“Generally speaking, the less you spend, the fewer resources you use.”
“Flying, unfortunately and sadly, is not really a part of our healthy, secure and sustainable future.”
“Chatting with friends and loved ones on the internet or on the phone is not the same as visiting them, but keeps you in touch as often as you like with practically no cost in energy, CO2, money or time.”
If we are going to successfully reduce our negative impact on the planet and live a sustainable life, we need simple ways to measure our consumption and use of natural resources and see our progress toward sustainability. Here are a few pointers—Ecology Begins at Home shows you others.
Measuring resource usage
To measure progress, you can use the “before and after” method. For example, I kept track of how many bags of garbage I threw out each week, made changes in my living habits, then measured it again and saw what results I had achieved. I noted how many minutes I showered each day (hot water usage) and compared week by week. I kept track of my electricity bills and compared them from month to month and year to year. Such measurements gave me satisfaction, and also showed which changes gave noticeable results and which didn’t.
Eco-Checklists at the back of Ecology Begins at Home (2008) can give you a quick overview of your progress as you fill in and check off actions that you take. You can put these lists up on your refrigerator door and modify them to suit your needs.
I also kept an experiment notebook where I jotted down changes I made, ideas I got and data that I come across, for example, notes from the newspaper or seen on Internet. This can be a good place to save your petrol/gasoline and heating bills to have them all in one place. I wrote down the purchase dates, for example, of dishwashing liquid, washing detergent and other chemicals and hygienic products, on a list to later see how long they lasted. I also wrote the purchase dates directly on the package. Cooking experiments went in my recipe notebook, with full details even on things that didn’t turn out so well (“Sigh, I won’t make that mistake again”).
For food, I got a quick impression by seeing the number of tins, glass jars and bottled or packaged drinks on the shelves of my kitchen pantry and in my refrigerator. Today there aren’t many! I saved my purchase receipts and added up my total expenditures for food and household goods. Factory food is always resource intensive compared to fresh food, and the price reflects this (not always so exactly, but generally). Another way to estimate your food resources is to see how many bags of recyclable packaging you have each week (fresh food has almost no packaging, factory foods leave a trail of packages in addition to all the resources used at the factory).
A car requires many resources, but gasoline/petrol is probably the biggest--besides the actual production of the car itself. Keeping a notebook in the car, you can jot down petrol expenses and, if you like, for other car necessities. A simpler method is to just keep track of how many kilometers/miles you drive each week, month and year.
Heating bills, if you have them, are a major item to follow. The same for water bills.
Measuring total footprint
To measure your total impact at any point in time, you can look at your total expenses, i.e., how much money you spend each week, month or year. To be more accurate, you can leave out big investments such as a computer or car, or prorate them over the number of years of their life. Leave out interest and amortization on loans.
Less consumption of all kinds means fewer resources and less impact.
Generally speaking, the less you spend, the fewer resources you use and the less your impact on the planet’s ecosystems.
Instead of your expenses, you can use a carbon footprint or ecological footprint calculator on Internet. These ask you questions about your lifestyle, then on the basis on your answers, calculate the CO2 you create annually (your carbon footprint) or the equivalent land area (your ecological footprint) that is needed to sustain your life. These calculators are generally not detailed enough to help you see changes from day to day, month to month or even over a year, but like total expenses, they do show you whether you are consuming high, average or low in comparison with your country and with other regions of the world. You can find links to carbon footprint and ecological footprint calculators, along with good explanations of what they measure, at www.wikipedia.org. Here are a couple of carbon calculators to try:
Air travel impact
Here are several easy ways to estimate the resources and impact of your air travel, and by recording them, see changes from time to time:
1. You can record flight hours or air miles for each trip you take.
2. You can estimate 1 litre fuel and 6 kg CO2 for every 6 air miles (every 10 kilometres) per passenger. This fuel is approximately as much as driving a car the same distance (alone). The CO2 is 3 times the CO2 of ground transport because high altitude burning is more potent (according to the IPCC, see point 4 below).
You can estimate 50
litres fuel and 300 kg CO2 per flight
hour per person. So if you fly 6 hours to a
distant shore, you burn about 6 x 50 x 2 (return trip)
4. You can use an air flight calculator such as the one at www.chooseclimate.org, which gives both litres of fuel and kilograms of CO2 for any starting point and destination that you pick out on a map. Note, however, that this site and many others use CO2 at its face value of about 2 kg CO2 per litre fuel rather than its effective impact that the IPCC in their latest report states is 2-4 times higher. Here I have used an effective impact 3 times higher, or approx. 6 kg CO2 per litre fuel.
However you look at it, air travel is extremely eco-expensive, and traveling less is an easy way to make giant cuts in our negative ecosystem impact. Train and bus are much “cheaper” resource and climate-wise, when you can take them. Even better and truly eco-smart is chatting with friends and loved ones on the internet or on the phone. It’s not the same as visiting them, of course, but keeps you in touch as often as you like with practically no cost in energy, CO2, money or time.
Both cars and flying will gradually become the privilege of the super-rich when cheap oil is gone. Rather than hurrying to use up as much as I can of these precious but polluting resources before they’re gone, I prefer to adapt my life now to the much healthier and safer living standard of a world without oil spills, oil wars, air pollution and drastic climate change, to a safer and adequate standard that can be shared by all.
Note: The first printed edition of Ecology Begins at Home 2008 contains incorrect figures for air fuel and CO2 per flight hour (almost twice the values above). Please use the values above in point 3 or see page 103 in the 2008 pdf download for the correct text and figures.