sure everyone has heard of global warming and our need to reduce our fossil fuel usage to lower our CO2 production.
Or you have heard of Peak Oil and how oil production is now in decline, forever. Regardless of which camp you are in, the
consensus is that we need to drastically reduce our use of carbon-based fossil fuels. The rub is they don’t tell you
to what level to reduce, or how to do it.
working at this for seven years, I can tell you it is achievable, but it isn’t easy. But first the numbers.
Gore spews out a lot of statistics in Inconvenient Truth, but he never really says
to what level we need to reduce our CO2 output. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”)
has actually come up with a number, a number that remains mostly a secret. That number, based on a world population of 6.5
billion humans, is two tons of CO2 per person per year. To most, this is a meaningless number. At 20 tons of CO2
per person per year, the U.S. has one of the highest per person average emission in the world. Europe is around 11 tons per
person, while the worldwide average is four tons of CO2 per person. Based on my own personal experience, I feel
West Michigan, where I live, uses more than 30 tons per person. To see what you produce, visit www.carbonfootprint.com.
some more numbers. How much of a fossil fuel produces a ton of CO2? This is where you need to sit down. One hundred
gallons of gasoline, burnt in one’s car, produces one ton of CO2. Ninety gallons of diesel/kerosene/heating
oil produces a ton of CO2. 155 gallons of propane produces a ton of CO2. Based on our coal to nuclear
mix, 1,400 kilowatt hours of electricity produces a ton of CO2. A third of a ton of coal produces a ton of CO2.
You begin to see the picture.
to get one’s carbon footprint down to two tons of CO2 you can take your pick. Five or six fill ups at the
gas pump, and using a tenth of your usual electrical usage or heating oil for only the coldest of days. The numbers are quite
for ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint.
new venture, the Smart PowerMeter, uses a phrase that is key to reducing one’s non-renewable resources. According to
the British mathematician and physicist Lord Kelvin, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” Measuring
your fossil fuel usage on a daily basis will keep your focus where it needs to be, and that is trying, daily, to reduce one’s
you need to understand all the fossil fuels you burn. The three main areas are transportation, heating and electricity. A
fourth area that receives little press, and is a little harder to qualify, is food sources.
West Michiganders this can be a large, or the largest, contribution to one’s carbon footprint. I live about 70 miles
from Grand Rapids, where many of my clients are located. I used to drive upwards of 55,000 miles per year. As a programmer,
I rarely need to be at a customer site to work, although most requested it. Over the years, I have been able to convince many
of my clients that I didn’t want to waste gas to accomplish work that could be done from home. It has taken a while,
but almost all of my clients have come to understand my needs and have allowed me to telecommute from home. I now have my
annual mileage down to 5,500 miles. Telecommuting once a week results in a 20% reduction of work related driving. Twice a
week, a 40% reduction. And Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter’s advocacy of car pooling is still very valid. Two
people sharing a ride results in a 50% reduction.
a weekly log of one’s miles will help keep one’s focus on how to reduce it.
to burn nearly 1,100 gallons of propane a year. Wood, or any organic matter that is recently grown, is considered “carbon
neutral,” meaning its natural decomposition produces the same amount of CO2 as it would by burning it. As
my home has a fireplace, I purchased and installed a high efficiency wood burning insert. Now I burn five to six full cords
of hardwood annually. This reduced my propane consumption to about 375 gallons a year. If you live in a low housing density
area, a wood or pellet stove (not totally carbon neutral) may be a good fit. I also keep my home much cooler than I used to. I wear fleece lined jeans, wool
socks, and sweaters so that I may endure a cooler home. Other options that will help are adding insulation, new high efficiency
windows, and if you have a south facing wall that isn’t obstructed, passive solar air heaters. Passive solar won’t
help much in December and January, but it will in October, November,
February, March, and April. Wood is carbon neutral, but not sustainable, so passive solar makes great sense. Again, if you
have a gas meter, reading it daily will help you understand how much you are using and where to make cuts. Maybe a spare room
doesn’t need heat, or adding a down comforter to your bed and keeping the bedroom much cooler will help. You have to
keep your eye on the ball to actually hit it.
has been the biggest challenge, yet also the most fun. I was using around 12 megawatt hours of electricity a year ─
a bit more than average. This is where reading my power meter daily paid big dividends. Twelve megawatts is around 33 kilowatt
hour per day. My goal was to reduce it each day. Other than compact fluorescent lights, I didn’t have a clue. When I
saw that I had three computers running all the time, just so I could teach myself networking skills, I powered them down.
Darn if that didn’t drop my daily usage by five kilowatt hours. Then the fun began. Other than for privacy, why was
my home office in the coldest part of the house? But hey, I live alone, and I had to run a portable heater to keep it comfortable.
I moved my home office to the warmest part of the house and never turned on the space heater again. That lowered it a lot!
And so it went with just about everything else electrical in my home.
at one point I ran into a wall. I could not get below 10 kilowatt hours a day. I scratched my head for a long time trying
to find the culprit. I finally broke down and bought a Kill-A-Watt meter so I could plug any 110 VAC device into it and determine
the electrical draw. It took me a while but I finally found it ─ my refrigerator. It was drawing over four kilowatt
hours a day and the specifications said it should have been between one and two kilowatt hours a day. I was ready to go out
and buy a replacement when I decided to look underneath the refrigerator at the cooling coils. There they were, a nest of
dust bunnies clogging the cooling coils. I vacuumed them out and the next day my refrigerator was down to 1.25 kilowatt hours
next venture was into solar photovoltaic (“PV”) panels. I thought I would try running my computer on them. I knew
my computer drew 85 watt hours and my LCD monitor drew 15 watt hours, so my thinking was 160 watts of PV would do the trick.
Not so, and especially not so in the winter, which is when I started this project. So my PV array soon grew to 320 watts,
then to 640 watts and even later to 810 watts. At that point I was able to run other household items from my own little electrical
grid, thereby reducing my main grid consumption.
has been five years since I started reducing my electrical consumption and it is now down to 0.93 megawatt hours per year,
which is about 2.5 kilowatt hours a day. A far cry from 33, but I still want to lower it more. It should be noted that most
of the reduction in electrical usage came via conservation measures and not via solar PV.
of years ago I read an article in Sun Magazine where the author stated that the
average distance consumable food travels is 1,500 miles and contains 10 calories
of fossil fuels for every calorie in the food. I wondered how I could reduce that. Growing my own food was an obvious choice.
I had a small garden plot that provided some fresh greens and tomatoes each year. It didn’t come close to feeding me
all year long. So I asked a neighbor farmer to come over with their compact tractor and PTO driven tiller and make a huge
garden spot in an area that was lawn. And like my electrical foray, this started another carbon reducing endeavor. Each year
since, I have tilled up a section of lawn and made a vegetable/fruit garden. My yard is now mostly garden and paths to the
garden. I also have some land along my long driveway that could be tilled, once the soil was built up. Soil must be grown
before it can grow food. Last year I gardened about an acre of land and I have another ¾ of an acre of soil being built. I
figure I grow close to 80% of my food, and all with fewer than 10 gallons of gasoline/diesel fuel. My trip to the Amish store
for butter, flour, breakfast meat and pasta usually is less than $20 per week, which is a far cry from what I used to spend
at the regular grocery store and it is all organic to boot!
thing I have learned is that using less fossil fuel is a journey, not a destination. And why, you may ask, do I want to keep
working at it? At the end of 2008, I figured my carbon footprint is six tons of CO2 per year. That is still three
times the IPCC recommended level! By combining George W’s famous saying “We are addicted to oil” with the
AA phrase “Recovery never ends,” we can state: “We will always be in recovery from our oil/fossil fuel addiction.”
beings are very clever yeasts. We don’t just consume the normal energy that creation gave us, but we brilliantly find
ways of extracting and consuming more. But we never seem to see the obvious. The answer is there any time one makes wine or
beer. A few yeasts are added to a heavy concentration of grape juice or malt and they start to multiply. And multiply. And
they keep multiplying until the concentration of alcohol increases and kills them. They basically consume all the energy available
to them and pollute themselves to death.
is why I continue trying to reduce my fossil fuel consumption. First, so I don’t deplete what we need in order to live
an easier life than that of our ancestors. Second, to not pollute the world with CO2 and extinguish life as we
know it. And third, to leave this Earth sustainable for future generations. We baby-boomers have consumed vast amounts of
resources and created tons of pollution. I hope, in the time I have left, to reverse the damage I have personally done.
for me, using less carbon-based fossil fuels is what is for breakfast,
lunch, and dinner.
Jay Peasley lives a hermit’s life on the White River in Hesperia,
Michigan. A telecommuting computer programmer for an IBM business partner in Grand Rapids, he spends most of his free time
growing soil and food, beekeeping, and working on renewable energy projects, along with an occasional paddle or fly fishing
on his beloved river. He is also a member of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation and a board member of the White
River Watershed Partnership.