Reducing Your Carbon Footprint – Air Travel

December 1, 2008

The single most -expensive thing that most people will do commonly do it to fly.  The carbon per passenger mile for air travel (or air freight for that matter) is higher than any other means of transport, short of space travel.  Does this mean stop flying?  Not necessarily.  But those serious about ‘walking the walk’ and reducing their carbon footprint significantly would do well to consider this aspect of their lives.

Let’s consider this area as a complex of interlocking discernments and decisions.  First, of course, would be simply stopping to consider is this trip necessary.  There is not formula that can be offered for this determination.  It is an individual matter.  But even to stop a moment before planning a trip to consider, “Is this flight necessary” is a metaparadigm that most of us side step.

The second consideration is “why fly?”  Quite often there are other modes of transport available, such as bus or train, but these have long ago been rejected out of hand (once the ‘preference’ for air travel over ground transport has been made is becomes a seldom challenged paradigm).  The rationale might be that flying is faster.  In the climate of competition between airlines in a changing world, often it is actually cheaper to fly than to take the train.  This is where we must stop!

The cost of air tranport at present does not reflect the REAL cost, it only reflects the monetary costs.  “But isn’t that the ‘real cost’?” you ask.  No!  The real cost includes the cost to the ecosphere of the planet of the massive CO2 emissions per passenger mile for the flight.  For a brief period longer this ‘externalized cost’ will remain an impediment to our addressing the climate crisis full on; brief since even now the world is in the throes of recognizing the the carbon emissions of human activities must be priced into those activities or we are doomed to changing the planet in ways that we may not be able to cope with near term or long term.

Even if confronted with a more expensive, and longer train trip for several hundred kilometers or miles, we need to at least assert our will to question and interrupt our paradigms.  And the decision to choose the more costly or slower means of transport is a conscious decision to preserve the planet for our children, and for all life on Earth.

And when you must choose air travel, until the carbon-expense of flying is integrated into the price of a ticket, we must individually ‘ante up’ toward our personal commitment to ‘make a difference’, and purchase voluntary carbon offsets equal (or exceeding) the carbon impact of our journey.

For the Earth – (S)

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint – Water

November 28, 2008

I hope to have established with my prior post, Carbon Costing, that we must collectively start to weigh, assess and value, our personal activities in terms of the fossil fuel it takes to support them, and thus the resulting ‘new’ CO2 emissions.  So to proceed from that point, the natural question is, “How do I reduce my carbon footprint?”  The answer is both simple and complex.

Reducing your carbon footprint, above all, is the decision to start a process in your life of examining old ways of looking at the world and the habits which they produce and which sustain those old paradigms, and then to change the ones that need changing.  Without that commitment, changes to your carbon footprint may remain small.  But then small improvements are better than none at all.

Take for instance you relationship to water.  We all use water daily, hot or cold, but as clean as possible.  We use lots of it, for drinking, cooking, washing, bathing.  Some of us water our lawns, our cars.  Some of us even wash our houses, driveways and sidewalks with it.  Let’s focus on the water we heat and cool for a moment.  It is known that water has about the highest ‘specific heat’ of any familiar, common substance.  That is, it takes more energy to raise a particular amount of water than just about anything else we know.

So, when you heat water for a cup of tea or coffee, do you measure out a cup of water into the poat or pan or do you fill it?  The heating of all that extra water you will not use is a tremendously wasteful thing since the unused water will lose its heat to the surrounding air or whatever else it is in contact with.  Do you boil your pasta in the ‘recommended’ 2 quarts/litres of water?  You don’t need that much water to cook pasta, but the recommendations emerge from a social paradigm where the carbon emissions from the energy used to heat the water was considered to be of no consequence.

The same is true of water you chill or refrigerate.  If you take out a bucket of ice from the freezer and only use a few ice cubes, all of the energy used to freeze the wasted ice adds to the excess CO2 emissions.

But you do not have to heat or cool excess water to waste energy.  The mere use of more water than is needed for a particular use is wasteful of energy.  The water we use in ‘westernized’ societies (and we westernized societies are the chief culprits of the waste and excess CO2) is usually pumped several times, purified, and pressurized to reach us.  Then, often after the briefest contact with out bodies or some object we wish to wash, it often travels down a drain to a wastewater treatment plant, where it is further pumped and processed.  All of this takes energy.  Most of that energy has for recent decades come from increasing use of electricity, generated by the combustion of (you guessed it) fossil fuels.

Get it?  Change your relationship to water.  Use only what you need.  Do not take either the water, or the energy used to deliver, condition, and dispose of it for granted.  Change your behavior, change your choices, then seek to change the behavior and choices of those around you.

With over 6 billion of us on the planet, a change to almost any wasteful habit which then proliferates through societies will result in massive changes to our energy usage, and carbon footprint.

Next, I will try to tackle the most carbon wasteful thing that many of us commonly do.  But it is late tonight so that will have to come tomorrow.

Carbon Costing

November 28, 2008

Our entire global economy is flawed.  Quite a grandios statement that, eh?  But think about it, what is the measure of value in society?  Money.  But what are some of the things you value?  Love, friendship, family?  A car, a TV, a mobile phone?  Clean air, enough water to drink?  For the birds to come back each spring?  For there to be fish in the ocean?  Except for the car, TV, and phone, all of those things are invaluable… their value cannot be calculated.  But to the ‘economic system’ of the world, they cannot be valued monetarily, and so they are of no consequence in the formulas by which society makes decisions, either collectively or often individually.

And we are undermining all of the above (save car, TV, and phone) by our pursuit of some fleeting western notion of happiness and success as the possession of materials.  Why is that?  How can that be?  It is precisely because the entire global economic system has this massive flaw.

So what can be done about it?  Essentially, we as individuals, followed by societies at large, need to add into the equation the cost to the global ecology of the excess tons of greenhouse gasses which we release as part of the ‘cost of doing business’.  Until this happens, and happen eventually it must if we are to survive on this planet as a species, we each need to begin to consider the carbon footprint of our lives and decisions.

In line with the K.I.S.S. Principal of Blogging, which I just invented, standing for Keep It Small and Simple, let me step gently into the next post… Reducing Your Carbon Footprint.

Saving Carbon – A Tough Sell

November 27, 2008

Today I’m struggling to stay warm and still keep my carbon footprint small.  Lots of layers of bedclothes, a sleeping bag, and a comforter on top.  I can see what we comfort-loving, affluent humans are up against.  It is far easier to just turn up the steam heat than to start weather-stripping the windows.  I thought Northern Europe would be miles ahead of America in addressing energy conservation, but the issues seem the same here.  Limited recycling options.  Old, poorly insulated buildings.  Low awareness of the simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and largely an ignorance of the concept among even the green-leaning (and lean greening) folks.

Saving carbon is, I suppose, a tough sell here in the frigid northlands.  It will take far too long for education to fill the need to conserve.  The kind of solution we need to set us sustainable need to be imposed from the top.  The paradigm needs to be changed wholesale, and quickly.

I am beginning to see my role here at the conference from the perspective of ideas.  I haven’t the power of a vote.  I don’t advise any delegation.  But I am here in the dual role of an ‘observer’, an objective witness perhaps, and a member of the press.  As such it is my function to ask questions.  But the best questions are ones that stimulate the formation of new ideas.

Since my perspective has recently turned to the flaws in the basic framing of society which is commonly referred to as ‘economics’, I see my role in part to undermine the old idea of ‘economics’ and so contribute to the formation of a new one.  The monetization of reality is the travesty that has largely gotten us into the current problems of sustainability, where only things that can be bought and sold have ‘value’.  This must change or eventually humanity will reach a dead end.  As civilizations have come and gone in the past, so too ours will have come and gone, unless we can learn to institutionalize the recognition of value in a broader context.