Green challenge – Introduction and part I

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Following Diogo’s post “Year 1” Green Resolutions I decided to accept his challenge and write some blog posts about living a sustainable lifestyle.

It can become quite technical at times, but I will do my best to write in a way everybody can understand.

First thing we need to discuss is living a “sustainable lifestyle” versus a “self-sufficient lifestyle”.

It is in fact possible to live a self-sufficient lifestyle, but it is very very hard. I won’t go into specifics but I think it’s easy to understand that growing (or raising) your own food and keeping a balanced diet requires, among other things, that you have a well located and big enough terrain (think 2 soccer fields per person). If you are interested you can find several books on going self-sufficient.

So I’ll focus instead in living the “sustainable lifestyle”. By now Diogo and Cat have mastered most of the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, so what’s next?

It is quite simple to understand what a sustainable lifestyle is, just imagine everyone on the planet lives the same way you do and question: Are the natural resources being used in a way that allows nature to replenish them without running out ?

It can be overwhelming trying to think “always sustainable”, as practically every decision you make in your life has implications on the sustainability of the planet. That’s the main reason most people don’t care about it, it takes effort and we are mostly lazy and only think about ourselves.

My goal here is to write about things almost everybody can do, without thinking too much about them in day-to-day life.

I’ll try to give some simple tips on each blog post.

Wherever you are at home, at work, at any other place or traveling, you use natural resources. I’ll focus on the following:

  1. Energy
  2. Water
  3. Food
  4. Stuff you own

Today’s post is about

Energy @ home

The human body uses food to produce its own energy, but for every machine that helps us have the comforts of modern life we need other types of energy.

Just by looking at your bills you can easily find what types of energy you use the most:

  • Petrol or Diesel for transportation (more on that in future posts)
  • Gas (cooking, heating)
  • Electricity

There is, however, a difference between the first two and the third.

Petrol, Diesel or Gas are fossil fuels, and we, as a species, are using fossil fuels at a rate many times greater than nature can produce them. Evidence for this is quite clear, oil is being dug up from places where it is much scarce. That means fossil fuels are not sustainable choices and we should stop using them.

On the other hand electricity may, or may not, come from sustainable sources. Most likely your electricity comes from a mixture of fossil fuels and renewables. So even if it is not 100% sustainable your should definitely prefer electricity over other forms of energy simply because it will use less natural non-renewable resources (comment below if you don’t agree and we’ll discuss it).

That being said it makes sense to get rid of gas for cooking and heating. You can do the same with electricity and use less resources. (we’ll get into the power outages question on a later blog post).

Some electricity providers have the option of purchasing only renewable electricity. This doesn’t imply the electricity coming down the cable to your house will be 100% renewable but it means that the utility will have to buy the same amount of energy you spend from renewable sources. If half of consumers did that the utility would need to get at least half its electricity from sustainable sources.

If your electricity provider doesn’t tell you what are the energy sources of your electricity you should ask for it. It is common practice in Europe and the national electricity grid managers have an obligation of publicly sharing the data.

There is even a very user friendly map displaying where the electricity comes from in each country almost in real time.

Check it out at: https://www.electricitymap.org/

This may simply look like a pretty gadget, but actually it has some important implications.

You all familiar with the concept of electricity peak hours, meaning electricity is more expensive at times there is more demand. It is usually at those times that the “electricity mix” gets more dirty, as utilities need to fire gas and coal-burning plants to satisfy demand. Using electricity off-peak is not only cheaper but more sustainable.

Just a little rant: Instead of the decades old off-peak timetables we now have the technology to ask consumers to spend more or less electricity according to production in real-time, meaning less need to burn fossil fuels. We have the technology, but we lack the will.

So, for my first set of tips regarding sustainability I ask you:

  1. Ask your electricity provider for the sources of your electricity, be aware how much you rely on non-sustainable sources
  2. Check if they have a “only renewables” tariff
  3. Try to use electricity off-peak, even if you don’t have off-peak tariff
  4. If you need a new stove, heater or water-heater opt for an all-electric solution (it might actually save you money, besides the environmental benefits)
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