May 10, 2010

Currently the yearly carbon emissions for the entire world is approximately 7 billion tons. This equates to about 1 ton per person per year. The US and other developed countries have much higher carbon emissions per person per year. For the US this number is approximately 10 tons. (See IEER, “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy“) (Executive Summary).

Most climatologist stress that in order to stabilize the earth’s climate, global carbon emissions will need to be reduced by 60% relative to the year 2000 (6.8 Giga Tons) by the year 2050 or earlier. Given that the US has a much higher per person emission level, it would make sense that the US pursue greater reductions. It has been suggested that the US should strive for 90% reductions.

Whether it is 60%, 90%, or something in between, every citizen of the US will have to make a lot of sacrifices. Below are a few things you should consider when thinking about your role in helping to meet these targets:

  • The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Audit: Whether you are a business, a municipality, or a household, you should always start your journey by completing a GHG audit. Put another way, you will be trying to get a handle on your carbon footprint, carbon being one of the more significant gases contributing to climate change. For businesses and municipalities, I highly recommend a a visit to the World Resource Institute GHG Protocol project site. In particular, I would download and read their document Hot Climate, Cool Commerce: A Service Sector Guide to Greenhouse Gas Management. I would also look at their calculation tools to help you keep track of your GHG sources. Finally, to help guide an entity towards sustainable capital decisions, I recommend A Sustainability Lens for Capital Decisions: A Corporate Sustainability Approach to Reduce Business Risk put out by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

    For the homeowner, there are links to several carbon calculator tools listed below. Your task is far easier than that of a business. You should focus on your electrical usage, heating/cooling cost, auto travel, recycling, and air travel.

    If you are in Maine, you should also check out the Maine Home Performance web site. Maine HP, as it is called, links Maine homeowners with qualified and certified contractors who can provide one-stop-shop access to a whole-house approach to reducing energy bills, improving comfort, improving the safety, reducing maintenance costs and improving the health of occupants of buildings.

    Good luck and do not hesitate to ask for help.

  • Energy Conservation: Examples include Energy Star rated appliances, use of compact fluorescent light bulbs, more efficient heating systems, additional insulation, and more efficient windows. Information on efficiency ideas for homes and businesses can be found on the Efficiency Maine web site. Also, check out the Department of Energy’s online Home Energy Audit Tool and Fred Horch’s Sustainable Living Handbook.
  • Clean Renewable Energy: Support the development of community wind and solar projects, install your own wind turbine or photovoltaic/solar system, use an energy supplier who guarantees your electricity comes from clean renewable power sources, and purchase green tags from organizations such as Native Energy.

    To find out about where you can purchase green power, go to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy and Renewable Energy web site. Here in Maine, you can obtain 100% of your electricity from renewable energy supplies and/or purchase green tag offsets. Information on various programs can be found in the Maine Green Power Guide.

    If you decide to go the route of putting your own renewable energy solution in place, then check out Maine Energy Investment Corporation‘s site for helpful information pertaining to renewable energy solutions. Please note that part of the purchase price for your renewable energy solution can be off set with federal and state incentives. See the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency for more information

    Very soon you will be able lease a solar (PV) system for your home thanks to the efforts of Citizenre. This is a great opportunity to eliminate the carbon emissions due to your electrical use, while at the same time locking in your electrical cost. This program eliminates the up front capital cost and technology risk.

  • Recycle: Why clog landfills with materials which can be reused? A great program for promoting recycling is called Recycle Bank. In this program, you earn coupons for use with local merchants in return for your participation in the recycling program. You should urge your community to start up a program similar to this to encourage greater participation. You can also urge merchants to reduce the amount of packing for their products.
  • Purchase Local Foods: The food we consume does not represent the true cost of getting it from the supplier to our table. Suffice it to say that the costs are much higher than what we actually pay. For instance, purchasing frozen strawberries from Argentina is not sustainable. We all need to try and purchase as much of our food from local suppliers as possible. In Maine, you can find information about farm stands and local foods in general on the Get Real, Get Maine, web site. For a national directory, check outwww.localharvest.org.
  • Raw Diet: A raw diet is healthier for you, does not consume as much energy to prepare, and crops make more efficient use of the land than livestock. You can start improving your health and dramatically increase your energy level by adding raw superfoods to your diet. I personally have experienced a higher level of energy which has led to much better running endurance and speed. Try for yourself.
  • Alternative Transportation: There are far better ways to commute to/from work/school than as a single occupant of an automobile, many of which are SUVs. Take a bus, ride a bike (or avelombile in my case), car pool, car share, and maybe some day you could even buy an electric car! Find out more about options on the Go Maine web site.
  • Driving 55 mph: I encourage everyone to consider driving slower. On average a car will use 10% less fuel traveling at 55 mph rather than 65 mph. The savings are even greater for the majority of you who drive 70 mph or more. Driving 55 mph saves 17% or more as compared to these higher speeds. Put another way, Adam Gardner, guitarist/vocalist for Guster and co-founder with his wife of Reverb, recently stated on a WCLZ Eco-Minute that each mph you drive over 60 mph is like adding 10 cents per gallon at the pump.

    To test this theory I started driving slower back in November 2006. At first I tried driving 55 mph, but found this was plain dangerous. So I upped my highway speed to 60 mph. This seemed much safer and was still close enough to the efficiency “sweet” spot to yield a benefit. As my fuel logs show, I have achieved significantly better fuel economy on a monthly basis as compared to previous years. For instance, my monthly fuel economy for May and June 2006 was 50 mpg and 51 mpg respectively, while for May and June 2007 it was 55 mpg both months.

    I would also like to point out that you will emit far fewer Greenhouse Gases (GHG) at a slower speed. Information on fuel economy as it relates to speed and other driving behaviors has been published by the EPA here. For a tad funnier spin on fuel saving tips, cruise over to Car Talk.

  • Plug-in Hybrids: There is a big push to develop Plug-In Hybrid cars. These are cars which would only use gasoline when you travel beyond 30-40 miles. The car would otherwise run on electricity and would allow over 90% of commuters to get to/from work without using any gasoline. I encourage you to visit the CalCars web site for information on Plug-In hybrids and to sign onto the Plug-In Partnerspetition.
  • No idling: Too many people leave their cars idling while they run errands. Cars emit way too many pollutants when idling. So please, turn your car off whenever you come to a stop for more than a minute. Information on the State of Maine no-idling campaign can be found on the Bureau of Air Quality School Bus Program web site.
  • Need help figuring out your carbon footprint? Take a look at the Conservation Fund’s Carbon Calculator and associated metrics used for the calculations. Native Energy also has an easy to use
    Energy Calculator. Information on how much carbon your car emits can be found on the U.S. Department of Energy Fuel Economy site or the TerraPass web site. Just select the year, make, and model of your car and how many miles you drive per year. You can also use this site to compare multiple cars.
  • Putting it all together: I would like to find an organization who was willing to develop a web-based application which allowed among other things:

    Businesses and individuals to collect and track their carbon inventory.

    Enter information about carbon reduction projects, including but not limited to, project plans, project financials, project logs, and post-project assessments. It would be nice if such a system could interface with other sources of data to help populate and track the carbon inventory. For instance, allow the user to pull in their electric usage and calculate their carbon emissions based on the supply mix. Likewise, pull in data from the user’s heating fuel supplier and produce the carbon emissions based on the fuel type. Lastly, the system would pull in data from the State’s motor vehicle system and combine with information from sites such as the EPA’s fuel economy site and Gas Buddy to track and display the emissions and fuel cost for a particular vehicle.

    Tie into systems which allow an entity to buy and sell green tags/credits.

    Even if a system similar to the above did not exist, it would be helpful if individuals were exposed to the extent of their carbon emissions on a regular basis. So borrowing from the above, include information on a homeowners carbon emissions for heating, cooling, electricity, and transportation by tapping into existing data and presenting it to the homeowner as part of their property tax bill. Food for thought.

  • For additional information, see:
    Climate Counts – Find out which businesses are on track to becoming sustainable
    Climate Crisis – Home of An Inconvenient Truth
    Climate Friendly – GHG Reduction Information and Assistance
    Curb Climate Change – Business Initiate to Address Climate Change
    Energy Power Shift – Moving Away From Fossil Fuels
    GreenBiz – Helping to Green Business
    Efficiency Maine
    Department of Energy Building Technologies Program
    RenewUS
    Safe Climate
    New England Climate Change
    Sustainable Business
    World News Climate Change Site
    World Resources Institute