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.