What a year!
Being home bound has prompted us to value even more the time we spend with each other, especially the moments in nature – building a garden, taking a hike, or just our daily after-dinner strolls. And, invariably, one of our goals has been to consider how we can keep this planet alive and thriving for longer.
It is hard to understand and grasp the growing crisis when we are currently in the midst of a pandemic. Floods in Sudan, more frequent and intense hurricanes in the Atlantic, and the fast spreading wildfires on the west coast of the USA are some signs of a changing climate. While these incidences overlap with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they are not going to end with a remedy like a vaccine. So, we decided to investigate what is needed to get on a low-carbon diet.
- Energy consumption is by far the biggest source (73%) of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions – those gases that trap the heat on the earth’s atmosphere.
- Within the energy sector, generation of heat and electricity is responsible for most emissions (30% of total global greenhouse gas emissions).
We, globally, have to not just slash the current emissions by half in the next 10 years, rather we have to capture greenhouse gases to get to net-zero by 2050 in order to limit the climate temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degree Fahrenheit), and still provide every human being with electricity, water, food – the minimum social foundation for all.
That’s a lot to consider for a person to consider, so let’s break it down into manageable chunks. The largest emissions sources, like the energy sector, are a good place to start. This means looking at our energy use. But, to fully tackle the climate crisis, we will need to consider every aspect of our decision-making and get on a fossil-fuel-free diet. To make it easier for all of us, we have compiled some tips. This is not going to be painless and we invite you to join us on this journey.
This is a crisis that requires every one of us to reconsider our consumption patterns, and what better time to reflect on this than a pandemic that has brought all economic activity to a near standstill.
Here are 5 tips to get you started (with great thanks to our friend Susan):
TIP1: SAVE ENERGY WHEN YOU CAN
In the US, energy seems so easy and inexpensive it leads to a certain carelessness in use. What may save you mere pennies adds up year on year and person to person. The more of us that save a penny of energy here and there, the less fossil fuels that need to be burned with a little less risk of a brownout or blackout when use gets heavy and less need to create yet another power plant.
- Efficient home appliances help you save energy, save money and reduce emissions long term. Seek out Energy Star models when buying a new appliance so you can save energy at the push of a button. If your equipment has power management features, activate them!
- Manage the heat load of your place: Program your thermostat to lower the heat while you are out and while you sleep - heating and cooling make up half the average U.S. home’s utility bills. Plug leaks around windows. Use curtains to manage the heat of the sun and arrange furniture to take advantage of free sun or shade.
- Turn off what you are not using, including those monitors that drain vampire energy even when in sleep mode! It is no longer true that turning things on and off wear them out sooner. In general, turning things off gives them a break that helps them last longer. Use power strips to make it easier to turn off multiple appliances at once when leaving a room or the house. Surge protection on a power strip will also help protect your appliances. (Just don’t overload circuits.) Switch to longer lasting and more efficient LED bulbs.
- It’s almost time to put up your festive LED string lights - Just do not leave them on 24/7. Not only do they draw power, decorative string lights generally are not made to stay ‘on’ 24/7/365 safely.
TIP 2: TURN DOWN THE HEAT IN THE KITCHEN
Keep preheating to a minimum or skip it altogether. Except for breads and pastries, it’s not necessary for most foods. For roasts and casseroles, you even can turn off the oven about 15 minutes early. Leave the door closed and the heat already in the oven will finish the cooking. Minimize peeking in an open oven door to keep the heat up throughout cooking. On the stove top, once a pot of hot water boils you can turn down the heat a bit. It’ll be the same temperature at a light boil or a roaring one. And preparation is the number one energy saver - defrost in the fridge before cooking. Chop, season, or trim before turning on appliances to save energy (and avoid burning stuff while you're distracted by prep for the next step). Make larger portions and fridge or freeze the extra - saving you time and using a lot less energy to reheat rather than cook all over again!
TIP 3: CLEAN UP YOUR DIGITAL CLOSET
It seems so easy to keep that extra copy of a document or picture when a simple click makes it disappear from your screen, but all the saved data consumes energy. Energy is needed to both power and cool the servers of whatever ‘cloud’ or organizational data center that is holding and serving up those pictures, old grad papers, or cat videos. Data centers consume between 3 and 5 % of the world’s energy annually, and that energy causes carbon emissions that now are on par with the emissions from all air travel annually. Yes, IT efficiency is improving and many data centers are moving toward renewable energy, but we've a long way to go. And only about half the world is connected as yet and the internet-of-things is growing daily adding strain to the system. So, do your part to lessen the load by saving the final copy and not the 15 drafts before it. Lose the fuzzy pictures with your finger blocking the corner. Ask your IT team or favorite computer person for their favorite advice on what to keep, how to keep it, and how to triage the rest - including cleaning out sneaky storage spots that use up space on your laptop... like your download file!
TIP 4: SEE THE LIGHT
Clean bulbs work more efficiently, so dust your light bulbs occasionally with a soft, dry cloth. CFLs and LEDs last much longer than incandescent, giving them plenty of extra time to gather dust. Gently wipe them down from time to time to let the light shine through! And remember, if you are disposing of these bulb, drop them off at places like Ikea where they will be properly dismantled and recycled.
TIP 5: BUY LOCALLY GROWN,
in-season foods to reduce the carbon footprint of your meals. Check for a local CSA (community supported agriculture), or try out one of the “ugly produce” delivery services. Next week, we will be back with 5 more tips – this time helping us purge our plastic habit – also a major contributor to climate change!