever drives a car), I tried to think of what I could do to reduce my ecological footprint, as I believe we can all contribute. The only really obvious step-- reducing travel-- is not an option I'm willing to pursue.
I figure many of us are in this position; we do far more than average, and generally feel pretty good about it; but also lead generally comfortable lives. Assuming that we are not going to build a house from scratch (fairly easy to make energy efficient) or replace functioning automobiles/appliances, what should we be doing that would have the most impact? Any impact?


Jenny said...

Sparkling Squirrel,
I think talking about ways to reduce our impact and sharing ideas with others can have a big impact. Here are some additional suggestions, most of which you likely also do (but here they are anyway):
*Grow your own food or buy locally grown food
*Eat more vegetables and less meat
*Plant shrubs or plants strategically around your house, to keep it cooler in summer (shade south facing windows) and warmer in winter (trees on the north side)
And other ways to reduce an ecological footprint might involve reducing your use of wood or paper products, and also buying used goods (clothes, books) instead of new items.

It might be helpful to calculate in order to get some other ideas of ways to cut back, so here is a link to one found online:

Also, this is a cool article Tim found:

Jenny said...

Whoops, that article address isn't good anymore.
This address should work, though.

Sally's sister said...

Liisssssssssaaaaaaaaaaa, don't eat meeeeee. The lamb on the Simpsons.

Sparkling Squirrel said...

It's really weird-- of course I can give my students a long list, but I found it odd that I couldn't think what I'm really willing to change.
I need to change the furnace filter and have it tuned up. It is somewhat of an old clunker.
I buy lots of locally grown food in season. This year I would like to preserve some of the local harvest. I feel very guilty for buying fresh spinach from California in the winter (I very highly recommend the book "Simply in Season" for great recipes using food in season and inspiration for being part of the religious left).
-I need to buy less stuff. For an American woman of my age and income, I don't have that much, but that's pretty much beside the point.
-Does reducing my electric use really have much of an impact on the environment, when I am attached to coal-fired plants via the grid?
-I should consider traveling by train or bus when I do travel.
-Not have biological children (but would Ewaldina still win the national math counts if she is not carrying Jeff's genes?)
Okay, not that those are really original either.

Sally's sister said...

How about a vow of not buying anything but food & plants for 3 months? We could start a support group for it. Jamaica was really an eye opener. We have so much stuff here in the US, it's disgusting. There is so much we can live without, but materialism seems to be the way of life now. Think of all the knick knacks that get sent over from China. Don went to a talk about how the ports on the west coast are all full and there is talk of creating a rail line from Mexico City that would have Garden City as the hub.

Jenny said...

Sally's Sister, I really like the idea of not buying anything for 3 months, and it would be fun to do it together...

Sally's sister said...

What are the rules? We can buy
*food, including eating out and fun food like mochas
*plants (gardening season!)
*medical supplies
*stuff like laundry detergent that we might run out of
*car stuff like gas, oil, tires, but not cup holders!

*movies, music
*plastic things
*decorating things
*kitchen gadgets
*pet toys

What if we need to get a present? Make food, give a plant, or give up something decent in your house?

Once we figure it out, we can make a new post for this.

Jennifer said...

I think the not buying thing is a great idea - though I think there should be room for everyone to personalize the rules. For example - I need to buy a bride's maid dress for Beth's wedding. And it has been two years since I bought everyday summer sandals, so those are definately in the budget for me. I may also need a new floppy hat for field work this summer, but I need to check my floppy hat status.

Instead, I focus on eating out less and eating less pre-packaged food.

Erin said...

Buildings are the number one carbon emitter (more than transportation), so I think conserving electricity is very important. If you're already doing this at home, maybe you can convince your work place to do it? Installing compact flourescent bulbs is a first step. Installing motion-sensitive timers in classrooms is even better.

Also, install insulation in your home, especially in the attic where heat either escapes (winter) or enters (summer). People don't realize how important insulation is, but it made a huge difference to our comfort level (and a little to the energy bill). You can also take a tax deduction for the material (but I'm not sure if they will have that for 2007 and it was only like $20 for our attic).

Get an on-demand water heater and new energy-efficient appliances. Definitely replace that old furnace. I know not all of us can afford this, but if we can afford to travel around the world, we really should be updating our appliances to use less energy.

I don't think any of these changes are easy to make, but it doesn't seem like this is a problem with easy solutions. Most of them are going to hurt.

Sally's sister said...

And lawn mowing! I read that mowing with a gas-powered mower emits as much carbon as 500 new cars? I forget the details - I think in one hour. Maybe it was 300 new cars - something huge. It's in this book that I already sealed up to send to my friend: Green Living: The E Magazine Handbook for Living Lightly on the Earth by E Magazine. And I think I heard that just mowing releases carbon - the grass being cut or decomposing, something like that. I'm mulching my back yard, and want to plant step-able plants in front so I never have to mow again (though I have a push reel mower).

Sparkling Squirrel said...

So one of my questions is on electricity. I'm a big advoate for using as little electricity as possible, just on principle. However, my (admittedly weak) understanding is that the big coal burning plants burn the same amount of coal whether my appliances are in sleep mode or in off. I'm saving on my bills and I am hopefully convincing other people to do the same, so that they power company will not need to increase capacity (or fire at capacity) but that they really don't burn much less (or any less) coal if there is just a little less demand.

On the other things list, we have been installing ceiling fans to reduce summer AC use and we will probably move downstairs when we are here this summer (upstairs is a bit too well insulated).

Appliance changing (and car changing) has always made me wonder. It does take a whole lot of materials and energy to build a furnace or car (Dietrich once shocked me with information on how many times a ceramic cup would need to be used before it took less energy than the equivalent amount of styrofoam cups-- in the thousands I believe)-- how much future energy saving should justify abandoning something that already works and will take a great deal to dispose of?

Sparkling Squirrel said...

You're totally right about work-- my current place of work-- like my last place of work-- is frigid in parts and steamy hot in parts and much of the winter is spent with the heater on and the windows open. Maybe the college leadership council can do something about it.

Sparkling Squirrel said...

My memory was a bit skewed: first (and as with all my students, obviously accurate web page I could find)-- a ceramic mug only needs to be used 46 times to be better than stryofoam, a stainless steel mug needs to be used 396.
As someone who keeps dishes as long as they don't break (and is known for breaking them) and likes to have a selection of mugs (thus the same one is not used daily) I found this somewhat frightening.

Irene said...

Maybe no one mentioned this one because it's too obvious, but in addition to consuming less, we can also consume more selectively. Most of us probably do this to some extent, boycotting brands that have a poor environmental record and favoring brands or companies that are "green". But there's always more we could do.

For instance, my recent and future house-painting projects all use the more eco-friendly, low-VOC versions of major paint brands. But if I really wanted to feel righteous (and was willing to spend more) I could buy Anna Sova boutique organic paint, or milk paint, or paint that uses natural clay pigments and is totally non-toxic.

Jennifer said...

It's not much, but today I really wanted to drive myself to school (which I often do when I have to teach at 8 freaking am. But I walked instead - up the hill, both ways! Now I just hope it is not storming when I am ready to go home (if so, Steve will come get me, but it would totally negate the gas I did not spend walking to school this morning).

I think this is a really interesting discussion. I feel like I have fallen off of the environmental "bandwagon" lately and want to refocus my life on these issue. For example, we allowed our recyling to sit, unsorted in our basement since - umm the first of November. So we had not been collecting more recycling becuase we knew we had a huge big mess. Ugg - and it was. We finally cleared it all out yesterday, but had to throw some of it away because it was so moldy and gross. So we are going to set up a better system.
We also need to work on electricity use. And water.

Sparkling Squirrel said...

At first Jennifer's post made me very sad-- "bandwagon" implies popularity and I don't want Jennifer (or anyone else) to be doing environmental things because it's popular.
Then I thought, well why not? Isn't that what we are all trying to do, inspire our students to think that they should be on the environmental bandwagon?
If the uncomfortable feeling I have because Erin thinks I should take steps that aren't easy makes me take them, isn't that the point?
I guess my problem with wagons is that they are so easy to metaphorically fall off (or never get on), and then stay off. If all the cool people (and I love refering to us as cool people) are not buying anything for the next three months and well, I'm in a building my professional wardrobe, acquiring books and maps and traveling phase, the danger is that I'll say, "Well, I'm not up with Jenny and S.S." (heck, I did not compost any of the trash from my rehearsal dinner and I own a real lawn mower now) and give up. So I hope it's not a wagon I'm on or off. I do hope that the reminders and subtle peer pressure will encourage me to send back the ill-fitting clothes I just ordered. And maybe have some effect on climate control while serving on the college leadership council (everyone I tried to write-in someone told me what a great job I'd do today).
I guess I don't want acting environmentally responsibly to be like dieting-- either you're on or you've "been bad"-- but rather to be like the peer pressure I get when my friends bring healthy tasty things to pot-lucks and look happy after they exercise-- a longterm plan of healthy habits.

Did that make any sense?

Sally's sister said...

That makes sense SS. (Huh, 2 SSs. SpSq?) So maybe we need to focus on our intent rather than the letter of some law we're making up or think others follow. What gets me down is that most people don't care about any of this, and we'll be dead and the environment will degrade and no one will realize how good it could have been. As a Christian I find it atrocious that western Christianity is out of touch with nature.

I think we're all preaching to the choir here. How about those who want to will pledge to decrease purchases for a month (or try going cold turkey)? I don't like to cook, so anything involving food and eating out is ok for me, but I was on a book buying kick for awhile and now they have piled up, but I don't really NEED them. And if I run out of shampoo or something, I'm sure I have enough tiny bottles around that this will force me to use them up and other stuff that accumulates. And I don't NEED new clothes or anything. Want me to make a new post for us to keep track and get feedback?

Wow, deep thoughts on knitter blog. Oh - and my memory was skewed too - I think it was that mowing the lawn emits as much carbon as driving a new car for 500 mi.

Sally's sister said...

I just talked to Jennifer & Sharon about this. Bartering! Trade your zucchini for something your neighbor has, or when you give your clothes to Goodwill, trade them for something someone else has. Maybe we should all move into a commune together.

Sally's sister said...

PS, I heard that the compact fluoresent bulbs have mercury in them and should be disposed at toxic waste sites (on a NPR clip). I saw them all over Jamaica - I find it hard to believe they would propoerly dispose of them. Most Americans probably don't know.
Some manufacturers such as Philips and GE make very low mercury content CFLs.[15] Safe disposal requires storing the bulbs unbroken until they can be processed. Consumers should seek advice from local authorities. Usually, one can either:

"Return used CFLs to where they were purchased, so the store can recycle them correctly; or
Take used CFLs to a local recycling facility. "

Erin said...

Sp Sq,
I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I'm sorry! I don't think we should do any of this because we feel like someone else is judging us. It should make us feel good to do it (not bad for not doing it).

I also don't think that my suggestions are necessarily the best since I haven't researched the carbon cost of producing new appliances, etc. They were just meant to be ideas.

And I do not think of myself as leading by example here. I have an ancient furnace and older appliances.

But I still do think the long-term solutions to the problem will either make us change our lifestyles (like buying less/moving to a commune/not having children) or empty our wallets!

Sparkling Squirrel said...

Uncomfortable in the "yes, you're right I should do something way," which is good. Sometimes the choir needs some preaching (I started thinking about this analogy a lot walking home today and really, preaching to the choir is probably as important as converting people-- just because someone already agrees or believes doesn't mean they don't need help-- and really the choir is there to be preached at, not just to hear themselves sing).
Like everyone else, I'm still hoping for the magic solution-- the earth makeover weekend where I leave for a weekend and learn that if I only cut my hair and change the paint colors everything will look completley different-- and you just reminded me that that's not going to happen-- (analogous, I suppose, to reminding the choir that you don't get to heaven by singing) and that I need to do something. Which I do. But not because the cool people do it. Or maybe because the cool people do it. Either way, it's the doing that's important

Erin said...

If only a new haircut or a weekend meditation retreat could solve all of our problems...That would be bliss

Beth said...

So I'm not going to be able to not buy everything but here's my plan:

*use less AC when it's not hot out and use a programmable thermostat so if you must use it you use less

*take the bus to work (I can't walk) and reduce driving alone - at least if I'm driving I can take others with me

*keep up our gardening and keep the magnolia tree happy

*consider getting less packaged foods and other items and buy in bulk which tends to have less packaging (at least at Cosco)

*continue to reuse plastic garbage bags for Jake bags (great danes need a big bag)

*also for those of us that are teaching - talk to our students and help them to lower their footprint - Brittan had her students keep track of all the water use and trash for a week in her class and most of her students were shocked at the amount of water they used and trash they produced in a week

*also get wedding stuff on ebay to save $ and not support the wedding industry