The Future

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Have you heard the reports  that our planet can only safely handle 350 ppm (parts per million) of carbon in our atmosphere before we start doing damage to the ecosystems of the earth?  The problem is we have exceeded that number already and have reached 395 ppm.  And based on how much fossil fuels we use today, we only have 15 years left before our air cannot support life as we know it.  It is scary to think that the fresh air I breathe (living away from a city) will not be there for my grandchildren by the time they are in their late teens and before reaching that magic age of 21.  But there is something we can do to help prevent this.

Just avoiding driving is not the answer. It is estimated that those of us who live in the so-called first world need to cut our fossil use by 80 % – 90%.  That’s an awful lot to cut.  Yes, I’ve cut back but even I haven’t cut back enough to reach that magic percentage.  Fossil fuel is used in almost everything we touch.  Some examples are:

  • Synthetic fabrics
  • Plastic, from toys to food containers.
  • Heating our homes
  • Fuel needed to ship goods to our stores and the energy to heat and operate those stores.
  • The manufacturing of furniture, gadgets, and everything you see in your shopping malls.
  • The circuitry of your electronics

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It’s  not just the fossil fuels that we have to worry about either.  If you throw food scraps in your garbage, headed for the landfill, it will produce methane in that landfill which further pollutes the air.  Food scraps, leaves, etc which you compost will not produce methane as it breaks down in your compost and will help to make your soil healthier.  If you don’t want , or think you can’t  afford, a composting system you can dig a hole, fill it with food scraps and refill the hole.  In time you will have some of the best soil on your property.  I dig my holes in areas of the garden which were tilled but not planted this year.  By next year I will plant in those areas first and use other spots in the garden as my compost bin.  After a few years I will have every area of the garden beds lush and full of nutrients.

 

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So what can we do to reduce our use of fossil fuels in our daily lives?

  • Cut back or eliminate driving
  • Reduce the amount of electricity you use (most electricity in the US is either from coal or nuclear power, some is produced by natural gas)
  • Opt for the smallest choice when buying new.  Do you really need the largest fridge or TV, decide what is “just right” for your family.
  • Reduce your dependence on the grocery store.  Join a CSA, grow some of your own food, buy from local families who sell their surplus.
  • Purchase used before new and try to avoid buying anything new as often as  possible
  • Repair before replacing.
  • Plant trees and other plants outdoors to purify the air. If planted around your home they will provide shade as well to reduce the indoor temperatures and even provide a wind break in the winter to reduce your heating costs.
  • Don’t buy a new phone if the one you currently have works fine.  When the time comes to replace a phone look for used or refurbished.  Same with computers, televisions and other electronics and appliances.
  • Insulate your home, start with windows and doors if money is tight.  A tube of caulking costs very little compared to the energy you will save.

 

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Another way to make a stand is to divest yourself of all investments in fossil fuel companies.  Some universities have divested all their pension accounts of these types of companies.  If the big oil companies stop earning their record profits they will need to look for other means of staying in business that is in line with the public’s values.

 

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I know what you are thinking, it’s too expensive to change everything you have, or like me, you are renting.  Here are some things I did around my apartment that saves natural resources.

  • I scraped and caulked around the window.
  • I added weather-stripping around the exterior door.  If you can see light coming in you have air loss costing you more to heat and cool your home.
  • Changed out the light bulbs around the apartment with a mixture of LED and CFL and avoid turning on lights if I don’t need them.
  • Cook as little as possible.
  • Decided I could live without a fridge.  I will have a freezer, a small one, but not a fridge.
  • Only use one light for the task I am doing when I am alone.
  • I chose to buy a fan instead of an air conditioner.
  • Take as short a shower as possible
  • Wash clothes in cold water.
  • Changed to natural cleaners which don’t come in a lot of plastic packaging or use fossil fuels.  This was one that surprised me  when I thought about it.  I had always used Dawn Dish Soap.  Until I saw birds being cleaned with it after an oil spill.  I began to wonder what was in my dish soap.  Turns out petroleum products are used in the liquid.  I couldn’t get over how gross that seemed to wash my dishes in something so harsh.

 

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I doubt as you look around your home you can see where  you can save 80% – 90% of your fossil fuel use.  But take a look at the products you buy, the plastic wrappers on your food.  Read the labels on your beauty and hygiene products and see what they are made of.  Avoid the dollar stores and big box stores which get most of their inventory from overseas.

 

How much could you reduce your footprint, without it being a burden, if it means your children and grand children will have the opportunity to live a healthy life on this planet?

34 thoughts on “The Future

  1. p.s. Sorry I sorta went wild on the comments to this post. I didn’t mean to come across like a know it all or anything. I guess this is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, and one that I’ve spent a great deal of time obsessing about.

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  2. We’ve just had the solar rebate cut here in Australia so no way we could consider it. But then again, we’re not within where the threshhold was anyway. Even with a good income, solar is just not an affordable option for most people sadly. To boot, I want an off grid system. Why should I feed it back into the grid and be paid a mere couple of cents to then buy it back for 20 or so cents when I can pay more and then have my own power for free whenever I want it. Damn the man I say! Still, both options are out of our league.
    Plastic is seriously the bane of the 20th and 21st centuries and it will remain the bane of the 22nd, 23rd and more too as that crap NEVER truly breaks down. :( I just wish truly plastic free options were out there and available to those who want to be plastics free. We do our best but there are times with 3 young kids that we fall miserably short of our ideals.
    And sadly, I have heard that our ppm is over 400 now. Past the point of no return for climate change of 2 degrees celsius. :(

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    • Jamie, I hope you are able to find what you are looking for in the near future at a cost you can afford. I have always thought I would like to be off-grid but if more people were to connect with solar or wind and we could shut down the coal and nuclear plants as a result I would be happy to contribute my excess. In my town, only one home and the university have solar so if I did ever do it I would be off-grid as the little I could contribute would not do much to help in the long run.

      Plastic is the bane of our existence, I wish it had never been produced. I too wish we had plastic free option for those of us who wanted it. It’s hard to find. I would be very happy wearing cotton, hemp and wool over synthetic fabrics, and not all our food has to be wrapped in it. I could go on, I really hate plastic, but I won’t bore you with a rant.

      We went over 400? How sad. I look at these huge houses and the cart overfilling with big box stuff and know so many are still buying the crap that adds to the carbon load. I wish there was a way to get everyone to realize this is a problem we need to address NOW.

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      • Jamie? I like it. :D
        Yeah, people just had no idea or more to the truth don’t want to know. I mentioned to my mum about the 400ppm n how all the crap is destroying the world and she replied with “I know” but given that my husband and sons all have birthdays this week I know she will have had a blast shopping and consuming. She doesn’t understand why we do what we do and live as we did. I mean, why grow it when you can just buy it? “I’m at the stage of life I just want things easier” she says. “I can’t be bothered with all that making things stuff and just don’t have the time”. Well no, not when you factor shopping in as important. :(

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        • I’m so sorry, another blogger named Jamie blogs using hippie in the blog title My apologies Rabid Little Hippy. On the subject of the carbon if 350 is the limit the earth can safely handle any number over that is bad news. Your mother has an opinion that is typical of so many. Maybe if you ask her how she would like it if her grandchildren won’t have clean air, access to clean water and may not be able to grow food in the climate we anticipate if she would care. I know for myself I am in the second half of my life and could easily (if it were my nature) convince myself that it is someone elses problem. But it’s not and I don’t want to add to what the future generations will have to deal with. Plus this planet is way too precious to damage it.

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    • Well, if you want to split hairs about the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 (not saying that you do… I’m just a little bit nerdy on this stuff) the measurements in the Arctic actually hit the 400ppm mark last year. Levels at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii showed an average concentration of 400ppm for one day in May of this year, southern hemisphere levels aren’t expected to hit that milestone until sometime next year. I’m not entirely sure why you see different levels at different latitudes – one would think that it all mixes together in the atmosphere, but I think it has something to do with vegetation (see next paragraph.)

      The levels actually fluctuate seasonally with the high point being reached in May – this is because there are more forests in the northern hemisphere, and they have a major impact on the levels as the plants take up more CO2 during the summer months. Anyhow, if you’d like to obsess about these things you can follow the levels as monitored by NOAA at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii at: http://co2now.org/

      Any way you slice it, things are looking pretty dire for the human race.

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      • Cat, I didn’t know that information but am glad you shared. I have heard that as the arctic shelf melts it is letting off lots of methane from the stored vegetation in the ice which would make sense that that area is reporting as higher in CO2. I think the jet stream may have something to do with it. I know from living along Lake Erie that in the winter especially we find a storm will not reach us as the warming jet stream holds it north of us. So maybe the jet streams aren’t letting the air move south from the arctic as we might think it would.

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        • Well, not to get too terribly geeky on you, but methane (CH4) is a completely different gas from Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Methane is pretty much the same thing as natural gas. For some reason the public hasn’t really been focused on atmospheric concentrations of methane like we are on CO2, but methane levels are also rising. It is extremely concerning because methane is 25 times more potent than CO2 in terms of its greenhouse warming properties. Fortunately it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2 does, unfortunately, when it breaks down it degrades into CO2.

          The really frightening part is that not only is methane released when stored vegetation melts, there are also vast stores of frozen methane at the bottom of the ocean known as methane hydrates. Should ocean temperatures get warm enough to allow these frozen deposits to melt and bubble to the surface, our proverbial goose would be cooked in a very short amount of time.

          Anyhow, if you want to go all geeky on this topic with me, here’s a pretty good article explaining the role of methane hydrates in global climate change:
          http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/12/methane-hydrates-and-global-warming/

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          • Very informative article you suggested. One thing that I noticed was the mention of the thawing permafrost and the shifting of land in Alaska. It was stated that the Alaskan pipeline is built on top of the permafrost. Can you imagine the destruction all that oil would cause should the shift be enough to break part of that pipeline? Sure they could turn it off, but not before a lot of oil spills. Even more reason to get off fossil fuels! It seems every wrong step we take has so many possible consequences we need to change how we live and quickly.

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      • I’d heard something about trees changing the levels of carbon depending on whether their leaves were green or coloring up and falling. And to be honest I’m not sure that the difference between 395 and 400 would truly mean the difference between being safe and not either but I guess the 400 was a nice round marketable number to share with the world. Things are pretty dire indeed and for those that can’t or don’t grow their own food in at least some capacity, I think the future could look very bleak indeed.

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        • Well when 350 is the limit of what is safe any number higher is a bad sign. I agree there is a learning curve to gardening, especially when it comes to diseases and pests so anyone not learning and experimenting, working to build up their soil is way behind and may be in for some rough times in the years ahead. Just today I spoke to two more neighbors who realize what’s coming and asked if they can claim spots in the field for next year. I was thrilled to say the least.

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  3. My husband and I were talking about this last night, I had accidentally put a bag of rubbish containing plastic bottles in the incinerator and black smoke billowed out to my horror. So many do what they can, and you do fantastically, but he told me what his boss burns in his pits at work without a thought and we were discussing corporations, the amount of traffic on the roads around the world, factories etc etc. Honestly, we couldn’t not do it because every little bit helps but I have to wonder if we can ever do enough – sometimes I think not.

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    • Wendy, I agree with you. I don’t think the US is any where ready or willing to do what is needed on the whole. I see little things like the university put up solar panels but I know they don’t have enough to cover all their needs, just to offset a portion of their use. As green as you try to be I can just picture your horror when you tossed the wrong bag in the incinerator, I’m sure it would exactly like my own. Our latest problem here at the apartment building is that the waste company changed out the garbage dumpster with one that has a lid. It’s very heavy and I catch people tossing garbage in the recycling bin, without a lid, instead. I try to pull out what I can and switch it or catch the person but I can’t catch it all.

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      • Goes to show how apathetic many are about recycling, disinterested or lazy about it ay.

        I have just had quotes done for solar power. I wish governments made it easier or subsidized it. $12,500 to get 40% of our power needs, it would take forever to recover costs, it just doesn’t make any sense.

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        • No, those prices don’t make sense. Have you looked into to solar film for windows? I hear it’s much cheaper. I heard about the film when a US based company couldn’t get the government or any of the utility companies interested so they took the product to Germany where the people were subsidized to have this installed.

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          • Sorry to butt in but I just wanted to add my 2 cents about solar power. We installed solar panels on our home to heat the water about 9 years ago and they completely paid for themselves within 2 years. The savings we have made are massive. Now we don’t turn on the heating at all during the summer which is amazing in Ireland where it’s normally cold year round. Just a thought is all :)

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          • Eimear, thank you! I am so glad you were able to have such a positive experience with solar panels. I’m surprised you don’t have to turn on the heating in the summer that would really save you.

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          • The thing is, there are different kinds of solar technology. Solar heat and solar water heaters generally work by putting a radiator like device on the roof and pumping water through it to heat the water. They look sorta like solar panels but are completely different from photovoltaic panels which convert the sun’s energy directly into electricity. Solar water heating can be extremely efficient, but the devil’s in the details in terms of payback. So much depends on building codes and regulations, which have a huge impact on installation costs. Also, while it would be pretty simple to convert a home that already uses a hot water / radiator heating system to a solar system, it would be a completely different story to convert a house that has a gas forced air system.

            Photovoltaic systems tend to be much more expensive, and aren’t nearly as efficient, so the payback period can be so long that it often just isn’t a feasible solution. Plus, the current technology requires the use of rare earth elements making them not entirely sustainable. Wind energy seems like a good alternative, but I read somewhere that most home systems will not save enough in CO2 emissions over their lifetimes to equal the CO2 emitted in the process of manufacturing them! Don’t know if that’s true or not, one can hope it was a biased study, but it’s certainly a sobering though.

            Seems to me that the real holy grail of solar technology is actually the oldest and simplest, and that’s passive solar design. If you want to be inspired in this department check out the Rocky Mountain Institute. They have built an amazing sustainable home in the middle of the mountains where several feet of snow is common throughout the winter months. Of course, you kinda have to build it from scratch to get that level of efficiency, but there are ways to incorporate some of the ideas in retrofitting existing buildings.

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          • Cat, that reminds me of when I first saw Earthships. I was stunned that they could heat an entire home on one cord of wood or less in the climate around Colorado and Taos, NM. That was when I first began to cut back and want to live off-grid. It’s been more than 15 years and I still can’t find a place to build such a home here.

            Yes, passive solar is really the way to go, but like you said, you really have to build with that in mind to ensure you have the necessary insulation, positioning on the land, etc.

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          • Earthships sound so totally cool, don’t they? Do you suppose you could build one in the city? You’d need a lot with a south facing hill…

            The other thing I like to fantasize about is straw bale houses. At one point I had this crazy idea that maybe I could build straw bale walls around the outside of my existing walls… sorta like adding a massive layer of insulation or something. Probably wouldn’t be feasible, and who knows if it’s legal or what the building codes would have to say about that one!

            My other solar fantasy is building a passive solar space heater. It’s basically like a big insulated black box with a glass face mounted on a south facing wall. You put a vent on top going into your house, and a vent on the bottom with air from the basement like a cold air return on your furnace, and the whole thing runs without fans just from the convection of the hot air rising. So basically cool air from the basement is sucked into the box, where it’s heated and then flows into the upstairs of the house. My house would be a perfect candidate for that because I’ve got a great south facing wall and inside is an open design so you could just vent it into the main room and it would pretty much heat the whole house. It’s just the idea of drilling holes in the walls that scares me… sorta makes it a bit more permanent than I think I’m willing to get – especially since I’m not entirely sure how much heat it would provide and whether or not it would be worthwhile in the long run. But maybe I could rig something vented through the windows… I dunno, but it’s fun to fantasize about!

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          • Cat, I have loved Earthships since I first saw them and still wish I could build one. No, we tried to find a way to build one here maybe 15 years ago, it was a no go with the towns in the area, doesn’t fit with their regulations. Straw bale is another idea I played with as we have plenty of hay bales here we could get rather cheaply. They are a little more work to build in this climate than in the warmer regions but still do-able. There is a piece of land which is on a hill, south facing slope, which overlooks the lake and for sale right down the street from me. I look at it each day I pass it and envision the placement of the home, gardens and trees I would like to have on it, but again it’s just a dream as I would never be allowed to build an off-grid earthship there.

            I like your idea of a passive solar heater. I would think that it would need to be really well insulated and maybe hold quite a bit of water to heat your home in the worst of winter, but I think it would work well. You could probably build the heater, place a thermometer inside to see how hot the water gets during winter and then decide if you wanted to hook it up to the house. It is fun to fantasize, isn’t it?

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