Climate Solutions by Rob Painting
Posted on 9 July 2011 by Rob Painting
After writing the blog post Throwing Down the Gauntlet, 'Actually Thoughtful' suggested SkS authors/contributors write about what personal measures they've taken in regard to climate change, and what steps readers could take. This is my response.
Nobody likes a hypocrite
From time to time we get the odd comment here, suggesting that we (SkS contributors) are hypocrites; that we're using electricity and consumer goods that generate greenhouse gases and that we should be living in caves. These silly comments always give me a laugh, how do they know I'm not living in a cave running my recycled computer off a homemade exercycle Gilligan's Island-style?
More seriously though, it does raise an issue about perceptions of hypocrisy. It's only natural to scoff when watching a TV segment about obesity and type 2 diabetes, only for the camera to switch to an interview with the health spokesperson doling out healthy eating and exercise advice, but who happens to be obese themselves! Well I can assure you that while no 'eco-saint', I don't dig hypocrisy either. Here's a sample of the measures my wife and I have taken; some simple, some not so :
- Cleared our property (and adjacent ones too) of invasive exotic trees, thereby allowing native fruit-bearing trees to gain a foothold and form a canopy. It's taken over 10 years, but we're now on top of it, and the small plot now has a healthy population of native birds. My neighbours tell me they can hear a Kiwi calling at night from somewhere on our place, but I must say I've never heard it.
- Grow most of our own fruit and veggies (lettuce, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, shallots, beetroot, potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkin, gherkins, strawberries, peaches, feijoa, lemons, limes, mandarins, olives, tamarillo, nectarines, passionfruit, plums, apples, parsley, coriander, rosemary, dill). All spray-free although this does entail a bit of work.
- Tomatoes are frozen, bottled, made into: tomato relish, tomato salsa, tomato sauce. Gherkins are pickled with dill then bottled. Beetroot are pickled & bottled too. Peaches are made into chutney. Limes and lemons made into syrup, for drinks. Limes also turned into lime marmalade, along with grapefruit from a neighbour's place.
- When our garden isn't producing enough, we buy local produce from our Farmers Market. This cuts out the emissions involved in long distance transport. It also has the added benefit of being predominately organically grown, or at the vey least spray free.
- Don't buy fish from the supermarket. A lot of it is not sustainably managed, despite fishing industry claims (I can speak from personal experience here). Easy for me to say, of course, I don't have to paddle very far in my kayak to catch dinner. This won't be an option for many.
- Installed energy efficient lighting throughout our house.
- Switch off appliances on standby. It annoys me how every new device has to light up like the bridge of the USS Enterprise, when on standby mode.
- Use soapnuts for our laundry washing, this cuts down on phosphate getting flushed into the local environment. Veeeery bad for waterways as it encourages algal growth and de-oxygenation. Soapnuts are fine for general use, but are hopeless on sweaty running/gyms clothes or heavily soiled clothing. My wife has some natural concoction for those.
- Don't use a clothes dryer. All washing is dried naturally (despite the fact that we live in a very wet climate).
- Use instantaneous (on demand) gas hot water heating system, rather than an electric hot water 'boiler' which must constantly heated. My showers generally take about a minute, and in summer I take cold showers, to reduce gas consumption.
- Use a cloth bag for grocery items at the supermarket. Sadly plastic shopping bags have not been phased out here in New Zealand.
- Buy locally made products where possible.
- Shop at second-hand clothing stores (although not exclusively) and furniture. Often a bit of re-gluing, a sand and a couple of coats of furniture oil, or varnish, are all that are required to make coffee tables and chairs 'new' again. Same for lounge suites, some new foam squabs and upholstery and she's done.
- Our primary means of transport is a pregnant skateboard, one of those under-powered little granny mobiles. The petrol engine is less than 1000cc, but it doesn't matter, I drive within the speed limit anyway. I get the odd person, whom I know, giving me a bit of stick about driving like a granny, but it's like water off a duck's back.
- Built my own solar powered ventilation system for our house. It's still a work in progress - I want to add a heat exchanger, but haven't found any suitable scrap that can be turned into one yet.
- I'm planning to build a wind generator and a micro-hydro unit, but have sort of dragged my feet because of the work involved, and some logistical challenges. I've reconfigured an old direct drive washing machine motor to output 12 volts, but that's as far as I've got.
- We're planning to install solar PV panels in the next couple of years too. Long-term we want to get totally off the grid.
- We don't use air travel. Haven't been overseas for about 12 years, and haven't been on a plane since. Not a biggie for me, but I understand air travel is unavoidable for those whose jobs depend upon it.
Obviously not all these measures are strictly climate-related, but it makes sense to consider the big picture; damaged forests, oceans and waterways will make it increasingly harder for humanity to feed itself. Self-interest sometimes means adopting a long-term view.
What can you do?
If there's one thing I would ask, is that readers not buy any consumer item which contains palm oil. It will require quite a bit of research because if your government is anything like New Zealand's, it is probably steadfastly refusing to enforce labelling of palm oil products. No doubt this is due to lobbying by manufacturers concerned at the financial implications. Palm oil is usually hidden in the product's ingredient list as 'vegetable oil', or 'vegetable fat'. Here's some palm oil naughties - avoid this stuff like the plague.
What's palm oil got to do with global warming? Quite a lot actually. As well as killing lots of wildlife, and displacing indigenous people in the tropical rainforests (mainly Indonesia and Malaysia), the clearing of trees for palm oil plantations, and the drying of peat bogs on which they grow, is adding a lot of CO2 to the atmosphere. So by making use of Google and applying some discretion at the supermarket, individuals can make a difference. As an additional bonus you won't be eating that highly refined and processed crap that passes for food nowadays. Stave off type 2 diabetes - it's a win-win!
Individual action isn't enough
All this talk of individual efforts is fine and dandy, but the reality is that in order for civilization to continue, we require an effort which surpasses that of the World War II mobilization. We have to rapidly de-carbonize our global economy, or the outcome will be bleak. It seems to me that a straight-forward carbon tax is the best way to stimulate movement on this. The alternative cap and trade proposal is just an invitation for exploitation by the banking industry and speculators, whose sole interest is to make a much money as possible while providing no tangible benefit - as always. The Kyoto Protocol did nothing to curb greenhouse gas emssions so why do we think carbon trading will be different this time around?
As for alarmist "skeptic" claims about carbon taxes destroying the world economy, well we heard that one from the slave owners, when moves were afoot to abolish slavery in the 18th century! And the last go-around was when the banning of CFCs, to protect the ozone layer was suggested. Not surprisingly, global financial collapse didn't occur then either. In fact there is one guarantee of financial collapse: business-as-usual. We know the world's resources aren't infinite, so it's about time we started acting like we know. Very soon would be nice.