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I'm glad we got a nice big, modern walk-in fridge that uses only a little power.You'll find plenty of lists of "how to save the world" in easy steps, and a lot of them are fiddly little things that it's a problem to remember and sometimes a pain to do. There's also the fact that some make a huge difference, others, while terribly worthy may be wiped out by that light-bulb you forgot to turn off last night.

I thought I'd make it easier and in particular focus on the biggies - that make the largest difference, if you want to re-use supermarket bags as well even better, but if you don't do those listed here, you're not really making much of an effort.

It comes down to reducing the amount of greenhouse gases you are personally responsible for releasing. Some are obvious, drive a car - carbon dioxide (CO2) comes out of the exhaust, some are less obvious, buying just one new shirt instead of two that you don't really need for instance saves on CO2 emissions in its production and transport.

So here goes, roughly in some kind of order.

1/ Be Aware

Switch your brain on, take an interest in the world, it's an ecosystem that you're part of - not on the outside of. While technology may provide cushions and barriers, when Mother Nature turns her mighty wheels, nothing, but nothing is going to stop them. Sticking your head in the sand may be temporarily comforting, but ultimately disastrous as a survival technique.

I can't remember where I first heard this, so can't attribute the quote properly, I've changed it a bit but it's relevant here.

There are three kinds of people in the world:

1/ Those who understand the world and decide what's to be done, when, where and by whom.

2/ Those who understand the world and while they don't want to be part of group 1 - are vital to make sure that those in group 1 do the right things and for the right reasons.

3/ Those who really just don't what's going on at all, let alone why it's happening or how to change it.

Make sure you're in 1 or 2 and definitely not group 3.

2 / Don't Fly

A long haul flight is about 18 months motoring equivalent per person.Isn't that a bit militant? Well maybe it is Mr. Airline-Industry-Dependent-Guy, but flying is the one usually unnecessary thing we do that can have the biggest immediate effect on greenhouse gas emissions (CO2). Long-haul flights are the worst as they have to carry extra fuel that in the early part of the journey that is needed to burn to carry the extra fuel that is needed in the later parts of the journey - short-haul flights don't need to do that to the same extent, so the kilometres per litre or miles per gallon for fuel burnt is better with short haul than long haul flights.

So how bad is it?

A single long-haul return flight, say from the UK to Australia, South America or the Far East can release about as much CO2 as driving 15,000 miles in a fairly standard 1.6L car on your own (and yes that is per person, you don't divide it by all the people on the plane). The average annual mileage by a motorist in the UK is about 10,000, so one long-haul airline round trip is the same as 18 months of normal motoring - and wipes out an awful lot of eco-friendly bike-riding in a single stroke.

All of these thing produce about the same amount of CO2

  • 15,000 miles (18 months worth) of motoring in an average size standard car
  • 1 return long-haul flight e.g. UK to Australia, South America or the Far East
  • 3 return medium-haul flights e.g. UK to East Coast America, Africa or India
  • 6 return short-haul flights e.g. UK to Europe
Good for me

Discover all those not-so-far-away places you always meant to go to, but never got around to

The realization that vacation is a state of mind as much as a matter of geography

Save money and time on long haul trips, not to mention avoiding jet lag while you're supposed to be enjoying your holiday
Good for the environment

Lots and lots less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere

Less fossil fuel usage - means it will ultimately last longer

Less other pollutants released by the aircraft too
3 / Dump the SUV or Pickup - Get a More Economical (and better) Car
Slow, wallowy ride, corners by appointment & Hi-Pollutin'(Swallows diplomacy pill) You can probably reduce your CO2 emissions by at least a third by getting a far more fuel efficient vehicle. An MPV will do pretty much the same job as an SUV for this saving in fuel and emissions while giving a similar internal space, though maybe not being so good at mounting a machine-gun on the back and taking part in a limited regional armed conflict or hauling a whole winter's worth of lumber from the back-woods - hands up who needs to do those things?

Relative CO2 emissions (approximate guide):

Supermini diesel 1.4-1.6 2009 models 0.54
Hybrid* e.g. Toyota Prius 0.61
Supermini 1.2L or smaller 0.70
Supermini 1.2 - 1.6L 0.88
Family car 1.8L engine or smaller 1
MPV 1.8L engine or smaller 1.05
Family car larger than 1.8L 1.14
MPV car larger than 1.8L 1.2
Coupe between 1.9 and 3L 1.26
Executive car 2.5L or less 1.37
Executive car larger than 2.5L 1.6
SUV 3L or smaller 1.7
SUV larger than 3L 1.94

* Note - while the Toyota Prius was the first commercially available hybrid, there are an increasing  number of small engined petrol and diesel models that are close to the Prius's emission levels or even better.

Also - hybrid doesn't always mean low emissions, Lexus have recently produced hybrid SUV's with 3.3 and 3.5L engines that have emission levels far above many standard family petrol and diesel models.

Faster, leaner, better chassis (corner with smiles), less polluting and waaaaay cooler. Alfa Romeo Brera(Spits diplomacy pill out) No-one really needs to drive around in something the size of a school bus, safety considerations are partly negated by the increased tendency of SUVs to overturn in accidents as they're top-heavy, they are also more dangerous to pedestrians. So help the planet, the Poles and get a better car that can go round corners too and is far more fun to drive.

(It's a little known fact that other cars regard SUV's and pickups as dorky idiot cousins that it's an embarrassment to share genes with - ask any Alfa Romeo or Mini of your acquaintance.)

Car Fuel Data Site (UK) - get the environmental data on all current cars here

Good for me

Spend a lot less cash on travelling costs without going anywhere less often or doing it any slower by taking less metal with you when you go

Less fossil fuel usage - means it will ultimately last longer

Less other pollutants released by the car too
 
Good for the environment

Lots and lots less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere
4/ Get More Efficient Refrigeration

Old refridgerator - power-hungry-planet-eater.In most homes, the single most energy-hungry appliance over the year is the refrigerator. Buy the most energy efficient model you can - it will be cheaper in the long run. Less efficient models are usually less expensive to buy, though the initial cost price difference is getting slimmer compared to the most effective machines. The extra running cost of electricity of cheaper models easily wipes out the initial cost-saving.

If you have an extra freezer, then get a chest freezer rather than an upright - they are significantly more efficient. Open the door of an upright freezer and all the heavy cold air falls out (hot air rises, so cold air falls) to be replaced with warmer air which needs refrigerating again when you shut the door. Chest freezers retain their cold air when the lid is opened and they also usually have better insulation than an upright - a much more effective choice in every way - especially for somewhere other than in the kitchen.

Good for me

Spend a lot less cash on your electricity bill for no loss of refrigeration convenience or efficiency - what's to lose!

Good for the environment

Lots and lots less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere
5/ Reduce Space Heating Requirements

Despite what it sounds like, this is about heating the spaces that we live and work in and not on heating outer space.

The second largest energy user is frequently the heating of a living or working environment. The scope for reducing energy usage is less so than refrigeration, but still considerable.

Ways to do this:

Insulate roofs, ceilings, walls, windows and floors, you may be able to get a grant to help you do this, ask at your local council, government office or library.

Use curtains on windows to keep the heat in and shelves above radiators (about 2"/5cm above) to deflect heat outwards rather than up under curtains where radiators are so frequently placed and the heat lost in heating the window

Turn the thermostat down by 1 degree - 2 is even better. 1 degree Centigrade will save around 10% of the energy needed and you probably won't notice so much - if you're cold, put something on. If you're cold and don't put something on it'll help you lose weight as you generate heat from within by burning up food instead!

Keep doors and windows closed as far as possible.

Don't heat little used parts of the house / workplace. Rarely or unused spare or guest rooms for instance can have their heaters turned off and doors closed when not in use.
Good for me

A more equable temperature year-round as the inside of your home reacts less quickly to external changes than it does now

Less noise/dryness/heating problems and maintenance costs as your system doesn't have to work as hard any more

Spend a lot less cash on your power bills for no loss of heating convenience or efficiency
Good for the environment

Lots and lots less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere

6/ Reduce Water Heating Requirements

Multi-Mode Handset Chrome One of the easiest ways of doing this is to take showers and not baths, though it is possible to use an awful lot of energy in the shower too. Power Showers are the worst culprits, normal showers are fine for getting you clean. Also, don't spend so long in the shower.

In Antarctica a shower longer than 2 minutes is known as a "Hollywood Shower" - extravagant and unnecessary (though in Antarctica it's usually due to a lack of freshwater in liquid form).

More efficient washing machines and dishwashers can have a large effect here too, so consider paying a little extra at purchase time to save an awful lot more in energy cost through the lifetime of the appliance.

Good for me

Spend a lot less cash on your power bills for no loss of heating convenience or efficiency
Good for the environment

Lots and lots less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere
7/ Eat Less Meat
File:Beef inspection USDA.jpgMeat is expensive and not just in monetary terms. It is expensive because farm animals process their feed inefficiently. About 10% or less of the food fed to an animal reared for meat is converted to meat. The rest of the available energy is is lost largely through losses due to respiration mainly through generating heat (the vast majority of farm animals are warm blooded) and locomotion.

This means that for every 10 units of (plant based) food energy given to a farm animal, 9 are not available for the consumer of that animal who only gets 1 unit. Whereas the whole 10 units could be gained by directly eating the plant food fed to the animal.

Factory farming is more efficient and free-range less efficient as factory is based on the premise of maximum profit while free-range on animal welfare which means the animals are outdoors (colder) and free to move about more, this means they need more food to get them to the appropriate weight.

Ok, so this is rather simplistic and I don't really think we can expect anyone to live on cattle or pig feed directly, but nonetheless any way you look at it, eating meat is an extravagance. Much more food is grown to feed the animals than would need to be grown if people ate plant-based food and this doesn't take into account the transport and infrastructure needed to rear and process the animals - and I'm not starting on the rights and wrongs of rearing and eating animals for meat versus being a vegetarian or the environmental impact of cow farts.

Just one day a week (in fact just one day) without meat will have knock-on positive environmental effects as well as knock-on positive health benefits for yourself.

You don't have to become vegetarian or know the source and provenance of every morsel that passes your lips (unless you really want to), just don't eat so much meat.
Good for me

Spend less

Eat more healthily

Try new foods/recipes
Good for the environment
 

Less animal suffering, however you do it as less are killed

Lots and lots less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere
8/ Get More Effective Lighting and Use it Less

Low Energy Lamp ES 15W 240V We're all aware of energy efficient light-bulbs - effectively short coiled fluorescent tubes that use a fraction of the energy of an ordinary light bulb and last far longer too. They've come down in price a lot in recent years, but the main saving is that they are considerably cheaper over the life of the bulb - So why aren't you using more of them, if you already know this?

Maybe it's too obvious to say, but turn lights off where they are not needed, the same goes for all those appliances you leave on stand-by.

BTW - exactly when and why did "off" start to get replaced by "stand-by"?
 

Good for me

Replace light bulbs less frequently as they last longer and go out far less often.

Spend a lot less cash on your power bills for no loss of lighting convenience or efficiency
Good for the environment

Lots and lots less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere
9/ Drink tap water - The great bottled water swindle

Brita Elemaris XL White Water Filter JugIn the vast majority of the 1st world our tap water is more than clean enough to drink, but somehow we started to fall for marketing messages that tell us to go out and buy drinking water in bottles instead of just getting it from the tap.

Get it from the tap and you will prevent the huge amount of fossil fuels consumed in transporting bottles of water to and from the supermarket, millions of tonnes of water unnecessarily transported over millions of road-miles. You will also help to avoid all those billions of one-trip plastic bottles needed.

If you want your tap water to be even cleaner, you can get a filter jug, or for greater convenience a water filter under the sink so it comes straight out of the tap super-filtered.

Good for me

Much cheaper than bottled water

No more carrying big heavy bottles of water from the store

Freshly filtered, doesn't sit around in a plastic bottle for months on end (or longer) absorbing chemicals from the bottle
 

Good for the environment

Billions of plastic bottles per year less to deal with

Huge reduction in pollutant production associated with transport

10/ Buy organic food - even grow it yourself

Organic food is food that is grown without man-made chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers. It also means no human waste, or sewage sludge, has been used on the fields and that no ionizing radiation or food additives were used in their production. Organic meat has been reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without using growth hormones.

Organic food doesn't need to be bought from the supermarket and is much more widely available than imagined. "Vegetable box" schemes are popular ways of getting organic food whereby you buy a box of veg that is delivered once a week or so of whatever veg is in season.

Organic food often has a price premium over non-organic, which is more reason to grow it yourself if you have the space. I don't see the point of struggling against the slugs and weather to get a crop of lettuce that I can't possibly eat quick enough at the time when they are almost giving them away in the shops. Instead you could try lollo rosso, rocket and especially those cut-and-come-again salads and tomatoes which are at their best when directly from plant to plate in a few minutes.

Other ideal vegetables to grow are green beans, these are easy and don't travel well so the ones in the shops are never as good or as fresh as home grown. Broad beans are good as are French beans and very easy too. French beans don't need all the long canes that runner beans need, but wait until early May before sowing them outdoors. They can be started off earlier if you like in 3" pots in an unheated greenhouse.

I also go for spinach because I like it in salad better than any other leaf (apart from watercress, but I don't have the appropriate flowing watercourse).

Good for me

Tastes better, though this is usually more a case of the varieties used than being organic itself. In reality it often works out more tasty as only the best varieties of plant and animal are grown in an organic manner

Growing your own:

Much cheaper than buying it

Satisfaction in your gardening prowess

Food that is not contaminated by any chemicals you'd probably rather it didn't have

The absolute freshest fruit and veg
Good for the environment

Less chemicals out there, which has a direct effect reducing the amount in circulation

Also very biodiversity-friendly as there are no "blunderbuss chemicals" that kill everything in their path and not just the pests

Growing your own:

No transport costs at all

11/ Ready meals / TV dinners - don't do it!

quality ingredients prepared at home are better for you and the planetOur busy lifestyles mean that we have been sold the idea that we have no time to properly cook or prepare food anymore. We arrive home late, exhausted and unable to do anything other than take a packet of something exotic sounding from the refrigerator - barely able to press the microwave start button before slumping semi-lifeless in front of the idiot-lantern (TV).

OK - 'fess-up time, does that really apply to you? or is it more like a case of can't be bothered? Even if you don't have much time, it doesn't take long to cook proper food and it doesn't need to be exotic.

Why are ready-meals not so good?

  • Lots and lots of packaging

  • Often twice cooked, once when prepared, then once again by you, energy inefficient and extra cooking removes flavour

  • May contain additives you could do without

  • Frozen meals require extra resources to keep them frozen in transport and storage

  • Do you really like them? Go on be honest - they're not that nice really are they?

What's the alternative? - This is for the unconverted, if you already cook from scratch (or thereabouts) you're already there.

  • Quality ingredients simply cooked

  • Cheaper than buying ready-prepared food, even ready-grated cheese or shredded salad leaves are much more expensive than than getting the raw food as it comes and grating or shredding it yourself.

  • Roasting a chicken for example will take you about 15mins effort, it will take the chicken a couple of hours or less, but that's your own time. You don't need the full roasted accoutrements, lots of other simple things you can do with it instead.

  • We are brainwashed in particular by TV chef's talk of complex and subtle combinations of flavour, there is no more complex flavour than a fresh piece of fruit, veg or meat on its own. Remember to get quality ingredients. Many ready meal sauces are not only needlessly complex, but have flavourings that are needed to compensate for the less good ingredients and the fact that it's sat around for who knows how long waiting to be cooked - and why do any carbonara-types always repeat on you for hours afterwards?
     

Good for me

Tastes better, food that is in better condition and has less preservatives

Probably healthier as you know exactly what has gone into what you are eating
Good for the environment

Less energy used in preparation as the food is cooked once, not twice

Much less packaging, ready meals are one of the most over-packaged goods in the supermarket

Less energy used in transport, prepared food in all that packaging that is largely air take up far more space meaning more lorries to ferry them about

12/ Recycle stuff

It's becoming easier and easier to do this as recycling facilities become more widespread reducing the need to throw things away to landfill.

Garden refuse that is too large for you to handle into the compost bin if you must, but it's better to make and use your own compost

Other stuff you should be recycling at the minimum:
Many can be disposed off at a nearby out of town (or maybe even in town) car park.

  • Aluminium cans

  • Glass bottles

  • Newspapers

  • Unwanted reasonable quality clothing and other goods to charity shops such as Oxfam / Cancer Research etc.

Further steps:

  • ebay - sell stuff you would otherwise bin

  • freecycle - give away and get stuff you would otherwise bin or have to buy

Good for me

Some recycling is the only altruistic-only thing here, although you personally benefit as well as everyone else

More contentious, but nonetheless a useful positive (sort of) is that the fact that many councils are now collecting landfill waste less often, so if you don't segregate properly, you'll need to go to the skip to take the stuff that doesn't fit into the bin any more. Segregate recyclable waste properly and you won't have to do this.

Get money for unwanted stuff, or other stuff you want either cheaper or for free!
Good for the environment

Lots less carbon dioxide pumped out into the atmosphere as much less energy is needed to recycle aluminium and glass in particular compared to making it anew

Less mining with associated spoil and environmental degradation needed as less raw materials needed

Recycling something intact saves ALL of the energy and resources taken to make another one as only one is made instead of two.

13/ Business Can Help Too

For some reason I don't entirely understand, all of the above often goes instantly out of the window when business is concerned. Here's a few obvious ways that business can help VERY considerably:

1/ Don't assume taht it doesn't matter as long as "it's business"  - it does - you / they are responsible. At the moment in many cases the polluter doesn't pay, but in reality WE ALL PAY and the polluter is riding on the backs of everyone else. "It's Business" is not a no-blame joker-card, often the effort to improve may be small and the effect large.

2/ Don't have doors open in the winter with a fan heater blowing downwards above the entrance so people can walk in but still feel nice and warm even though the door is wide open. Doors are a very effective low tech means of retaining heat and therefore cutting greenhouse emissions - use them! (reduces fuel bills too - best described as "overheads" sounds more impressive in corporate-speak!)

3/ You don't really need to have ALL the lights on ALL night - timer switches will do the job if you can't be bothered. You'll save on power bills and also on the life-time of light fittings. Advertising is just not going to be effective between about midnight and 8 a.m. so turn it off!

4/ Office environments don't need to be frigid in the summer. If you need to put something on to stay warm when people outside are in t-shirts, then the air-conditioning dial is in the wrong place.

5/ DO NOT SUPPORT WASTEFUL INDUSTRY, here's an extreme example (November 2006) - A seafood company in Scotland is planning to ship frozen langoustines (a posh word for big shrimp/prawns) from Scotland to Thailand so that they can be peeled and then frozen and shipped back again. Currently they are peeled using water jets, but this isn't so great. A 12,000 mile trip to be peeled by Thai workers earning 25p an hour instead will give a better quality product for less cost. Each 1 tonne of fish will generate 0.5 tonne of carbon dioxide that wouldn't otherwise have been released. But hey! they can make money from it and that's all that matters isn't it?.......

Climate Change: Global Warming | GW Antarctica | Misconceptions | Carbon sinks
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