I would like to share information about a talk I just attended (HVCC Tec-Smart on Thursday, March 28th) by Jeff Dayette, who is a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, working specifically on providing scientific information to affect public policy. He is co-author of their recent book: “Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low Carbon Living: Expert Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists.” I thought his talk and book are relevant to OEIC readers.
On a personal level, though I knew much of the information he presented I did learn a few new and interesting things. The talk was a "bottom up" approach, geared to individuals – different from his professional "top down" policy approach. He challenges the audience (mostly college students in this case) to reduce our carbon footprint by 20% this year, and provides information and tools to do this. He also stated that a lot of the common advise we have heard actually has a low payoff, so he was emphasizing the things that research has shown will have the most impact. Research has tracked the carbon footprint for many choices.
I will include only a little data, though he had some very interesting information in his PowerPoint presentation. The average American's lifestyle results in 21 TONS of CO2 emission per year (Japan comes in next with 10.4 tons). So 20% on average would be around 4 tons – eminently doable. Here's a breakdown of sources of average American CO2 and his top suggestions for cutting back.
32% home-related, total
17% heating and cooling
15% home appliances and electronics
26% stuff we buy
For the average American, his/her car gets 20 mpg, and at the annual average of 12,000 miles per year, this results in 7 tons of emissions. If we got 40 mpg that would already reduce emissions by 3.5 tons. Also they would save a lot of money – about $100 per month. Fayette also talked about more ways to get better mileage by driving smarter (one example, going 65 mph instead of 75, etc., which he states would save about another $500 per year at current gas prices.
Regarding home emissions, one of the biggest energy losers is air infiltration. Here is a breakdown of how air escapes from a home:
31% walls, ceilings & floors
13% plumbing holes
2% electrical outlets
So sealing air leaks is a good and economical strategy.
Did you know that today’s appliances are much more energy efficient that even those 10 years ago? Refrigerators are 70% more efficient than those in 2003.
We waste much electricity by leaving electronics on "standby" whereby they continue to suck much power--for example, especially a laser printer. So a simple solution is a smart power strip to turn on and off.
The most effective energy reduction in our food is to eat less meat – especially beef. Did you know that the average American consumes 270!!! lbs. of meat per year. (I know none of us is anything like the average consumer in any way, but these figures are interesting.) Emissions for 1 lb of beef equals 18 lbs of pasta. He does not recommend a diet of pasta, but a Mediterranean type diet is good for the environment as well as good for your health.
Food waste consisted of about 25% of the food produced (studied in 2009), which results in 33 million tons, most of which end up in landfills. This could be composted and thus put to good use instead.
Something I did not know – he showed data that how far food has travelled is a minor influence compared to how it is produced. The transportation costs (in emissions) is far less than the energy input to grow the food. So, while it's good to eat local for many reasons (he stated and I certainly agree), we don't have to feel so guilty for eating fresh berries in winter, etc.
One motivation for this email is that he emphasized the need to spread the word – to become a “Low Carbon Leader” and to help educate people. He suggests that when talking to skeptics, or to 'nonbelievers' in climate change that the focus should be on what's important to them – for example, saving money, staying warm, being healthy, etc.
Some encouraging information: Solar energy usage has increased 100% since 2000; Windpower has doubled. There is more investment now in renewable energy sources than in carbon-based fuels.
If you would like more specific information, he referred us to their website: www.coolersmarter.org, where you can learn more about the 20% Challenge and order a copy of their book, “Cooler Smarter” (at bottom of their home page).
So let me know if you have any comments … and SPREAD THE WORD.
My commitment, as a start, is to get a vehicle that gets really good gas mileage – at least 40 mpg, preferably more!
Natalie Nussbaum is an environmental activist. She can be reached by comments to this blog or privately through Member Email.