Live More Sustainably

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This is the first instalment for rabbles three-part series based on the book Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change, published by New Society Publishers. This first section details how someone can live more sustainably.

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Listen up, you couch potatoes: each recycled beer can saves enough electricity to run a television for three hours.

— Denis Hayes, Earthday Guide to Planet Repair

What a fabulous world, full of everything a person could ever want to buy.

On one level, it’s wonderful. People who arrive in Europe or North America from Africa, Asia or Latin America are astonished. A hundred and ninety varieties of breakfast cereal! Five thousand different styles of shoes! For thousands of years our ancestors lived without all this, but today the advertising tells us “This is what life’s about.”

But where does it all come from? Everything has to come from somewhere — from earth’s fields, forests or oceans; and it has to go somewhere when it’s finished. Each North American indirectly consumes 121 pounds of matter every day.

Our “stuff” all requires energy to be processed, manufactured and delivered, and if it’s not recycled, it produces methane emissions when it sits in a landfill. Manufacturing a car produces 5.22 tons of carbon dioxide gas (CO2). Even a mere daily paper, when you calculate the energy needed to pulp the paper, produces 263 pounds of CO2 in a year. The more we buy, the more CO2 is released, at least until we make the transition to the solar/hydrogen world.

And even then, will the forests, fields and oceans ever be able to support such incredible consumption? What if everyone in the world wanted to live this way? So many trucks, carrying so much stuff. There has to be a better way.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & and Buy Less Stuff

Recycling reduces the amount of energy needed to make new things. Every recycled bottle saves one pound of CO2 when it is used to make a new one. Every recycled newspaper saves 0.25 pounds. It all adds up.

Another way to recycle and get that shopping fix (if you need one) is to shop at thrift and second-hand stores and yard sales, and to give old things a new lease of life by refurbishing them. Finding a great deal on an old piece of furniture beats paying the full price at the mall, any day.

Live More Simply

The average American is responsible for eleven tons of CO2 through the manufacture and delivery of the things he or she consumes. At the end of your life, what will you remember? Will it be the cupboards full of clothes, or the cars you owned?

All over North America, there’s a quiet revolution taking place called “voluntary simplicity,” which has people questioning what they’re doing. By taking stock of their lives, reorganizing their priorities and spending less on stuff, they are producing fewer emissions (unless they spend their time flying to exotic places).

In its place, they’re discovering nature, art, their own local communities and time for meaningful activity. In the big picture, they are trading matter for spirit. They’re helping to change the world.

Buy Carbon-Neutral Products

As the months go by, you will begin to see companies advertising their products as “carbon neutral” or “climate-safe.”

This means they have calculated the carbon cost of their operations and reduced their emissions to zero, either by efficiency and buying green power, or by paying into a carbon-offset fund (to invest in solar energy, efficiency or tree-planting) to offset their remaining emissions. The first is better, but both are to be commended.

In Britain, you can buy carbon-neutral cars, carbon-neutral holidays, carbon-neutral home-delivered organic food and take out a carbon-neutral mortgage with the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society to cover the carbon emissions of your house for the first five years, courtesy of Future Forests, which plants trees to offset carbon emissions for individuals, households and companies.

In North America, you can buy carbon-neutral organic food from Earthbound Farm, carbon-neutral yoghurt from Stoneyfield Farm, carbon-neutral health products from Shaklee, carbon-neutral carpeting from Interface and carbon-neutral airline tickets from — and there’s more in the pipeline.

Plant Trees

Let’s say you have used a carbon calculator to assess your carbon emissions, shifted to more sustainable travel habits, traded in your clunker or sport utility vehicle (SUV) for a more efficient vehicle, invested in more efficient appliances, upgraded your home so that it burns less fuel, installed a solar hot-water system, solar photo-voltaic (solar PV) roof and ground-source heat system, switched to a utility that will sell you green energy and maximized your recycling.

What’s next, if you are still producing CO2 emissions?

The answer is — buy carbon offsets. Climate Partners and TripleE will purchase offsets for you in initiatives — such as carpooling and school energy retrofits — that help reduce other people's emissions.

American Forests will plant trees for you (one dollar per tree) on the basis that one tree will absorb one ton of CO2 over forty years. They plant three trees to make sure that one survives, so five tons of CO2 would need fifteen trees and cost $15. Fifty tons would need 150 trees, at a cost of $150.

In Canada, the Tree Canada Foundation runs a very similar program. Before long, we will be seeing sophisticated Community Carbon Offset Projects that help people calculate their emissions, reduce them by the means described above, and buy carbon offsets to become carbon neutral.

When governments start to introduce carbon taxes and rebates, the whole process will become very familiar. It will be a sign that we are turning the corner to a more sustainable world.

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

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