IheartIheartTesla

The sustainability thread: tilting at windmills

61 posts in this topic

Why, it just seemed like last month that we dodged the Clown Apocalypse, only to have a new threat appear on the horizon. Now that government (at least in the US) is no longer the benevolent uncle that ensures we brush our teeth with fluoridated water or that the air around us is free of regulated toxic chemicals, it is only a matter of time our life expectancies start plummeting and we die of tooth infections in our mid 20s. In addition, the increase in carbon dioxide emissions will probably result in runway greenhouse gas effects, with oceans boiling away and the polar ice caps shriveling to nothing, so maybe our demise will be fiery and painless rather than prolonged and without adequate health care coverage (thanks, Obama!).

However, having said that, it probably falls to private citizens and organizations to do more (again, more so in the US) to ensure a sustainable future, so I thought it would be a good idea for us to share some of our more green practices and things we do to lower our carbon footprint or food/material waste. Hey, we have fashion, food and exercise threads, so why not this. Maybe we'll all learn something. I know there was some discussion of climate change stuff in one of the election threads.

I always feel I could be doing more, but I'll start - I tend to recycle everything, even stuff the city wont take (plastic bags and foam cups, for example). Typically you can always find private recyclers who will even take the dreaded #7's, for instance. I also have a compost bin in my back yard, so a lot of plant-based food goes in there. Finally I am paying extra for electricity from our local utility company that uses solar panels (rather than buy the panels myself, dont think we get enough sun near my house). There's other stuff I do at work, but I wont get into it unless people are really, really interested.

Anyone else?

Edited by IheartIheartTesla

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My wife and I gave up beef and pork for carbon footprint reasons back in 2015, and really it hasn't been that hard.  I should probably go full vegetarian, but I really don't want to.  At the moment we are just compromising by generally trying to eat less meat, which is a lot easier and certainly healthy.

My house likewise is not feasible for a PV panel.  I'm planning on getting some green power arrangement, but I haven't gotten around to it.  The last time I had a compost bin it attracted rats, and my wife HATES rats, so we haven't done that.  I'm looking into models that probably wouldn't be rat accessible, but I'm not sure if that is possible. 

7 minutes ago, IheartIheartTesla said:

I always feel I could be doing more, but I'll start - I tend to recycle everything, even stuff the city wont take (plastic bags and foam cups, for example).

Foam cups?  You mean Styrofoam?  I didn't think those could be recycled anywhere.

 

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I don't really do as much as I could, by a long shot. I eat some form of meat most days, though it's usually locally sourced chicken. I walk rather than drive where possible. We also have a compost bin and recycle mostly what we can.

The constantly improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness of private sustainable energy is one of the more optimistic things to think about for the coming decade. Solar panels in particular are becoming increasingly prevalent - even here in the North of England, where it's not particularly sunny...ever. If/when I get my own house, solar panels or a windmill are investments I'd probably want to make as early as possible. 

Also, Solarcity's new Solar Roof may be of some interest. The idea of the Powerwall is also something I find really interesting. I'm not some grid-hating tin-hat Doomsday planner, but I do think not relying on anything other than your own land for energy is pretty amazing. Can't see that becoming the norm anytime soon though. 

Edited by Leap

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We're a family of four, and - as of yet - we don't own a car. That's a start. This being Norway, we also recycle quite a bit - food, plastic, metal, glass, paper - those are the available options around us. As far as living arrangements go, we're fixing a bit on the house, but that's limited to what we can afford. We do get better isolation, however.

Haven't started going vegetarian yet, but wife is generally sceptical of meat, so once a week is the general norm. 

Also, this still being Norway, electricity is quite clean in general. Mostly hydro, some wind. Solar panels wouldn't really be useful here, I think.

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About the same here - don't drive, not vegetarian but eat meat sparingly, and I make an effort to avoid buying most things new if I can get them reasonably second hand. A lot of your local/urban/national context is stacked for or against your carbon footprint though...in this sense, I think political pressure is important. Sustainability isn't something we can do purely by each household modifying its consumption habits without anything else changing - the culture, economy, infrastructure and built environment are either supporting it, or aren't.

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As a have been rather poor in the last few years and I have not had a car since 2010 (although I occasionally borrow a car), there is not much more I can do as an individual short of going completely outside western contemporary lifestyle (and I forego quite a few features of this anyway, my laptop was bought used, my cellphone is about 7 years old and I do not own a smartphone).  Even when I could have afforded it I rarely flew (my last two flights were in 2011 and 12, both "on business" as I still had a decent job then) although I'd be lying if I claimed that this was mainly for reasons of sustainability and not rather a preference for holiday goals reachable by train or car.

Because "reduce" is the most important (and the most abbhorrent for our consumerist mindset) point in "reduce, reuse, recycle" I have been forced to considerably reduce consuming already and cannot do much more on this front. But it is amazing how much crap I tended to buy even with only lower middle class affluence.

I eat meat but not a lot and mostly from local sources but I am not pedantic about that. My worst behavior includes probably too much time spent online, longish hot showers (in a country where one needs quite a bit of heating for more than half of the year as well) and ordering too much per mail (usually cheap, used, ebayed or swapped, but this still consumes quite a bit of resources because of the deliveries).

Edited by Jo498

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Getting some item delivered to your doorstep, vs picking it up in a store a mile away (where it has been delivered from the same likely origin point) is not a huge difference in energy terms. (You drive to store - the van drives to your house.) That proliferation of last-mile demand for consumer goods might place more of a burden on the transit infrastructure and causes more congestion, but then again, maybe its saved you a drive, and the UPS driver with his hundreds of packages and efficient route might be better than your drive to the store. Whole issue of urban structure and density here, and (related) public transit provision, which is outside the control of each individual, though I guess we can hope that market forcecs will eventually respond to consumer preferences...except they're often stymied by zoning and regulation pushed by other market forces (like parking minimums.)

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You are not wrong but it depends on the circumstances. There can be no question that the volume of goods ordered from the internet has grown immensely. Only a few decades ago in Germany there was one postal service. Now you will see not only the yellow vans of the postal service but the ones of UPS, German Parcel, Hermes and probably more providers of such services (many of them using underpaid Eastern Europeans who hardly speak German as delivery people). That is, the infrastructure of service providers has been multiplied and this is very probably wasting quite a bit of energy because one or two larger vans (if there were just one or two providers) would use less fuel than 4 or 5 smaller ones. It mainly works because their personnel is paid as little as possible.

As for me personally: until the early 2000s I'd pick up CDs or books or used books on my way home from school, in a break between  classes at university, on other errands etc. I did not specifically drive to these shops, they were on my usual ways and errands. And I'd maybe do one larger mail order every other month or sometimes every month. But since Ebay and other options have basically made the whole world one huge flea market or used book store, there is hardly any reason for me to go into local shops for my books, CDs and similar stuff anymore (and tbh there are hardly any decent ones left where I am living, even in the larger city I lived until 3 years ago there was not).

Since the early 2000s I have ordered *a lot* more stuff, and many more smallish packages, so I am pretty sure I have contributed to the growth in volume of some mail packages. Sure, a lot of this stuff is used, so I saved resources by not getting them new. But then it is also often "luxury"/leisure stuff I do not really need to survive. ;) Sure, I am grateful for the used options from all over the world because if I had to get everything new I could never afford the amount of stuff I get... :D

Edited by Jo498

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17 hours ago, Maithanet said:

 Foam cups?  You mean Styrofoam?  I didn't think those could be recycled anywhere.

I am thinking the #6 ones, that are polystyrene, and can be recycled. Styrofoam is a subset of that, there are a few places
that will take them

6 hours ago, Datepalm said:

 Sustainability isn't something we can do purely by each household modifying its consumption habits without anything else changing - the culture, economy, infrastructure and built environment are either supporting it, or aren't.

That is sort of the depressing part of all this. For instance, you'd need a 100,000 cars to stop driving for a year to have the same impact as a coal plant shutting down for a month or 2. So while individual contributions are important, the surrounding landscape is much more so, and that is why this election has been so depressing. I'm afraid in the US it now comes down to corporations to make a big impact, even though there are negligible incentives for them to do so.

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notice the focus is always on deprivation, reduction/restrictions on activity, a luddite approach

not on efficiency improvements

Also, there are trade-offs to recycling, the process has its own energy/time/$$$ consumption and waste/emissions generation. We (often incorrectly) presume it is better than placing the material in a landfill. 

Edited by Commodore

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I'm ashamed at how terrible I've done on this effort in recent years.  I moved to a city that doesn't have good recycling programs.  Most neighborhoods here don't have recycle pick up, mine certainly doesn't.  The closest recycling facility to me is too far for it to be practical. . My closest grocery store doesn't even have a plastic bag return.  So I apart from reusing or repurposing things where I can, I basically no longer recycle.  

I have kids in diapers coming in and out all the time, and I can't really use cloth diapers for them so there's also an endless supply of disposable diapers from my house going into landfills.  

I've personally cut down on animal products.  We tend to have Meat Mondays instead of Meatless Mondays in my house.  Though, again, the kids aren't really following my lead due to their own dietary needs.  The amount of milk products in my house disgusts me daily.  

The one thing that kinda sort of makes up for my failures has been to vote, make phone calls and write letters.  I'm pretty sure all the politicians in my state know my handwriting by sight now because I'm constantly sending them letters.  

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1 hour ago, IheartIheartTesla said:

That is sort of the depressing part of all this. For instance, you'd need a 100,000 cars to stop driving for a year to have the same impact as a coal plant shutting down for a month or 2. So while individual contributions are important, the surrounding landscape is much more so, and that is why this election has been so depressing. I'm afraid in the US it now comes down to corporations to make a big impact, even though there are negligible incentives for them to do so.

Exactly...and even if you have recycling programs, they might not be done in a sustainble way once they leave your neatly-sorted piles, as commodore notes, and the investments your city is making into transport and so on and so forth. I think there's a slightly more insidious, rather than merely depressing quality to this, in that the making of sustainability is shifted, politically speaking, onto consumers. The effort and the blame and the guilt becomes on the individual consumer or household for having a car (because you live in a city with shit public transport,) or buying at walmart (because that's what you can afford,) etc, and not on the actual underlying, unsustainable economics and infrastructure.

I'm weirdly kind of with commodore here - systemic efficiency is much more significant, by orders of magnitude, but this is a way some of that pressure is getting moved off giant corporations, government and planners and onto whether or not you ate a burger is a way of watering down the politics of it.  Probably, also, making a lot of people resent and view the whole 'sustainability' lifestyle industry as a priviliged, expensive lifestyle choice rather than something they should be up in arms about becuse its their health and their resources being toyed with and squandered because its easier and more profitable that way...Look at the NIMBY when someone wants to, oh, set up a wind farm anywhere. That's something - I dunno, the view? The bees? What is it now? - being taken away and we'll damn well fight for it. But the lake right there being drained due to ridiculous agricultural practices and wasteful industrial profits? Well, that's out own fault for taking long showers.

(Crude example. A lot of environmental damage gets tolerated because 'jobs' is a magic word. Whether its a blatant lie or not. I really recommend Arlie Hochschild's Strangers in Their Own Land, about people from apocalyptically ravaged landscapes in Louisiana, who are riddles with cancer, have lost their lands and livelihoods, have giant sinkholes opening under their houses, can't touch their own public waterways or they'll end up hospotalized...and who keep supporting anti-environmental policies.)

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One small thing I do is I rarely drink water out of disposable plastic water bottles.  I use a reusable water bottle and drink from the tap. 

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I agree that the structural wastefulness can be frustrating, also because the impact of individual choices seems negligible. Still, cultivating frugality in face of the overwhelming consumerism and wastefulness of our time and age is a virtue. It makes you less dependent on all kinds of things (e.g. a job loss is not so threatening if one knows one can live on very little, at least for while, without feeling horribly deprived) and that is probably why almost every religion and philosophical tradition favored (sometimes extreme ways of) frugality. I am not striving to be a monkish beggar but the frugality my grandparents, born in the early 20th century, practised without thinking twice, seems largely lost today. Of course, the main problem is that most of us (myself emphatically included) lack the skills (repairing all kinds of stuff, sewing, patching clothes, growing and preserving all kinds of food) and often also the infrastructure (large gardens, maybe backyard chickens or other livestock) in which such a practice was naturally rooted. But everyone can get fewer, but better and more durable clothes, use stuff longer, be generally less wasteful etc.

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I eat less meat than I used to, and recycle almost everything. But I do drive an awful lot, having an 85 km one-way commute to work. I'm longing for the day there'll be an electric car with enough range that we can afford.

I think the solar, wind and battery revolution is the biggest hope for the future. Nuclear, coal, gas, every other form of energy generation will become obsolete very, very soon. The faster politicians around the world understand this, the better - and they can certainly help speed up the transition with good policies - but in the end it won't matter. The writing is on the wall: the sun will power the world of the future.

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I guess this is as good a thread as any to mention this finding from a recent APEC report about Non-Tariff trade barriers in food and agricultural trade:

Quote

One billion people suffer from hunger, yet there is enough food produced in the world to feed each person 2,700 calories and 75
grams of protein per day. Clearly, the world’s food is not reaching those in need. With a 60% increase in food production
required to meet global demand by 2050, the world must work together to address the prevalence of hunger at a domestic,
regional, and global level.

Part of the report talks about food security, and in particular the false assumption that food self-sufficiency = food security.

It's almost a crime against humanity to have the capacity to fully meet the basic dietary needs of everyone on the planet right now, yet 1/7th of the population does not have adequate access to food. Clearly it's not production that is a problem, it's distribution. Which means food trade needs to be opened up. The alternative to moving food from where it is most abundantly produced to the populations who need it, is to redistribute the population to the places where the food is produced. I would say that for the time being moving the food around is preferred to mass migration of people.

 

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I've replaced a while ago now all the lighting with LED bulbs, which are way more efficient than incandescent or halogen bulbs, and they are even substantially more efficient than fluorescent bulbs.  Prices for LED bulbs have plummeted over the last couple years, so it's not that expensive to do and will eventually pay for itself.

My work is thinking about giving us the option of working remotely, which would dramatically reduce my fuel usage.

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I have a lamp that still has a $25 LED bulb in it.  I remember buying it on a whim, thinking these things would never take off since they were so expensive.  Now all of my house and lamps have LED bulbs, they are just so cheap.

It's often how I think about sustainability.  Something I do will be done by others until it picks up momentum and forces massive changes in the industry.  Take meat.  Ten years ago I laughed at the idea that cows contributed to greenhouse gases.  I would have never considered cutting back.  Then I was convinced to read the science.  Today, I eat very little meat, mostly chicken or fish, and many of my friends are going that way as well.  It's probably a bit too idealistic for the current political environment, but I'd hope that the trend continues until things like lamb, beef and pork (and maybe cheese but I'm not there yet) eventually become nothing more than luxury goods.  Consumer behavior is important. 

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I recently stopped drinking rum, coke and eating limes, then last weekend came around and I had to start combining them and drinking large amounts of a drink using those ingredients. B)

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