Archive for the ‘carbon’ Category

New Year’s Resolution: Reducing my carbon footprint

January 3, 2012

Making my Resolution was pretty easy, figuring out how to implement and assess it, not so much.

I’ve been doing a bit of reading over the holidays, Bernstein’s Aquaponic Gardening, Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses and some of the blogsphere including Roberts’ Brutal Logic posts here  and here as well as some discussion about the “marketing” of climate change with scare tactics like Roberts vs. a gentler approach to reach the electorate, see two sides here and here.  I’ve also glanced into some alternate perspectives including Worstall at Forbes arguing that delay in addressing climate change can save money (I think his logic is faulty). Also supporting the go-slow path a friend recently wrote me “But considering that 50% of American’s make less then $26,000 a year [what with] buying food and paying rent…well there isn’t money for those high end [climate saving] purchases. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.”

I’ve got my monthly utility bills from Avista for gas and electricity in 2010 and 2011 which gives me some baseline. Avista’s electricity comes from a mix of fuels, including coal, gas and nuclear. They give information that should let me adjust my KWH to the fraction that is carbon-based. I don’t have records of gallons of gasoline purchased. My house is heated with wood, which raises some different issues about pollution and I have no handle on the amount of wood I use or its carbon content. And then there is the issue of adjusting my use of heating energy to account for the weather in the 2011 and 2012 heating seasons. Avista gives degree days in its bills but with a wood stove, there are days when you just don’t heat because you are not around to stoke the stove.

So, I am going to make my Resolution more specific:

Regarding gasoline – I will track how many miles I drive and how much gas I use and return to this challenge in 2013.  I put log books in each vehicle to begin tracking miles and gallons purchased. I can use these logs to also record gas purchases for lawnmower, chain saw and the like.

I previously challenged myself to buy only one tank of gas a month, but that challenge is complicated by having multiple vehicles and by using the in-laws’ vehicles at times. To give me something I can assess for 2012, I will aim to buy no more that 150 gallons of gas for the white car and blue truck I drive and for my various gas powered tools. Bicycling around Moscow has shaved my waistline, this is a path to continue.

Regarding electricity and natural gas – Last January I was thinking about these issues in terms of “buy local” and how to shift my purchases from Avista to spending locally. I have experimented enough with a clothesline in the greenhouse that I can see some reduction in electricity use. I need to build on this effort to reduce our footprint with Avista.

Sharon Cousins has advocated solar ovens enough to get me to try one and to build one, but I’ve not lived with them enough to make any claims that I am substituting solar energy for Avista energy. This is a path to continue. I’ve played with a mud oven and retained heat cooking, again not enough to make any claims about substituting wood as my baking fuel. Recently I found a hybrid idea, retained heat solar oven. Something to explore designing into the shared use commercial kitchen I am building.

In the Peterson Barn Guesthouse, my next steps are probably to use solar to supplement space heating and in our house, I’m working on pre-heating our hot water with solar. Both projects are low budget, a fan and ducting to blow excess warm air from the greenhouse and a homebrew rooftop solar collector.







What to do now about climate change

June 28, 2011

I had been hoping that the energy/ climate problem would somehow be solved by market economics (since national politics and international cooperation don’t seem anywhere close to addressing the issue).

But this study (PDF) by the University of Iowa on local vs conventional food gives me doubts. Their study found “…fresh produce transported to Iowa consumers under the conventional food system travels longer distances, uses more fuel, and releases more CO2 than the same quantity of produce transported in a local or Iowa-based regional food system.”  But it also concluded that ” … fuel costs will need to rise significantly if they are the only factor considered in determining whether local and regional systems are economically competitive…”

I guess I should have understood that transportation costs are a small fraction of food costs, why else would we have wine from Australia and strawberries from Chile.

Juxtapose that with the fact that the price of oil is high enough to make Canadian tar sands profitable and as Bill McKibben notes, they open “the first huge oil play of the global-warming era, the first time we’ve dangerously stepped onto new turf, even though we understand the stakes” (see this summary for understanding the stakes).

“Global CO2 emissions and warming compared to pre-industrial times for a scenario without climate policy (red) and a scenario in which the emissions are restricted to 1000 billion tonnes of CO2 (blue) from 2000 to 2050. The intervention can limit the probability of exceeding the 2°C threshold to 25%. (Credit: Image courtesy of ETH Zurich)” From

We have reached the fork in the graph above. From now on, its a zero-sum game. Globally, we can’t increase carbon releases, which, given rising population means we must reduce carbon per person. And, given rising wealth and consumption in developing countries, developed countries need to disproportionally reduce carbon per person to offset growth elsewhere.  Then by 2020 the planet needs to be reducing total emissions.

So what is a person, or a small town to do? We are faced with an instance of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Economics (and hence politics) seem to favor the status quo, encouraging environmental destruction on a planetary scale. I can choose to eat local and low carbon, but my neighbor might not. I can choose to walk or bike, but my friend just bought a big pickup. We both go to hell in the same hand basket.

I think we need to be taking three kinds of actions now:

  • Strategic investment to reduce carbon consumption without deprivation (the low hanging fruit that simply substitutes greener technologies without larger life-style implications (eg a Prius)). Given the graph above, society needs to do this substitution fast enough to prevent an increase in the overall rate of carbon consumption.
  • Make long term choices that do not compound the problem by bringing forward high-carbon assumptions. The building patterns we establish now will be with us for 50+ years and need to be tailored to future less consumptive patterns. (see South of Downtown Moscow).  This also impacts how we design our aid for others (NYTimes login required).
  • Start playing with resurrecting knowledge and lifestyles from low carbon cultures (existing and historic) and understanding the technical requirements and social changes required to implement them today (see for example my experiments with a mud oven).

(Ending to this post rewritten 6/29.)