Kyle Schuant is the Aussie blogger over at Green With A Gun and a frequent visitor on this blog. It is hard to find a blogger as passionate as Kyle. If you comment on this blog, you have probably encountered Kyle in many of the lively discussions that animate La Marguerite. I have come to appreciate the depth of Kyle’s comments, his thorough knowledge of environmental issues, and also his talent for using compelling arguments to rally others to the green cause. Please join me to welcome Kyle as the new guest writer in the BlogActs series. In this article, Kyle does a brilliant demonstration of what it would take for the average Australian to achieve substantial reductions in greenhouse gases emissions, just with the status quo, only reasonable behavioral changes, and without the need for new technology. Kyle invites us to take a cold, hard look at the facts, and comes up with some pretty surprising numbers. These numbers can be easily extrapolated to other developed countries, U. S. included.
What are we being asked to do to “save the planet”? George Monbiot in Heat talks about a global reduction of 60% of carbon emissions by 2050, which means a 90% Western world reduction, since we’re so far above the average.. Climate change conferences between countries tend to be less ambitious. And then there are scientists out there who say we need more than a 100% reduction, we need to be taking carbon out of the air, not adding any at all. But let’s be moderately ambitious, go for Monbiot in the middle and aim at 90%. Sounds pretty rough, yeah? Probably big sacrifices required? Well, let’s see. It turns out the average Australian can drop their greenhouse gas emissions by about two-thirds without significant discomfort or expense, and saving money.
What are we starting from?
It’s easy to talk about reducing or increasing emissions, but what does it really mean to us in our day-to-day lives? Do we have to live in a cave, or can we live in a hydrogen-powered computerized pollutionless mansion if we get the right Science! (TM)?
Well, let’s look at what the average person here in Australia uses during the year, and the carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions they produce. Once we know what it means day-to-day for us to live this polluting lifestyle, then that helps us figure out what it’d mean to live a different lifestyle.
We’ll just look at what the average person can affect, their household stuff and transport. We won’t worry about factories and mines and so on, since you and I can’t affect those directly. Since methane (cow farts) and other gases actually have a stronger warming effect than pure CO2, but break down over a while, so we’ll give the figures in “CO2e”, which means “carbon dioxide equivalent”, over 100 years. This is calculated as per the figures in my article on carbon emissions. The following is what the average Australian consumes in a year, and the emissions they cause as a result.
Transport Petrol 1,230lt, causing 2,854kg CO2e Aircraft 4,000km, causing 1,000kg CO2e Bus, petrol/diesel, 500km, causing 12kg CO2e Train, diesel, 250km, causing 2kg CO2e Train, electric, 500km, causing 7kg CO2e Tram, electric, 250km, causing 13kg CO2e
Household power & gas Coal-sourced electricity 3,000kwh, causing 3,630kg co2e Natural gas 36,500MJ, causing 2,008kg CO2e
Food Meat 107kg, causing 1,231kg CO2e Fruit, vegetable, legumes and grain 400kg, causing 1620kg CO2e Dairy 100kg, causing 6kg CO2e
Waste Rubbish 600kg, causing 2,400kg CO2e Recycling 200kg, causing 200kg CO2e
All this adds to 14,981kg of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.
Yes, that is a lot. The world average is more like 3,000kg CO2e per person of these domestic controllable emissions. I know, I know – you’re different. You don’t drive but you do fly a lot, and your friend eats more meat than that and leaves the lights on all the time, and your mum never goes anywhere on any kind of transport and is vegetarian – but we’re talking about averages across whole countries, millions of people. So that’s what we’ve got.
Now let’s look at ways the average Australian can reduce this – not making any big “sacrifice”, not waiting for any Science! (TM) or The Market! but just using what’s available to us today.
The average Australian lives in a city, and has access to public transport. Over half their petrol is used in getting to work. In general, public transport sucks – it’s dirty, often late, irregular, not always on when and where you want it, but it can get you to work, and will give you another half an hour or more a day to relax before and after work, read a book or newspaper, chat to friends. Once you factor that leisure time and lower cost in, public transport sucks less than do traffic and parking and speed cameras and so on. So let’s walk, bike, and take the bus or train to work, and that halves the petrol consumption. The average car travels 15,000km each year, so that adds 7,500km to bus, train and tram. Not every city has trams like Melbourne, so we’ll split it 50% trains, 40% buses, 10% trams.
Next we’ll eliminate the aircraft travel, and change that to diesel train. Sorry, no more overseas trips – but that still leaves a whole continent to explore. That ought to be enough to fill a lifetime of holidays.
This takes our transport-related emissions from 3,888 to 1,660kg CO2e. That’s dropped us 15% on the total.
Electricity? In most places in the developed West, you can choose your electricity provider, and choose the source of your electricity. Let’s choose the least polluting, wind. Not bad – that takes us from 3,630 to 120kg CO2e. Only thing is, wind power costs more. So let’s just use less electricity.
For heating and cooling, remember that in your home you’re usually in one place for some time. You’re at the kitchen table, at your desk in your study, or on the couch in front of the tv. You don’t need the whole house to be the right temperature, just where you’re sitting. So for cooling, wear light clothes and have a cold drink. Turn off your 2,500W airconditioning and replace it with a 50W fan, point it wherever you’re sitting. For heating, wear a jumper and have a warm drink. When you’re sitting for a long time, use a hot water bottle in a little blanket.
Now, the hot water system.. Go out to your hot water heater and turn the thermostat down a bit. An hour later, check on the temperature of the water from the tap. It should be no hotter than you can stand on your bare skin. You don’t need to make coffees straight from the tap – heating 140lt to get 2050ml of hot water? Are you crazy? Use the kettle. You need it just hot enough that when you take a shower you don’t need to add any cold water. If it’s still too hot, go out and lower the thermostat again. (Some people tell stories about legionella and other deadly diseases you supposedly get from doing this, but I’ve never had anyone meet my challenge: Give me a single case mentioned in medical journals of someone getting sick from their non-boiling shower. Just one.) Now make your showers about 4 minutes. You’re not a surgeon, you don’t need to sterilise yourself, washing all over is quite enough. Shave in the sink, boys.
For lighting, as your old incandescent globes die out, replace them with compact fluroescents. They cost $5 instead of $1, but if you have it on for four hours a day (pretty typical for a house light), you’l make that $ difference back in four months, and the things last for years. Turn off all lights and appliances at the wall when not in use – how many clocks do you need, really? Is it so much trouble to switch on the tv as you pass it to flop on the couch? Is it so horrible to wait while the computer boots up?
Okay, now wind power usually costs 50% more than coal, but with all that you just went from the Aussie average of 8.2kWh/day per person to about 3kWh/day.
Alright, all that just reduced your domestic power-related emissions from 5,638 to 445kg CO2e. That’s 35% gone.
Ideally we’d all eat organic and locally-grown food. But that can be hard to get, and it’s bloody expensive. Besides which, they may save on emissions at the farm, but that’s not much use if they trucked the stuff all the way in refrigerated trucks from Gippsland to Sydney. The key thing is how much meat you eat. 107kg is the Australian average, and that’s 290g a day. That’s half the meat on a cow a year, or a couple of chickens a week, or three or four pigs. Really you don’t need that much for your health. Aim at half a kilo a month of meat of some kind, making sure that any children or menstruating women get red meat in preference to other things, they need more iron than us blokes.
With the rest of your food, buy fresh fruit and vegetables, or dried. Don’t buy tinned stuff unless there’s nothing else available, and avoid anything pre-made like fish fingers, tv dinners and so on. Buy also pasta and rice, nuts and beans. Nutrition is a complicated subject, but an easy way to do it is to aim for colourful meals. When you chop up the vegies there should be three or four different colours there. So if you had onions, peppers, spinach and carrots, there you go. Try to eat beans or nuts every day. Wash it down with some milk or fruit juice, and have a piece of fruit for dessert. You can’t cook? If you can read, you can cook. It takes time to do, but if you have time to watch Neighbours or The Simpsons or read people’s blogs, then you have time to cook. You can always make a big lot on the weekend and freeze things, that uses the time more efficiently.
Plus you’ll impress your spouse and make more friends, everyone likes someone who can cook nice meals.
That takes food-related emissions from 2,857 to 2,104kg CO2e. Another 5% saved.
You can reduce this. Basically you’ve got three categories of waste – rubbish (400kg), recycling (200kg) and food scraps (200kg). In your kitchen you should have a bin for the stuff that can be recycled, and another for the stuff that can’t. Most areas have decent recycling programs now. Check what they can and can’t recycle. If they can’t recycle (say) plastic type “6”, then when you go to the shops to buy something, don’t buy things with that as their container. There are so many brands of everything, you can have your choice of containers, too. Generally if you stick to glass jars, cardboard and wax paper containers they should be able to recycle them. If you have a garden, you should compost all your food scraps. If you don’t have a garden, find a neighbour who does and give them your scraps, they’ll love it.
In this way, you ought to be able to turn 3⁄4 of that rubbish into recycling, and all your food scraps into compost. Your total emissions from waste then go from 2,600 to 973kg CO2e. Another 11% down.
So what do we get from all that? Remember, none of this has cost us any money, in fact it’ll over time save us money.
Transport Petrol 615lt, causing 1426.8kg CO2e Bus, petrol/diesel 3,500km, causing 80.5kg CO2e Train, diesel 4,250km, causing 34kg CO2e Train, electric 4,250km, causing 59.5kg CO2e Tram, electric 1,000km, causing 52kg CO2e
Domestic Power & Gas Wind 1095kwh, causing 43.8kg co2e Natural gas 7300MJ, causing 401.5kg CO2e Wood, clear-felled 0kg, causing 0kg CO2e
Food Meat 6kg, causing 69kg CO2e Fruit, vegetable, legumes and grain 501kg, causing 2029kg CO2e Dairy 100kg, causing 6kg CO2e
Waste Rubbish 100kg, causing 400kg CO2e Recycling 500kg, causing 500kg CO2e Compost aerobic/kg 200kg, causing 73kg CO2e
All this adds to 5,175kg of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. That’s 35% of the average, a 70% reduction.
I dunno, maybe I’m a really tough guy or something, but none of those measures seem to me to be a great “sacrifice.” Most of them will improve my life – I’ll have more money, or less time at work earning that money, less stress, and better physical health. The average Westerner can get a 70% reduction while improving their life, and without having to become some stupid drugged-out hippy communist.
Okay, that’s 65%, what about the other 25%?
The rest is where we either are deprived of things and get real hassle, or else where we need some support from the public purse and government. Because we’re being lazy and don’t want to sacrifice anything, let’s not think of real deprivation. “Damnit, government, we’ve done 70% of it, you sort out the other 20%! What am I paying taxes for?” We need better public transport, more localised work and agriculture, and better packaging for our stuff.
If that 501kg of food, the fruit, vegetables, beans and grain were grown in a lot on your block, or even on a farm a couple of kilometres out of town, all organically and harvested by hand, you’d get zero carbon emissions from it, and that’s another 14% saved.
Better public transport or living within a few kilometres of work and your hobbies would let you get rid of the car entirely, and that’s another 10% saved, only 1% to go. Better packaging for the stuff we buy would mean none of it is rubbish. Do we really need a paper tea bag to have a plastic wrapping on it, then be in a paper box with a plastic wrapping around that, too? Is this a cup of tea or surgery? That saves us another 3%. Awesome, we’re over-target.
So by our own day-to-day actions we can reduce our carbon emissions by 70% while improving our lives overall, and the other 20% we need some government help for.
Again, this is all talking about the average Westerner and what they can achieve in their own day-to-day lives. And it turns out that we can make a 65% reduction in our personal greenhouse gas emissions while improving our lives and physical health. For the other 25% we need some help. I say we make the 65% reduction, then our elected representatives will be more inclined to help us out with the other 25%.
An easily-achievable, 65% reduction. By contrast, as I write this, representatives of the developed world are wailing in terror just at talk of a non-binding goal of a 25-40% reduction… by 2020. For Australians, 25% is 3,745 and 40% is 5,992kg CO2e each. Taking public transport to work saves us 2,267, and changing from coal-generated to wind power without lowering power consumption saves us another 3,510kg CO2e, there you go, easy. 2020? I can do that by tomorrow!
Sure, this doesn’t make agriculture or industry change, but that’s a “what difference does my contribution make?” question, which will be the subject of another article.
Wow, and we didn’t even need Science! (TM) for it. A pity, really, it could have been fun.