When Local Food Helps Fight Climate Change — and When It Doesn’t

by Luc Reid
This article originally appeared in the Williston (Vermont) Observer

Burlington Farmers Market

Burlington Farmers Market

We Vermonters have it made where it comes to local food. While our growing season is short, we’re long on Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) options, farms, farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and gardens.

After Hurricane Sandy, I got interested in local food as a way to help fight climate change. On average, food is the fourth biggest household contributor to climate damage (after transportation, electricity and combined home heating and hot water). Unfortunately, it turns out that “local” doesn’t always mean “low climate impact,” but a few pointers can help us know when it does.

One of the best ways to lower our food footprint is to eat more plant products and less meat. For example: according to carbon footprint expert Mike Berners-Lee, half a pound of strawberries grown nearby in season has only about 1/20 of the climate change impact of, say, a cheeseburger. Cows (as well as sheep, goats, llamas, buffalo, deer, etc.) eat grass and emit methane, a greenhouse gas more than twenty times as bad as CO2. This gives dairy products a larger footprint and puts red meat among the worst climate offenders compared to pork (not as bad), poultry and fish (better), or in-season vegetables and grains (best). Some plant-based alternatives to meat include tofu, seitan (“wheat meat”), and beans.

Local grass-fed beef, though there are very good things about it, unfortunately has about the same climate impact as anonymous beef from far-away factory farms.

The other big climate troublemaker among foods, believe it or not, is the evil twin of those local strawberries. Fruits and vegetables grown in hothouses or flown in from distant places can have a hugely inflated carbon footprint. For example, hothouse or air freight strawberries are almost twelve times as bad for the climate as local, seasonal ones. Other big offenders include out-of-season cherry tomatoes and asparagus.

Some plant foods from distant parts aren’t so bad. Bananas, for instance, are usually shipped by low-impact methods like boats, and they don’t have to be rushed or refrigerated, so their footprint is quite small.

In Vermont, we have root vegetables, apples, and preserved plant foods (like pickles, dried tomatoes, kimchi, and frozen strawberries) available throughout the winter. Additionally, Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, which offers weekly food pickups throughout the state, grows foods like spinach and mesclun right through the winter in greenhouses that are heated with used vegetable oil instead of fossil fuels.

Of course, there’s no fresher, more local food than what comes from your own back yard. Gardening isn’t always easy, but it can be a fun and relaxing hobby at home or in a community garden, and there’s no way to beat your own fresh corn or tomatoes. Beyond the garden, other great home growing opportunities for Vermonters include blueberries, hazelnuts, and stone fruits like plums. Even if you don’t have a yard, it’s often easy to grow some greens or strawberries in containers on a porch or stoop, and beyond the great taste, eating your own produce connects you with your food in a way nothing else can.

Even food grown at home generally isn’t free of climate impact, though. Careful use of water and building materials, together with avoiding chemical fertilizers and sprays, can keep that footprint small.

Here are a few tips for shrinking your climate foodprint:

  • Include more plant foods and less meat in your diet as well as you can while still meeting nutritional needs
  • Local and regional foods usually have a smaller impact than ones from far away
  • Organic foods are usually more climate-friendly than non-organic ones
  • Poultry and some kinds of fish and shellfish have a lower footprint than pork and dairy, which in turn have a lower footprint than red meat
  • It’s estimated that in the U.S., we waste up to half of the food we produce! Buy no more than you need and use what’s in your refrigerator to keep waste down and save money.

Wait, Gas-Powered Cars Do WHAT?!?

Gas-powered cars, it turns out, actually use more electricity than electric vehicles (EVs).

I’m not talking about the “equivalent” of electricity or the amount of energy, I’m talking about somebody-has-to-generate-it-and-send-it-through-the-power-lines electricity. Gas-powered cars. Use more than. Electric cars.

oil refinery

If that sounds ridiculous, well, it is–but it’s also true. Forget about the energy that comes from burning the gas: refining gasoline takes a huge amount of electricity. Ironic, isn’t it, that producing a fuel to supply energy to vehicles itself consumes so much energy?

But let’s get to the numbers. Let’s say you have an absolutely average gas-powered car that gets about 23 miles per gallon. To refine that gallon of gas, it takes the refinery about 6 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity to move around water, power equipment, etc.*

Let’s say, on the other hand, that you have an average electric car. How far would you be able to go on that 6 kWh of electricity if it didn’t go into making you a gallon of gas? About 23 miles.

Now consider that on top of refining the gasoline, you also have drilling, transportation, storage, pumping, etc., all of which takes even more electricity.

And none of this takes into account the much greater effects of all the fossil fuel energy in that gallon of gas, which includes not only the gallon of gas itself but all the pumping, transportation, and other effort required to get it from a pool deep under the ground or a field of tar sands into your gas tank.

You can still beat the electricity figures above by driving an extremely efficient vehicle, especially a good hybrid, but this would appear to hugely tilt the scales in the favor of EVs when we talk about greenhouse gas emissions from even those hybrids.

This was just one of those things that blew my mind a little, so I thought I’d share it with you. Now back to your regularly-scheduled day.

*That figure is from the US Dept. of Energy: see correspondence about it here.

115 Good Sources of Information on Climate Change and Carbon Footprint

I’ve been working on my current book project, the novel The Town at World’s End, since late 2012. The story follows climate change educator Jess Finch from tragedy in an unseasonable and outsize storm through trying to piece her life back together and make a real difference in climate change. On the way, it imparts a huge amount of specific, practical information on reducing carbon footprint–not just facts, but experiences, problems, contradictions, motivation, obstacles, side benefits … even how to make sure the wires don’t fall into the wall when you’re installing a programmable thermostat.

Anyway, it wasn’t until a good ways into the project that I realized I needed to be maintaining a bibliography. Even though this is a novel, it’s based on a massive body of research, writing, and other resources, many of which are well worth reading (or seeing, as the case may be).

How long ’til doomsday? Should I replace my windows? How do I grow my own food year round in a cold climate without wasting energy? What’s biochar? How do I talk with someone who doesn’t even believe climate change is a threat? It’s all in the below, plus a lot more. Actually, it’s enormously encouraging to me to realize how many smart, dedicated, hard-working, resourceful people are out there working on all of the facets of the climate change problem. If you’re one of them, I’d like to take this moment to express my deep gratitude and to cheer you on.

I still have a lot of work to do in pulling that bibliography together, adding other items, formatting it usefully, categorizing, and so forth, but as an initial step I thought I’d share the initial bibliography notes, in case it’s helpful to anyone in finding good sources of information on climate change and carbon footprint.

How Bad Are Bananas

How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything
Mike Berners-Lee
Greystone Books, April 1, 2011

“How to Start a Shuttle Business”
http://smallbusiness.chron.com/start-shuttle-business-2080.html
by Felicia Greene, Demand Media
Retrieved 6/24/14

“Interviews with flood victims in Oxford”
http://www.climateoutreach.org.uk/portfolio-item/video-floods-and-climate-change/
Climate Outreach & Information Network
Retrieved 7/7/14

“How much electricity does an American home use?”
http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3
US Energy Information Administration
Retrieved 7/8/14

“Average Household Electricty Use Around the World”
http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/average-household-electricity-consumption
Retrieved 7/8/14

“George Marshall on How to Talk to a Climate Change Dissenter”
Climate Access
http://www.climateaccess.org/resource/tip-sheet-george-marshall-how-talk-climate-change-dissenter
Retrieved 7/16/14

Extreme Weather: Climate Change in Action?
British Library
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyZVahX87As
Viewed 7/16/14

Don't Even Think About It

Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change
George Marshall
Bloomsbury USA (August 19, 2014)
(Portions of the book made available to Luc by the author prior to publication)

“Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States”
http://riskybusiness.org/report/overview/executive-summary
The Risky Business Project
June 2014

An Inconvenient Truth
Al Gore
Viking Books, 4/10/07

“Global Food Waste in 8 Numbers”
http://www.bbc.com/news/health-28140395
7/3/14
Viewed 7/24/14

“Intermarché – ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables'”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2nSECWq_PE
7/12/14
Viewed 7/20/14

“Deforestation and Its Extreme Effect on Global Warming”
Scientific American
Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss, Nov 13, 2012
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/deforestation-and-global-warming/
Retrieved 7/24/14

“Health care accounts for eight percent of US carbon footprint, calculation finds”
ScienceDaily, 11/13/2009
University of Chicago Medical Center
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091110171647.htm
Retrieved 7/29/14
based on
Jeanette W. Chung; David O. Meltzer. Estimate of the Carbon Footprint of the US Health Care Sector. JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2009; 302 (18): 1970 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2009.1610
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091110171647.htm

“Savings Project: Insulate Hot Water Pipes for Energy Savings”
US Dept. of Energy
http://energy.gov/energysaver/projects/savings-project-insulate-hot-water-pipes-energy-savings
Retrieved 7/29/14

“Ask Pablo: Is It Really Worth It to Insulate My Pipes?”
Pablo Paster, January 16, 2012
http://www.treehugger.com/energy-efficiency/ask-pablo-it-really-worth-insulating-my-pipes.html
Retrieved 7/29/14

“This or That: Curtains or Plastic for Insulating Windows?”
Emily Main, 11/9/2009
Rodale News
http://www.rodalenews.com/insulating-windows
Retrieved 7/29/14

“Conserve Energy with Plastic Window Insulation”
Josh Peterson, Planet Green
http://home.howstuffworks.com/green-living/conserve-energy-plastic-insulation.htm
Retrieved 7/29/14

“Ask Pablo: Is Replacing Windows a Good Investment?”
Pablo Paster
August 17, 2010
http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/ask-pablo-is-replacing-windows-a-good-investment.html
Retrieved 7/31/14

“Noooo Edinburgh, Don’t Lift Ban on Changing Windows in Historic Structures”
Lloyd Alter
9/4/08
http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/noooo-edinburgh-dont-lift-ban-on-changing-windows-in-historic-structures.html
Retrieved 7/31/14

“Are New Windows Really Worth It?”
Reliance Capital
http://www.reliancefirstcapital.com/articles/new-windows.html
Retrieved 7/31/14

“Obama Seeks to Boost Resilience to Climate-Driven Drought Fires”
3/5/14
Mark Drajem, Bloomberg News
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-05/obama-seeks-to-boost-resilience-to-climate-driven-drought-fires.html
Retrieved 7/31/14

“Supporting fire and rescue authorities to reduce the number and impact of fires”
UK Dept. for Communities and Local Government
3/5/13
https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/supporting-fire-and-rescue-authorities-to-reduce-the-number-and-impact-of-fires
Retrieved 7/31/14

“No Single Solution”
Energy Co-op of Vermont
10/25/13
http://www.ecvt.net/blog/vermont-wood-pellets-2/no-single-solution
Retrieved 7/31/14

“This Is Why It Makes Sense to Pair Solar With Electric Vehicles”
GreenTechGrid
Tam Hunt, 7/14/14
http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/this-is-why-it-makes-sense-to-pair-solar-with-electric-vehicles
Retrieved 8/1/14

“Why heat pumps are hot in Vermont this summer”
WCAX
Julie Kelley, 8/6/14
http://www.wcax.com/story/26216622/why-heat-pumps-are-hot-in-vermont-this-summer
Retrieved 8/8/14

Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing, 3rd edition
by Doug McKenzie-Mohr (Mar 15, 2011)
New Society Publishers

The Aquaponics Cycle

Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-by-step guide to raising vegetables and fish together
by Sylvia Bernstein
New Society Publishers, 10/11/11

“Al Gore ‘profiting’ from climate change agenda”
The Telegraph
By Nick Allen in Los Angeles 7:13PM GMT 03 Nov 2009
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/6496196/Al-Gore-profiting-from-climate-change-agenda.html
Retrieved 8/12/14

“Al Gore to Donate His Half of Nobel Prize Money to Charity”
The Chronicle of Philanthropy”
10/12/07
http://philanthropy.com/blogs/philanthropytoday/al-gore-to-donate-his-half-of-nobel-prize-money-to-charity/13981
Retrieved 8/12/14

Wikipedia: Aquaponics
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaponics
Retrieved 8/12/14

“Does Aquaponics Really Work?
Ecofilms
NOV 4, 2010
http://www.ecofilms.com.au/does-aquaponics-really-work/
Retrieved 8/12/14

“How to build a heat sink for a self-heating greenhouse”
Greenhouse Gnome
Mark Finch, 7/28/13
http://www.greenhousegnome.com/heat-sink-self-heating-greenhouse/
Retrieved 8/13/14

“Build a $300 underground greenhouse for year-round gardening”
Treehugger
Kimberley Mok, 2/22/13
http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/build-underground-greenhouse-garden-year-round.html
Retrieved 8/13/14

“Most stable year round greenhouse in 5b climate”
Permies.com (forum discussion)
8/19/12-8/31/12
http://www.permies.com/t/16911/passive-solar/stable-year-greenhouse-climate
Retrieved 8/13/14

“All About Valhalla’s Earthship Greenhouse, part 7”
Vahalla Movement, Quebec
Posted April 20, 2014
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b70f4xVOil4
Viewed 8/13/14

“Solar Passive Greenhouse for 4-Season Harvest”
PrairieComm.net
http://www.prairiecomm.net/greenhouse.html
Retrieved 8/13/14

“Passive Solar Aquaponic Greenhouse Tour 2”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=li5dvZjo5qE
Viewed 8/13/14

“Greenhouse vent openers & supplies”
ACF Greenhouses
http://www.littlegreenhouse.com/accessory/vent2.shtml
Retrieved 8/13/14

“How We Designed Our Solar Greenhouse”
The Permaculture Research Institute
by Rob Avis, 2/11/11
http://permaculturenews.org/2011/02/11/how-we-designed-our-solar-greenhouse/
Retrieved 8/13/14

The Day After Tomorrow (movie)

Hollywood Global Warming Dramas Can Be Misleading”
Seán Ó Heigeartaigh
Nytimes.com, 8/4/14
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/29/will-fiction-influence-how-we-react-to-climate-change/hollywood-global-warming-dramas-can-be-misleading
Retrieved 8/17/14

“Climate Fiction Will Reinforce Existing Views”
NYtimes.com
George Marshall, 7/29/14
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/29/will-fiction-influence-how-we-react-to-climate-change/climate-fiction-will-reinforce-existing-views
Retrieved 8/17/14

“Personal Stories About Global Warming Change Minds”
NYtimes.com
Heidi Cullen, 7/30/14
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/29/will-fiction-influence-how-we-react-to-climate-change/personal-stories-about-global-warming-change-minds
Retrieved 8/17/14

“George Marshall on communicating climate change following extreme weather events”
TransitionNetwork.org
Rob Hopkins, 3/20/14
https://www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/rob-hopkins/2014-03/george-marshall-communicating-climate-change-following-extreme-weather-eve
Retrieved 8/18/14

“Sleepwalking into Disaster: Are We in a State of Denial about Climate Change?”
George Marshall, 9/22/05
http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/climate/marshall.htm
Retrieved 8/18/14

The Aquaponic Gardening Community (online forum)
http://community.theaquaponicsource.com/forum

Essex Farm: About Us
(this is the farm that offers its members a CSA that can provide all of their food)
http://www.essexfarmcsa.com/portfolio/about-us/
Retrieved 8/24/14

“3-D Printing Will Be a Manufacturing Engine for the Economy”
Daniel S. Hamermesh, 8/12/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/3-d-printing-will-be-a-manufacturing-engine-for-the-economy-20
Retrieved 8/26/14

“3-D Printers Are No Rival for Mass Production”
Nick Allen, 8/12/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/3-d-printers-are-no-rival-for-mass-production-6
Retrieved 8/26/14

“With 3-D Printers Comes the Possibility of Medical Miracles”
Mick Ebeling, 8/11/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/with-3-d-printers-comes-the-possibility-of-medical-miracles
Retrieved 8/26/14

“3-D Printers Allow Designers to Go to a New Level”
Kacie Hultgren, 8/11/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/3-d-printers-allow-designers-to-go-to-a-new-level
Retrieved 8/26/14

“Space Travel Will Be Easier and Less Costly With 3-D Printers”
Alison Nordt, 8/11/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/space-travel-will-be-easier-and-less-costly-with-3-d-printers
Retrieved 8/26/14

“3-D Printers Mean More Plastic in Landfills”
Luke Heemsbergen, 8/11/14
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/08/11/will-3-d-printers-change-the-world/3-d-printers-mean-more-plastic-in-landfills
Retrieved 8/26/14

“Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan”
City of Arcata, CA
http://www.cityofarcata.org/filebrowser/download/15824
August 2006

“Assessment of Arcata’s Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan”
Fall 2009
http://humboldt.edu/sustainability/sites/default/files/envs411_080009-11.pdf
Hackett, John et al

Zero Energy Homes presentation

“Zero Energy Homes”
Presentation by Li Ling Young, Efficiency Vermont
for Net Zero Montpelier
Thu, Nov 13, 2014
Montpelier, Vermont
A similar presentation by Young at a different location can be viewed online at http://www.brattleborotv.org/efficiency-vermont/path-zero-energy-homes-li-ling-young-hd

“The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate”
Al Gore, 6/18/14
Rolling Stone
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-turning-point-new-hope-for-the-climate-20140618
Retrieved 11/9/14

“Americans Still Favor Energy Conservation Over Production”
Gallup
http://www.gallup.com/poll/168176/americans-favor-energy-conservation-production.aspx
4/2/14
Retrieved 12/5/14

Americans Want More Emphasis on Solar, Wind, Natural Gas
Gallup
http://www.gallup.com/poll/161519/americans-emphasis-solar-wind-natural-gas.aspx
3/27/13
Retrieved 12/5/14

Energy Star

Energy Star Program
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
http://www.EnergyStar.gov

Dishwashing
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
http://www.aceee.org/consumer/dishwashing
Retrieved 12/21/14

Dishwashers
Efficiency Vermont
https://www.efficiencyvermont.com/For-My-Home/ways-to-save-and-rebates/Appliances/Dishwashers/General-Info/Overview
Retrieved 12/21/14

“Do Space Heaters Save Money and Energy?”
Kiera Butler, 1/10/11
Mother Jones
http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/01/will-space-heater-save-you-money-and-energy
Retrieved 12/30/14

Dauncey, Guy
The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming
New Society Publishers, 2009

Gore, Al
Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis
Rodale, Inc., 2009

“Study provides new metric for comparing the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide”
Apr 28, 2014 by David L. Chandler
http://phys.org/news/2014-04-metric-greenhouse-gases-methane-carbon.html
Phys.org
retrieved 1/1/15

“Climate impacts of energy technologies depend on emissions timing”
Morgan R. Edwards & Jessika E. Trancik, 25 April 2014
Nature Climate Change
abstract at http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n5/full/nclimate2204.html
retrieved 1/1/15

“Evaluation of Net Metering in Vermont”
Vermont Public Service Dept.
10/1/14, revised 11/7/14
http://publicservice.vermont.gov/sites/psd/files/Topics/Renewable_Energy/Net_Metering/Act%2099%20NM%20Study%20Revised%20v1.pdf
retrieved 1/4/15

“Solar”
U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
http://energy.gov/eere/renewables/solar
Retrieved 1/5/15

“Want to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint? Choose Mackerel Over Shrimp”
NPR
April Fulton, 7/29/14
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/07/29/336301714/want-to-reduce-your-carbon-footprint-choose-mackerel-over-shrimp
Retrieved 1/8/15

“Going Green: Carbon footprints revisited”
SeaFood Business
Lisa Duchene, 5/1/09
http://www.seafoodbusiness.com/articledetail.aspx?id=4294994142
Retrieved 1/8/15

“Fueling the Fleet, Navy Looks to the Seas”
(about synthesizing jet fuel from the carbon in seawater)
US Naval Research Laboratory
Daniel Perry, 9/24/12
http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/news-releases/2012/fueling-the-fleet-navy-looks-to-the-seas
Retrieved 1/17/15

“US navy synthesizes jet fuel solely out of seawater; costs $3-6 gallon”
ZME Science
by Tibi Puiu, 4/14/14
http://www.zmescience.com/research/us-navy-synthetic-jet-fuel-seawater-0423432/
Retrieved 1/17/15

“Can ‘Green Cement’ Make Carbon Capture and Storage Obsolete?”
New York Times
John J Fialka, ClimateWire, 8/13/10
http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2010/08/13/13climatewire-can-green-cement-make-carbon-capture-and-stor-9325.html?pagewanted=all
Retrieved 1/17/15

“Frequently Asked Questions About Biochar”
International Biochar Initiative
http://www.biochar-international.org/biochar/faqs
retrieved 2/1/15

biochar

“What Is Biochar?”
International Biochar Initiative
http://www.biochar-international.org/biochar
retrieved 2/1/15

“Heat & Cool Efficiently”
US Environmental Protection Agency
http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=heat_cool.pr_hvac
retrieved 2/3/15

“A Guide to Energy-Efficient Heating and Cooling”
US Environmental Protection Agency
August 2009
http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/publications/pubdocs/HeatingCoolingGuide%20FINAL_9-4-09.pdf?6752-4ef7

“Savings Project: Lower Water Heating Temperature”
US Environmental Protection Agency
http://energy.gov/energysaver/projects/savings-project-lower-water-heating-temperature
Retrieved 2/3/15

“How to Clean a Clothes Dryer Vent”
wikiHow
http://www.wikihow.com/Clean-a-Clothes-Dryer-Vent
Retrieved 2/3/15

“Energy Saver 101 Infographic: Home Heating”
US Dept of Energy
12/16/13
http://energy.gov/articles/energy-saver-101-infographic-home-heating
Retrieved 2/26/15

“#AskEnergySaver: Home Energy Audits”
US Dept of Energy
1/24/14
http://energy.gov/articles/askenergysaver-home-energy-audits
Retrieved 2/26/15

“Home Energy Audits”
US Dept of Energy
http://energy.gov/public-services/homes/home-weatherization/home-energy-audits
Retrieved 2/26/15

“Energy Audits”
Efficiency Vermont
https://www.efficiencyvermont.com/For-My-Home/ways-to-save-and-rebates/audits-insulation-air-sealing/Audits
Retrieved 2/26/15

Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds
David Gershon
Empowerment Institute, 2006

“Average Daily Media Use in the United States from 2010 to 2014”
Statista.com
http://www.statista.com/statistics/270781/average-daily-media-use-in-the-us/
Retrieved 3/12/15

“Do Energy-Efficient Appliances Add Up?”
by Craig Guillot
Bankrate.com
http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/do-energy-efficient-appliances-add-up-1.aspx
Retrieved 3/12/15

“Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator”
US Department of Energy
http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/do-energy-efficient-appliances-add-up-1.aspx
Utilized 3/12/15

“Adding Wall Insulation Has a Lengthy Payback Period”
Jeanne Huber, 12/14/2010
Houselogic
http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/insulation/adding-wall-insulation/
Retrieved 3/30/15

“The Potential of Biomass to Curb Global Warming”
May 2014
Alliance for Green Heat
http://www.forgreenheat.org/issues/cooling_climate_change.html
Retrieved 3/30/15

“Bulletin #7217, Maine Home Energy: Options for Home Heating Fuels and Energy Systems — An Overview”
(includes chart rating each option on e.g., convenience, cost, efficiency)
The University of Maine Extension
http://umaine.edu/publications/7217e/
Retrieved 3/31/15

“Home Energy Sources”
(list of emissions by fuel source, but not compared to each other with equivalent units)
Carbon Independent
http://www.carbonindependent.org/sources_home_energy.html
Retrieved 3/31/15

“Carbon emissions of different fuels”
(deals with fuels for heat and transport, thus doesn’t include non-fuel renewables)
Biomass Energy Center
http://www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk/portal/page?_pageid=75,163182&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
Retrieved 3/31/15

“How We Calculate”
Carbonfund.org
http://www.carbonfund.org/how-we-calculate
Retrieved 3/31/15

“Implications of Shale Gas Development for Climate Change”
Richard G. Newell and Daniel Raimi
American Chemical Society
April 22, 2014
Published in Environmental Science Technology, August 5 2014
http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es4046154?source=cen

“Georgia Mt. Community Wind Open House draws over 750 local visitors”
originally published in Vermont Business Magazine, June 2013
http://georgiamountainwind.com/georgia-mt-community-wind-open-house-draws-over-750-local-visitors/

“After the Flood: Vermont’s Rivers and the Legacy of Irene”
(YouTube playlist of program in 4 parts)
November 26, 2013
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLX5V6zW7pAiYEC3bIrK3ymOegGrPwg0xT

“Cheap, Abundant Shale Gas Won’t Significantly Cut U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions”
Janet Pelley, Chemical & Engineering News
May 2, 2014
http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/web/2014/05/Cheap-Abundant-Shale-Gas-Wont.html

“Climate Change: 10 Years to Cut Off Nuclear War, Plagues”
(no longer available online)
Fairfax Climate Watch
April 2013
http://www.fairfaxclimatewatch.com/blog/2013/04/climate-change-10-years-to-cut-off-nuclear-war-plagues.html

“Carbon Cutoff Point ‘Is 27 Years Away'”
Alex Kirby
Climate News Network, 10/27/2013
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/carbon_cut-off_point_is_27_years_away_20131027

“Global warming’s new frightening deadline”
Pete McMartin
Vancouver Sun, 3/9/13
http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Pete+McMartin+Global+warming+frightening+deadline/8071552/story.html

“New global warming deadline: Reverse it in 8 years or it’ll be too late”
Doug Powers
MichelleMalkin.com, 3/28/12
http://michellemalkin.com/2012/03/28/new-deadline/

“Climate change deadline 5 years – IEA”
News23.com, 11/10/11
http://www.news24.com/SciTech/News/Climate-change-deadline-5-years-IEA-20111109

“We already blew the deadline to avoid dangerous climate change”
Christopher Mims
Quartz, 12/6/12
http://qz.com/34443/we-already-blew-the-deadline-to-avoid-dangerous-climate-change/

“The Deadline for Global Warming: Reversing the Effects of Climate Change Before 2017”
Luisa Crisostomo
International Business Times, 11/16/11
http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/250465/20111116/deadline-global-warming-reversing-effects-climate-change.htm#.UqMZqvRDs24

“Carbon Footprint Of Best Conserving Americans Is Still Double Global Average”
MIT
ScienceDaily, 4/29/08
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428120658.htm

How to Live a Low-Carbon Life: The Individual’s Guide to Stopping Climate Change
Chris Goodall
Routledge, 3/30/07

Building Powerful Community Organizations

Building Powerful Community Organizations: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups that Can Solve Problems and Change the World
Michael Jacoby Brown
Long Haul Press (September 28, 2007)

Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living
The Union of Concerned Scientists, Seth Shulman, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, David Friedman, Margaret Mellon, John Rogers, Suzanne Shaw
Island Press; 6th edition (April 3, 2013)

The Burning Question: We Can’t Burn Half the World’s Oil, Coal, and Gas. So How Do We Quit?
Mike Berners-Lee, Duncan Clark
Greystone Books (September 21, 2013)

Flight Behavior: A Novel
Barbara Kingsolver
HarperCollins, 11/6/12

The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience
Rob Hopkins
UIT Cambridge Ltd. (April 1, 2014)

“Clean Break: The Story of Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn from It”
Osha Gray Davidson
InsideClimate News (November 8, 2012)

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Bill McKibben
Times Books (April 7, 2010)

A Great Online Home Carbon Footprint Estimator

The CoolClimate network at the University of Berkeley, California has a very well-designed tool for estimating home carbon footprints. Carbon footprint calculations are kind of a bear, so anything that makes them more straightforward and understandable while remaining accurate enough to be truly useful is a win. Check it out! It only takes a few minutes to get some interesting information, and they have a small business version available on the same site (all free).

CoolClimate household carbon footprint calculator

Better Gifts for a Smaller Footprint

presents

The holidays present a whole different set of circumstances compared to daily life, so they also come with a whole different set of sustainability challenges. Top among these after  travel and food (see my previous post) is gift-giving. Recycled wrapping paper or reusable gift bags are great, but be sure the gift in that wrapping takes sustainability into account too.

Here are some tips for carbon-smart gifting:

Start early!
Early planning alone can save both carbon and money. By giving ourselves time to work out good options in advanc, we can avoid unwanted or wasteful gifts as well as rush shipping and other flailing around. In this instance (and many others, as it turns out), organizing and planning make for more affordable, more sustainable presents.

Make sure your gift will be used
In measuring the emissions of a gift in proportion to how much happiness it brings, the biggest loser is a gift that isn’t used at all. We’ve all gotten (and given) them: whether a seemingly genius idea that didn’t pan out or a gift bought at the last minute in desparation, a present that isn’t used damages the climate without helping anyone. Even a returnable present often feels bad to the recipient while creating more travel and/or shipping, which has its own footprint.

Some ways to ensure a gift isn’t a duplicate or a misfire include discussing it with someone else close to the recipient, erring on the side of conservative gift-choosing (for instance, with gift certificates), or even involving the recipient in the gift choice. I know it’s traditional (and fun) for gifts to be surprises, but both as a gift giver and a gift getter, personally I’d be much happier about a gift that’s a hit but not a surprise than a gift that’s unexpected but a flop.

The driving gotcha
Think twice about gifts that involve much driving, whether it’s you getting the gift or the recipient using it. On top of the gift itself, the extra driving creates a bigger negative impact on carbon footprint that’s easy to miss or discount. Since travel is the number one source of emissions for individuals and households, it’s entirely possible to give a gift that has a much bigger impact in terms of driving than is embodied in the gift itself.

Of course, not all driving raises a gift’s impact. For example, if you pick up a gift while driving but are combining that errand with others, the extra driving attributable to that particular gift is lessened or eliminated. Similarly, if the gift-getter is already going to do the driving your gift would entail (for instance, you buy a ski pass for someone you know already plans to go skiing), driving again stops being an issue.

Types of presents
Some categories of gifts, such as electronics, tend to have a much worse impact than others. Even some seemingly-harmless gifts, like clothing and shoes, can come with a heavy climate toll. Here are some ways to approach more sustainable gift choices:

  • Favor gifts that will be used more. An item that is seldom used, even if it’s enjoyed when it is used, is contributing much less for its cost in carbon than something that’s used regularly.
  • Favor gifts of necessities over luxuries. A gift that solves a problem is not only welcome, but also does a much better job of justifying its climate impact.
  • Steer clear of upgraded replacements. For instance, a slightly newer, slightly better smart phone as a gift wastes much of the carbon cost of manufacturing the phone that’s already in use.
  • Prize quality. With so many things so easily replaceable these days, we tend to think of quality as an indulgence. In fact, a durable, high-quality item will often pay for itself much better over time than a cheap item that will wear out and need to be replaced.

Used = more delight for the recipient, less trouble for the climate
My son is interested in animation, and for his recent birthday we bought him a high-quality graphics tablet, the kind of device animators connect to computers and draw on to create their art. There’s no way we could have afforded it if we’d tried to get him a brand-new one, and the climate impact of electronic devices in general is often terrible. Buy buying him a used unit from a reputable seller, we not only got him a much bigger gift than we otherwise could have–one he’ll have a real use for–but we also avoided buying something that had to be manufactured just for him.

Buying used goods doesn’t usually make for a zero carbon footprint, even if we disregard shipping. It’s always possible that if we hadn’t bought that graphics tablet, someone else would have who instead decided to buy a brand-new one. At the same time, it’s also possible that by buying that graphics tablet, we contributed enough to the demand for used items like that that somebody somewhere took one out of the closet and dusted it off for resale rather than letting it sit unused. On average, the impact of buying a used item will be significantly less than that of buying a new item, just not zero.

It’s true that some people may be put off by getting or giving used gifts. We certainly tend to prize the new and shiny in our culture. However, I think we can consider this more reason to give used gifts, not less. If we want to reduce waste and therefore climate change damage in our culture, we need to get used to fixing things, reusing things, and sharing things rather than insisting that everything we have be the latest, private to us, and previously untouched by human hands. Buying used has its limitations, but by encouraging reuse, we help to change both our own and the gift recipient’s ways of approaching consumer goods … for the better.

Photo by Liz Brooks

How Supermarkets Can Make Money on Ugly Produce

Ugly produce is a big problem. Why? Because depending on whom you ask, 30-50% of all food produced is wasted, thrown away … whether it’s tossed out because it’s not pretty enough to put on display, left over on your plate at a restaurant, or rotting in your crisper, all of this food has an enormous carbon footprint–by one estimate, 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions!

Because so much produce, when picked, is not beautiful, consciously choosing ugly produce can help reduce waste–because normally, other people will avoid it. However, French supermarket chain Intermarche launched this promotional campaign to help reduce food waste of “undesirable” fruits and vegetables. Rather than throw out ugly, deformed, or damaged produce, Intermarche instead sells them with a unique twist.

Thanks to my friend and fellow Sustainable Williston member Marie-Claude for passing this on to me.

The Hidden Climate Benefits of eBooks

Paper books vs eBooks

I’m reading a book by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) called Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, and by and large I recommend it. They start with the biggest impacts and work their way down to less important ones, offering a lot of sound advice on the way.

However, there are some errors and oversights in the book, and one of these underscores how eBooks can be much more climate-friendly than paper books. It’s important to stop here and mention that book-buying accounts for only a tiny proportion of our individual carbon footprints, but enough people changing their book-buying habits can have a significant impact.

Here’s what UCS has to say about eReaders versus paper books:

When analysts crunch the numbers, they estimate that the emissions caused in manufacturing an electronic reader are about the same as those caused in manufacturing 20 to 40 books … What the debate obscures, however, is that a standard paperback book is responsible for around five and one-half pounds of carbon emissions in its manufacture and transport to your local bookstore. But we are each responsible for more carbon emissions than that when we drive six miles round-trip alone in a typical car to the bookstore [emphasis theirs]. The point is this: don’t waste time worrying about the carbon footprint of the way you read.

OK, raise your hand as soon as you see their mistake. Yes, you got it: buying an eBook doesn’t require any travel. Of course, you can also order your paper books to be delivered to your door, and in most cases that’s likely to save emissions compared to you driving a car to the bookstore, but there’s still a noticeable impact for the transportation of the book from the store to your door–not to mention from the pulp source to the paper mill, the paper mill to the printer, the printer to the publisher, the publisher to the distributor, the distributor to the retail hub, and the retail hub to the retail store. Additionally, any book that ends up in a landfill is all set to add yet more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as it decomposes, probably anaerobically (without access to air) and therefore producing methane, a greenhouse gas 20-25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

I may be objecting too much about too small a thing, but I’ve seen enough poorly-reasoned claims that eBooks are worse for the climate than paper books that it seemed worth taking up.

Of course, using an eReader or tablet requires electricity, but the amounts are quite small and aren’t likely to have nearly the impact of the manufacturing or transport. If I wanted to be snarky, I could also point that reading a paper book often requires electricity too, but since it’s possible to read by sunlight, and since people usually don’t read eBooks in dark rooms, I’m going to try to leave that one alone.

One more point that was missed about eBooks: often people read them on devices they purchased for other purposes. If you would have a smartphone or tablet regardless of whether you read eBooks on it, then it’s really inaccurate to count the emissions from manufacturing that device as being due to the eBooks that are incidentally being read on it. If you are buying a new tablet or eReader, though, please consider a used model rather than the latest, greatest thing. A tablet that’s saved from gathering dust or being dumped into the landfill and that thereby prevents a new one being manufactured reduces your carbon footprint by (depending on the tablet) around 130 k-coes, according to this article. Since a sustainable individual footprint is only about 2,000 k-coes per year (compared to the average American footprint of 28,000 k-coes!), that 130 really counts.

So it’s true that if you only read a few books a year and you purchase a brand new tablet or eReader primarily to replace paper books, you are probably pissing Mother Nature off. If you’re a heavy reader and/or already have a tablet or smartphone (or buy one used), however, the advantage is strongly on the side of eBooks.

To be responsible about this post, I need to bring it back in the end to the very solid point UCS brings up in their book (which I bought as an eBook and read on my 5-year-old Kindle Keyboard, by the way). The most important climate change choices and actions have to do with the biggest areas of emissions: travel, home heating and cooling, electricity, and food (in that order). In the grand scheme of things, books–e or otherwise–make only a small difference. Now that you know, though, why not make that difference in the right direction?