Can you cut back 90% of anything?

Posted 2009.08.04 10.11 in Pointless Blather, Uncategorized by Stephanie

Sometimes, insomnia works out. Waking up at 5am and being unable to get back to sleep, I found myself watching a televised lecture about climate change, given by Gwynne Dyer. It was a bit frightening, and, dare I say it, a bit dire.

I think at some level, when people hear talks about climate change, they tend to think it is alarmist, that people are making it sound worse than it is. I’m not a scientist, and I don’t know all the facts, but I suspect that by and large those who are trying to raise awareness on the issue are not being alarmist. Rather, the subject, the consequences, are themselves just straightforward alarming. Yet they are also long-term. The damage we’ve done in the past 50 years, the damage we do in the next 20 or 30 years, will likely result in some severe changes and problems for us down the road. But not this afternoon. Not tomorrow. Heck, perhaps not even in the lifetimes of many of those in a position to start doing anything about it right now.

If you’ve read my recent article on humanity & self-destructive behavior, you will see why climate change is an issue that has an uphill battle in getting people’s attention. However, this isn’t what I’m writing about today. Either you understand climate change or you don’t. If you need more information on that, go read Gwynne Dyer’s stuff.

What I want to discuss, is how much we can do about it – if we as individuals can make those adjustments to our lifestyles. Just looking at the way you and I live, what we do on a day to day basis. The number I heard in the lecture was 90%. Reduce carbon emissions by 90%.

So what do I do that creates carbon emissions? Well the first and most obvious thing is, I drive a car. And I love my car. I’d hate to do without it. But… that may well be what it takes for me personally to reduce my carbon footprint. Aside from the car, my home is heated by natural gas. Also, my water is heated by natural gas. And finally, my house is part of ‘the grid’, I use electricity. The electricity here is likely mostly supplied by Niagara Falls or might come from the nuclear plants, but there’s probably still the odd coal-fired power plant lurking around. There are also non-obvious, indirect aspects of my life which result in carbon emissions. Virtually any product you purchase is responsible for some carbon emissions. Disposable things made of plastic and chemicals are nasty. But even that organic vegetable from the farmers’ market has some carbon behind it (someone drove it to the market didn’t they?)

So what can be done?

Though I’d be very sad, I could maybe, possibly give up my car. Perhaps. Or at least, cut back on how much I use it. Make sure it’s in proper working order, as efficient and clean as it can be. My furnace is relatively new, high-efficiency, and my house is well-insulated. In winter, I can turn back the thermostat a few degrees and wear a sweater. In summer, I can leave my windows open rather than turning on the air conditioner. I can do my laundry with cold water rather than hot. I can ensure there are no lights left on, no televisions running unwatched, and generally-speaking, don’t run anything that I don’t need. And those things I do need, I can strive for the energy-efficient models.

And in the real world, what am I doing?

In fact, I’m already doing most of those things. (My car is my one holdout… though I do keep it mechanically sound and it is tested for emissions every two years – and has always passed with flying colours.) I keep my house colder in the winter and warmer in the summer. I have an air conditioner but only use it when the temperature is over 80F for a few days in a row. This year I haven’t even turned it on once. I rarely turn lights on at all, and the ones I do use, have been converted to high-efficiency compact florescents. I use a push-mower to cut the grass, rather than gas or electric. I only use cold water for the laundry. And I recently replaced my large energy-hungry television with an aquarium.┬áMy career involves lots of computers and electronic stuff, but where possible I ensure that I’m using the most efficient computer for the job, and minimizing electricity usage wherever I can.

So other than giving up my car, I like to think I’m doing pretty good as far as my own carbon footprint. I’m gradually getting over the grocery bag thing, and have a few reusable cloth grocery bags now (it’s just a matter of getting into the habit of keeping them handy…) and I’m getting more and more aware of the hidden carbon cost of manufactured goods, and especially packaging. (Those gawdawful plastic blister-packs that everything come in… seeth! They’re horrid nasty things, difficult to open, then you throw out the plastic packaging… ban them!)

I’m not going to change or save the world. Indeed as Dr. Dyer mentioned in the lecture, the world doesn’t need saving – it will go on happily without us and won’t even miss us. What needs saving is us, our way of life. We need to be saved, from ourselves. I won’t do it alone. I don’t even know if I have the resolution and willpower to save myself. But the sooner we all wake up to the risks, the sooner we can collectively take the first step or two in the right direction, the better chance we, or our children, will have of maintaining the way and quality of life that we want them to.


  1. Lezley says:

    It’s depressing – because we do keep choosing the harmful choice… sometimes there’s no choices but the most over packaged nonsense. Seriously, Taiwan, Japan and Malaysia are the worst for packaging…. the individually wrapped cracker is packaged in one of two plastic bags that’s packed in a larger bag. The entire pile is comes up to your knees!!!

  2. Stephanie says:

    I have read that in Europe, you can take all the packaging back to the shop you bought the product from and they have to accept it. So if you buy something that’s hideously overpackaged, the retailer has to accept the responsibility for selling products that way. And one would hope that the retailers can then pass that back to the manufacturer, and maybe someday they’ll stop packaging each biscuit in doilies, wax paper, airtight foil, separated by corrigated cardboard, foam, and heavy gauge industrial steel-belted tyres to ensure freshness and lack of breakage.

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