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Mandatory High MPGs: Shell’s Ex-Chairman Thinks We Need Them Now

February 4, 2008

The BBC today reported that Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former chairman of Shell Oil, says that the EU should mandate that all cars sold achieve at least a 35 mpg rating. While unfortunately it’s realization is a remote possibility, I think it’s fantastic to hear an industrialist propose something sustainable.

The two major adversaries to such a regulation are car companies and the public. This is true both in the EU and the US. Politicians don’t want to piss off the factory workers that build gas-guzzlers, nor the constituents that drive them. And let’s face it: as a Western culture we are addicted to big and fast. We want that spine-tingling pedaltothemedal zoom that you just can’t get in a Prius. And the movies never show Johnny getting Susie’s shirt off in the back of a Civic hybrid. It’s a giant van spewing the same amount of smoke outside that is *cough* “occurring naturally” inside.

Changing our attitudes about cars is tough. We’re romantically involved with the idea of limitless boundaries of speed, size, and distance. It’s hard to give those up in the name of a globally-conscious ideal that often just doesn’t have the same sex appeal. But starting to equate big=bad and efficient=sexy is the way to eventually make not only an mpg regulation a reality, but a culture centered on sustainability. Let that tingle your spine. With the public on their side, politicians would willingly tell the auto companies to step it up.

While breaking a cultural addiction sounds truly daunting (and near impossible) there are some easy ways to start changing both your mindset and those around you.

  • Next time you see a hybrid or high-efficiency vehicle, (even if it’s old or small or puke yellow) compliment it. To the owner or to your friend; demonstrate that it’s a quality you appreciate in the world around you.
  • Next time you see a jaw-dropping, souped up racer, keep your mouth closed. Even if it’s owner is begging for attention. There’s no need to be whiny or condescending and ask about the horrible gas mileage it gets, your silence will be enough to send the message.
  • When deciding which car to take (often an issue in my group of friends) always suggest the one with the highest mpg. Feel free to disclose your reasoning if asked, but just saying “oh I like Rachel’s car..” will make Rachel feel good and cause your other friends to think of her car in a positive light. Mind you, if you’re always suggesting Rachel’s car it’s a good idea to help with the gas money. It shouldn’t be much.

I try to keep this mindset when I’m at home. My mother drives a Prius, my father a Yukon, and there’s about a 30 mpg difference between them. If I have to borrow a car, my first choice is always the Prius. When we make long trips to visit family I try to suggest it as well, although it doesn’t always work. But me nagging about the “behemoth” is just going to make Dad tune me out.

The basic idea is to praise the sustainable while keeping mum about the less-so. Keeping a positive tone will do more than constantly worrying others about pollution. And while I would never encourage a girl to go to second base just because it’s a hybrid, maybe a second date is an option? After all, with the savings in gas money he can buy you dessert.

How do you support high-efficiency vehicles?
image via

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New Layout!

February 2, 2008

Let me know if you like it.  Theoretically the sidebars being a dark blue should reduce your computer electricity usage when viewing the page ;), ala blackle.

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Carbon Calculators: What’s The Math?

February 2, 2008

cutest graphic award!

best graphic award – link below (UK)

For each person concerned with reducing their personal carbon emissions, there’s a carbon calculator on the internet. Enter in your driving habits, household heating system, and number of yearly trips to the Bahamas and *poof*, your impact on the environment is handed to your all wrapped up in a nice little number. But how do they come up with that little number? And more importantly, who’s they and why should you trust them to accurately calculate your carbon emissions?

One of the most important aspects of a carbon calculator is transparency. The EPA does a great job with this in their calculator located here. Not only do they have a list of all their assumptions, they even have a spreadsheet version with all the formulas you can download. They have the data, after all, they’re the EPA! They take home heating, transportation, waste disposal, and CFL usage into account. However, they miss out on plane trips and other occasional items.

Details can really make a difference, especially when counting transportation emissions. An Inconvienent Truth’s calculator lets you include the make and model of your car, as well as list the number and length of flights you take. They also provide a list of their assumptions. However, in those assumptions they mention that all the aspects their calculator covers account for only 32% of per capita emissions in the US. Therefore, they provide a ranking system that helps measure your emissions compared to the US average.

Including as many aspects of your lifestyle helps achieve the most complete emissions estimate in relation to that overall per capita number. That means looking for a calculator that includes not only your home and transportation emissions, but your recycling, diet, and hot water usage as well. Sadly, most calculators I found revolve around only the first two. Let me know (or comment!) if you find a good calculator that includes some of these extras!

Know who produces your calculator. Government agencies and nonprofits are usually fine, but I would be wary of sites trying to sell products or services based on your results.

Locality is the last crucial step in finding a carbon calculator that is accurate for you. If you live outside the US, don’t just pick a state and use a US calculator. The calculations usually base emissions on the types of power (coal, hydro, etc) prevalent in each state, and these can vary widely. Use a calculator that is designed for where you live. Here are some decent calculators I found for the UK, Australia, and just about everywhere else.

It’s important to remember that no online calculator will likely be complete enough to discover your true and total emissions. What’s important is realizing the difference you can make through sustainable choices to your lifestyle. Some emissions factors you can change more easily than others, and calculators are great at helping you discover those areas in which you can make the largest difference.

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Warm Showers: Better For Me, Better For The Environment

January 28, 2008

I’m the kind of person that fights off the cold morning chill with a scalding hot shower.  However, I’ve learned that taking showers that are too hot actually cause your skin to be dryer and less healthy.  In addition, although shower length is generally how carbon output is reduced, shower temperature also effects the amount of energy needed.  So by dropping my shower temperature a few degrees I can not only help reduce my carbon output, but improve the health of my skin.  Tricks like this, which improve quality of life while helping the environment, are my favorite kind of green living. 

So how much can we save?  My residence hall shower isn’t new in the least, so I can safely assume that a 10 minute shower uses about 25 gallons (200lbs) of water.  Heating it to scalding, about 120 F, from 60 F takes 12000 BTU.  But heating the same amount of water to just 110 F uses only 10000 BTU.

(200lb)(120-60)=12,000 BTU       (200lb)(110-60)=10,000 BTU     12,000-10,000=2,000 BTU

That difference of 2000 BTU is equivalent to .586 kWh a day.   As my university uses coal power, it means 1.227 lbs less carbon released each day.  Over a year, that’s 447.86 lbs of carbon.  Putting this in perspective, with the energy and carbon savings you could instead keep 5 10w CFLs (40w equivalent) on for 10 hours a day.  All for giving up just 10 extra degrees of heat in my shower, ones I likely won’t even notice.

Now this is just one specific way to reduce the carbon impact of your shower.  As I live in a residence hall it’s really the only aspect I can control, besides with the length of my showers.  If I were to reduce that time by even a minute, that’s an extra .36 lbs of carbon saved per day.  But if you want to do more, here are some easy tricks you might be able to use that are even easier:

-Install a low-flow shower head and use 50% less water (1.8lbs of carbon a day with a 10min shower).  Also look for one with a stop valve so you can soap up without wasting water.

-get an insulating blanket for your old water heater

-turn down the heat on your water heater

-get a tankless water heater

-and for the really ambitious, install a solar hot water heating system (no more carbon guilt!)

Good luck and happy showering!!

(data for calculations found here and here

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Greendweller v1.2

January 22, 2008

Greendweller has been around about 3 months now and will likely reach the 1000 visitors milestone this week.  Hooray!  During that time I’ve realized to an extent what I can expect from myself, this blog, and you readers, so I’ve decided to make a couple changes to Greendweller.

Posting Schedule-  I’m dropping my posting schedule to 2/week, with every 4th-6th post or so double posted to The Sietch.  With most of my time devoted to graduating and finding a job in Chicago, there just isn’t time to write 5 well-researched posts a week.

Posts- That said, I still see a lot of value in blogging as a platform for yours and my own questions about sustainability.  My favorite posts are still those where we actually got down to numbers and were able to effectively evaluate practices or options.

Attitute- While everyone loves a warm fuzzy CFL post, there are some more controversial green issues I would like to explore here.   Expect to see more posts in the future covering such things as McMansions, meat consumption, and personal responsibility.

Thank you to everyone that has commented, become a regular reader, or just stopped by as a result of a random Google search.  Your support is the best motivation.

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Getting Your Green Degree: Evaluating Sources

January 17, 2008

After getting a comments about EarthLab (thanks Alex) and questions about other carbon calculators I realized it’s sometimes difficult to evaluate the legitimacy of the sustainable “facts” you see online.  Whenever I visit a website for research purposes (for this blog or my own knowledge) here’s what I look for:

Google Rank- If it’s the first or second result on your google search then it’s a very popular site and that can typically attest to a website’s legitimacy.  However, this also can give very commercialized sites so google rank should never be your sole indicator.

Page Design- Nearly every website of worth can afford to have decent to good typography, graphics, and general layout.  The exception to this is the government, but they have their own credibility.

Sponsoring Organization- This is a big one.  Personally I favor using U.S. governmental organizations websites for information, especially the USGS and DOE.  While conspiracy theorists may disagree, there is a rigor and standard to the research presented on these sites, and usually the information is extensive.  Otherwise your next best bet is probably a non-profit organization.  Since they’re not trying to make money off you, the only thing they’re selling is their ideals.  Look for broader or nationally known affiliations when evaluating the reliability of a non-profit’s information.  The USGBC is probably more reliable than John Doe’s Corncob Building Association.

Bias- Once I get past the above three, I start really looking at the information/advice a site is presenting.  Usually every site has some bias, but does that bias affect the truthfulness of their information?  A bit of reading and critical thinking can differentiate between a passionate but scientific source and extremists who would say anything to prove their point.

Is there anything else that you look for when determining the validity of a site?  Next post I’ll focus on just carbon calculators and where to go for reliable estimates.

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Resale Corner Is My Favorite Part Of Town

January 14, 2008

About a mile from my parent’s house in central Ohio is a small 90s strip mall that remains entirely occupied, although newer and more “attractive” strip malls continue to be built around it.  This success is the result of patronage by a series of resale franchises that run the spectrum of the resale gamut: Once Upon a Child, Plato’s Closet, New Uses General Store, and Play It Again Sports.  For years I have visited these stores, most recently New Uses as I begin to acquire household goods in anticipation of my upcoming graduation from college.

Resale stores like these are a valuable stopgap in a consumer economy.   By purchasing high quality used items from the local community, they provide incentive to recycle.  The items in these stores are the creme de la creme of used.  I’ve often found their purchasing standards so high that some items I bring in get turned away, meaning the Kidney Foundation and Salvation Army still get plenty of donations. Selling at far lower prices than name-brand retail, they encourage the same community to reuse the goods, adding a second-life to the cycle of cradle to grave without transit costs and minimal carbon emissions.

That resale stores succeed in so many subject areas is testament to a willingness to recycle when the opportunity is there.  Everyone from 5 year old soccer players to notoriously picky teenagers to 50 year old househusbands shop at these stores.  Many of the above titles are large franchises with locations all over North America.  If any resale outlet is in your area, I encourage you to utilize it.

Have any noteworthy experiences (good or bad) with reselling?  Let us know about them; my own experiences are far too narrow to be taken for granted :)

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