Sustainable Living: Reducing Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions

by Theresa Peluso

During this time of heated discussions at the international level between developed and developing countries about reducing our carbon emissions, it’s embarrassing to know that in 2010 Canada was ranked 15th out 17 OECD ( Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ) countries on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per capita.  Only the U.S. and Australia did worse.

In a CBC news article dated June 28, 2011: “Households were responsible for 329 megatonnes or 45 per cent of Canada’s total emissions of greenhouse gases, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday in the first of two reports on Human Activity and the Environment. The household emissions include those generated directly through the use of heat, electricity and vehicles, and indirectly through the production of goods and services purchased by households…Household energy use increased 22 per cent between 1990 and 2007 from 5,528 petajoules to 6,739 petajoules.” (CBC News June 28, 2011)

It’s clear that each of us needs to do our utmost to reduce our carbon emissions.  Simply adopting the latest trends in green technology isn’t the answer if you end up with a larger house or bigger car or more electric and electronic appliances than you started out with.  And when people say that the goods they buy today break down sooner than say, 30 years ago, they’re right.  Not to mention the fact that many of these goods can’t be repaired – they often need to be replaced, with the result that all the carbon emissions that went into producing the appliances and gadgets you have right now will be produced again every two to ten years.

So, given that we live in the house we live in, and have the car and appliances that we have, how do we set about reducing our carbon footprint?  Most of us know about the basics, such as lowering the thermostat (reducing your thermostat setting by 1°C (1.8°F) can cut your heating bill by 10%) and turning off appliances and lights when not in use.  An audit by a qualified inspector to analyze the energy efficiency of your house (often with the help of equipment such as blower doors and infrared cameras) will identify the best ways to reduce heat loss (in the winter) and heat gain (in the summer). Sites such as www.canadianliving.com/life/green…/21 easy_ways_to_save_on_fuel offer suggestions for improving your car’s fuel economy. Replacing your incandescent lights with CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs), which use about 70% less energy than incandescent lighting, helps.  Halogen lighting is almost as good; it uses up to 40% less energy.

Here are some other interesting numbers. A plasma TV on power 6 hours a day produces 296 kg CO2 per year. A fridge freezer produces 116 kg, an electric tumble dryer produces159 kg (148 uses per year), electric stove elements produce 129 kg (424 uses per year), an electric oven produces 91 kg (135 uses per year).  (Information taken from www.carbonfootprint.com.)

And here is even more advice from National Geographic Magazine “Green” House Tips. A fridge with a top or bottom freezer will save 15 percent more in annual refrigerated-related energy costs than a side-by-side model, which lets more chilled air escape. Refrigerators with icemakers and water dispensers in the door can increase energy use by almost 20 percent. Gas appliances are roughly 50% more efficient than electric ones. Hanging your clothes out to dry is infinitely more efficient than any kind of dryer, and that crisp feel and fresh smell is second to none. Although front-loading washing machines use less water and energy than top-loading machines, there have been numerous complaints that they’re more likely to develop problems, and they’re certainly more expensive than the top loaders.  The newer top loaders, though, are reported to be more energy efficient than the older top loaders. One more thing: By switching from hot to cold water when doing your laundry, you can reduce your carbon footprint, and save money too.  Plus, your clothes will last longer and fade less.

Finally (because I’m running out of time and space), did you know that pumping water is in most cases the highest municipal component for electricity demand? Using rain barrels is a great alternative to municipal water for your garden.  If you’re on a well, rain has a much lower sodium content than the water in most wells around here. And of course, low-flow shower heads and toilets help too, as well as fixing any leaks and not letting tap water run needlessly. Turning off the water when you brush your teeth can save up to 4.5 gallons (17 liters) every time you brush.

There is so much we can do to reduce our carbon footprint simply by changing our own personal habits.  To get started, why don’t you take one of the on-line quizzes to calculate your carbon footprint?  One website is www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx.  Another is www.zerofootprint.net.

To be continued next month!