i’m sure the environmental types just love earth day losers like me. this is the day we are all supposed to do a million acts of green in a futile attempt to save the planet from pollution, global warming, overpopulation, etc…
so far today, the only environmental thing i did was refill a styrofoam cup three times. i would have filled it up more, but then i set it down on a screw and it sprung a leak and now i have to throw it out because it isn’t very useful as a cup anymore. my head is hung in shame, i am an evil environment hater.
In reality, I’ve been on the green wagon long before it was hip to be on it. I don’t really like disposable drinking cups and use proper washable ones almost exclusively. Most coffee places are sympathetic these days. If you show up with a insulated mug at a Tim Hortons, I’ll bet they’ll fill it, estimate the size and charge accordingly.
The trick to not being an Earth Day loser is to know what makes an impact. In a lot of cases, it is all about using less energy, which is what generates much of the pollution and waste in our world.
- Know which devices in your home are using the most power and use them as efficiently as possible. Your iPod charger is doing very little to kill the environment. It is your washer, dryer, fridge, dishwasher, freezer and climate control that use the most. You will do more to save the environment by drying your blankets on a clothes line.
- Don’t use your oven when a little toaster oven will do. Don’t use a toaster oven when a microwave will do. A 1500W microwave will heat a cup of water to boiling in under three minutes. A little 1500W toaster oven will take at least 10 minutes. A combination of the two is also more efficient. If you like the cheese on your nachos crispy, for example, nuke it in the microwave to melt it, then run it on the top rack under the broiler for a minute to crisp it up. I estimate this approach uses a third of the energy.
- Become smarter with lights. Compact fluorescent ones are great, but are costly and take a few minutes to warm up to full brightness. They also don’t like being turned on and off constantly, so they are a waste of money in a room like a closet or bathroom. Also, only use lights if you actually need them. I do this all the time at the shop, particularly in the summer. If I know that all I’m going to be doing is phone calls and installs, I don’t bother turning on the overheads.
- Internal combustion engines like the one in your car are a major user of energy* so if you can, walk or bike. I walk to work and I walk my kids to school. I walk to any job I can. I purchased a dwelling that lets me do this. People who commute three hours a day in a car really need to start asking themselves some fundamental questions about where they live.
- My minivan is around 1700kg. A large SUV is 3000kg+. Physics doesn’t change just because you have lots of money. One of these vehicles takes nearly twice as much energy to move around than the other. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out.
- Rail and buses are far more efficient than even four people in a car. A bus, for example, does the work of four cars, but carries 10 times the number of people.
- Reuse things. It takes energy to make everything, but relatively little to wash it. I carry food around in reusable plastic containers. Those plastic containers are the little tubs you get sour cream and cottage cheese in. I wash them and use them until they are too decrepit and then I recycle them.
- Refill your water bottles. I have a little fleet of Dasani bottles I constantly refill with tap water. The trick to making it ‘tasty’ is to filter it and put it into the fridge for a day. Water is quite heavy, and it takes a lot of energy to ship it, particularly if it is from overseas.
- Same goes for food. The more locally it is grown, the less energy is needed to ship it. It also tends to be fresher.
- Clean your furnace every now and again. Not your ducts, the core of your furnace. I noticed a remarkable increase in efficiency when I cleaned the A-coils on mine.
Some things I’d do if I had the money. If you have the money consider them:
- I’d insulate the crap out of my house and replace every door and window with a high efficiency one. My house is old and wastes a lot of energy.
- Install a geothermal heat pump. They are upwards of 70% more efficient than regular gas furnaces. They can be used for air conditioning too, which means I could get rid of the power-sucking central A/C unit.
- Install an on-demand electric water heater. A traditional water heater spends much of it’s time keeping a big tank of water hot. On-demand ones only heat the water when it’s needed and are up to 75% more efficient. This, combined with the geothermal unit and space heaters should allow me to drop natural gas altogether.
- Tile my roof with solar panels. I think I could get 2000W or so up there, which would go a long way toward cooling on a hot, sunny day. I’d love to do this at the shop too. I figure you could pack a 20,000W array on to the roof of our building.
- A high amperage array of batteries in my basement so I can bank some of that solar power for times when it is not so sunny or when I need a lot of juice all at once eg. that electric on-demand water heater.
* A lot of people are shocked to discover just how much energy an internal combustion engine uses. One horsepower is the equivalent of 745 watts of power. My van has a modest engine that can evolve as much as 180HP worth of power. I’ve never pushed it that far, but let’s assume it takes 30HP to keep my van moving at 100Kph (overcoming mechanical, wheel and air resistance). This means a one hour drive is somewhere around 22kWh. This is around as much power as every device in my home uses in a day. But even more energy is actually being used. Internal combustion engines are maybe 25% efficient, so the actual amount of energy I’m using is closer to 100kWh. Compare this to a large electrical motor. These are somewhere around 90% efficient, and don’t require a transmission.