Another study published yesterday warns that the Atlantic currents that transport warm water from the tropics north are in danger of collapsing as early as 2025 and as late as 2095, with a central estimate of 2050… The collapse of that system would disrupt rain patterns in India, South America, and West Africa, endangering the food supplies for billions of people. It would also raise sea levels on the North American east coast and create storms and colder temperatures in Europe.1
The deadly temperatures that scorched parts of North America, Europe and Asia in early July will be common in a few decades unless greenhouse gas emissions are cut fast.2
A couple of weeks ago, I started a thread on Micro.blog about what I have been/am doing as an individual to address climate change. It was a fairly robust thread as threads go on M.b. Oddly, there was a member who was insisting that individual effort was, not so much a waste of time, but not where we needed to be applying our energy. Compelling government action, they felt, was where the energy needed to be applied.
I believe the government has a large role to play. Under the Biden administration, there have been some positive steps. But, the pressing issue in the politics of the United States is not, unfortunately, the environment, it’s whether we will remain a democracy capable of enacting legislation to protect the environment. The Biden campaign will make their case based on what they have done and still plan to do, which is a lot, but the issue really is, do we want an authoritarian government or not? That is all we are being sold by conservatives. That is the fundamental choice we are being offered. I will vote for the ability to make meaningful changes in our environmental habits. I will vote for democracy.
But, until then, I am sizing up what I am individually doing. I am trying to be the change I would like to see.
Here is my personal climate impact assessment and action plan, which is a work in progress.
We drive about 9,000 miles (ca. 14,484 km) a year, mostly to run errands, go to our health club. We make several get-away trips a year to Block Island, RI, which is about 180 miles (ca. 290 km) away.
Our present car is a leased Honda HRV. Before that, we had a Honda Fit. We’d have replaced the old Fit with a new one if they hadn’t stopped making them. The HRV gets about 27 miles (ca. 43 km) to the gallon. The lease will be up in another year, and we are planning to go hybrid or all electric. Currently, we are leaning hybrid because we have read they have a lower raw material excavation impact that makes them overall the better environmental choice at the moment.
We could possibly reduce our annual mileage by shopping more on our very walkable Main Street, which has shops selling most of the necessities and some non-essential but nice to haves.
We fly very little. Most years I fly once to visit family. Family used to be in Florida and Seattle. Now everybody is in Seattle. I am planing to visit them in October. That will be our only plane trip this year. We’d like to do a European trip at some point. Maybe we’ll do the Greta Thunberg thing and take a ship across the ocean. Is that any better?
Our house is modest. Around a thousand square feet of living space. Three bedrooms and one bathroom. The smallest bedroom has been set up as an office/studio for me. There are two of us. We consider it to be just enough. Friends and family can stay overnight with us. We can entertain small groups of friends. We make good use of the space we have.
Several years ago, we installed solar panels. The panels supply around 90% of the electricity we consume. We cook and heat with gas, but are planning a kitchen renovation and will go all electric when we renovate. We are also hoping to install an electrically powered heat pump system, but will keep our gas fired decorative stove. More about that below.
Our house is brick, 18th century vintage. It’s not well insulated, but we’ve done our best to improve on that.
A programmable thermostat is set to keep the temperature at 60 degrees F in the winter. Anyone in the house has permission to raise the temperature to be comfortable. The thermostat resets the temperature to 60 degrees every six hours. We dress in layers and I wear a knit cap all winter long. It’s by no means a hardship.
As I mentioned, we have a gas fire stove in the living room. It is the main source of heat in the house during the day in the winter. When we installed it, we cut our gas consumption by quite a bit. It keeps us comfortable enough to keep the full heating system from coming on during the day. It has a battery back up ignition system that keeps it running when the power goes out. We will likely keep it for that reason.
In the summer, we air condition with small window units. One each for the dining room and living room, and one in the upstairs master bedroom. We only air-condition the rooms we are inhabiting, and we keep the thermostats set to 76 much of the time. We have a ceiling fan in the master bedroom and find it keeps us cool enough if it is not too hot and humid.
LED bulbs became the standard in all our light fixtures years ago.
Food Wrapping and Storage Containers
It’s difficult to buy food without bringing home plastic. Plastic bags for vegetable produce. Plastic bags and clamshells for bulk products and prepared foods. Plastic wrapping for fresh meat and fish. Plastic containers for my favorite pickles.
We have started to forgo plastic bags for things like apples, oranges, peaches, avocados, potatoes etc. We let them free-range in the cart. Likewise, we bought cloth produce bags for stuff that needs some containment, like fresh peas and beans or mushrooms.
We eat less red meat than we used to, but when we buy meat we try to buy it from the local butcher who sources locally. We are fortunate to be able to spend a little more and that we have a local butcher at all. Our butcher wraps in paper mostly. I have to investigate what sort of paper it is. Food papers usually have a plastic or silicon coating on one side. Plastic is definitely bad, the jury seems to still be out on silicon.
Fish is difficult. Everyone wants to wrap it in plastic. The fishmonger at the farmers market does, but maybe I can bring my own reusable product and avoid the plastic bag. Working on that.
We have been using a vacuum seal machine for freezer food storage, which uses plastic bags. We will stop using it. I am investigating reusable silicon pouches and a system of reusable vacuum seal bags. The former is expensive, and the jury is out on the environmental advantages of silicon. The latter looks interesting. It uses a non-fossil fuel plastic that they say is biodegradable in 3-5 years. It comes with a little usb powered vacuum pump. I have ordered a starter set.
We also use glass storage containers with plastic snap-lock lids. I am thinking about moving to all glass with metal clips when the need to replace or augment arises. The clips are easy to lose, but maybe it’s worth the hassle to get more? Or, keep a supply on hand?
I looked at butcher paper, freezer paper and parchment paper as alternative ways to wrap and preserve food but discovered that they are coated with plastic.
We’ve largely stopped buying beverages that come in plastic containers. We got a Soda Stream for my wife’s carbonated water addiction. Furthermore, we don’t buy single serving beverages for the most part and buy things that come in glass or metal containers when we do. We have water bottles and use them.
I’ve started using pencils for most of my analog writing needs. I have to look at what to replace disposable pens with. Perhaps I will develop a refillable fountain pen addiction, which would be both trendy and more environmentally friendly?
I have an electric razor that is pretty good and plan to use it more. I don’t razor shave much as it is. Once a week.
Household Cleaning Products
We’ve begun to make our own cleaning solutions for general purpose cleaning. For dish soap, we go to a refill store where we bring containers and fill them. We buy washing machine soap sheets and tablets from them as well. They are conveniently located on Main Street.
We try to buy locally as much as possible. We order what we can’t get locally, mostly from Amazon. I would like to see if we can do less of that.
This is likely an easy list to expand on. I would love to hear what you are doing to reduce your environmental footprint.