13 December 2007

How Much Greenhouse Gas Emission Is Too Much?

How much will you have to cut your emissions?

Do you believe some people have a greater right to pollute than others? If so, you can stop reading right here.

But maybe a student in America, a sarariman in Japan, a bureaucrat in Brussels and a farmer in India each have an equal right to generate greenhouse gases. Each has a right to aspire to a good life, and will need to live within the greenhouse gas emission limits needed to keep the Earth from tipping into climate-change catastrophe.

So use a carbon footprint calculator to estimate your current emissions. (There is one here; remember to come back.) Add up all your emissions sources (car, home, flights).

Then compare your results (in metric tonnes of 2205 lb.) with the emissions of others, and with the targets humankind is going to have to achieve on a percapita basis.

We each have a lot of adjusting to do.

10 December 2007

Nobel Committee: Climate Change Threatens Peace

"We are what is wrong, and we must make it right."--Al Gore

In the press release announcing the Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee said, "By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC and Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is seeking to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control."

Mr. Gore said in his "Nobel Lecture" acceptance speech:

We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war. These prior struggles for survival were won when leaders found words at the 11th hour that released a mighty surge of courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortal challenge.

These were not comforting and misleading assurances that the threat was not real or imminent; that it would affect others but not ourselves; that ordinary life might be lived even in the presence of extraordinary threat; that Providence could be trusted to do for us what we would not do for ourselves.

No, these were calls to come to the defense of the common future. They were calls upon the courage, generosity and strength of entire peoples, citizens of every class and condition who were ready to stand against the threat once asked to do so. Our enemies in those times calculated that free people would not rise to the challenge; they were, of course, catastrophically wrong.

Now comes the threat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penalties for ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?

You can read Mr. Gore's speech (in English or Norwegian) here, or even watch a video of it. The speech of Dr. Rajendra K Pachauri, who accepted the prize on behalf of co-winner The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of which he is Chairman, is here.

05 December 2007

Compact Fluorescent Lamps -- The Shape of Things to Come

Compact Fluorescent Lights Make a Difference

One of the easiest ways to save energy, save money, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to use compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) instead of old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.

Compact fluorescent bulbs use between a fifth and a quarter as much electricity to produce the same amount of light. They also last six times as long or more. (For hard-to-reach bulbs this is a real advantage. Take it from someone who has to climb a ladder and stand on the top step to reach some of the fixtures in my home.)

True, CFLs look a little different from traditional bulbs. But I am sure that when they were first introduced light bulbs looked weird to people who were used to gas jets. And you can get CFLs that have a globe around them and look more like a bulb.

Here are some of the pros and cons of CFLs:
  • They cost more than incandescent bulbs. (But sometimes utilities or others give them away or sell them at a discount.)
  • Most of them don't work on a dimmer. Some of the new ones have overcome this problem, but check the packaging carefully if you want to use it on a dimmer switch.
  • Some of them give light of a slightly different color than incandescent bulbs do, usually a little less yellow. Newer models are overcoming this problem. They come in both "cool" and "warm" types.
  • Most CFLs don't produce their full light output immediately when you turn them on. They may seem dimmer than they should be for the first minute or two. This is why it makes sense to use CFLs mainly where you usually leave the light on for at least 15 minutes at a time.
  • Since they contain tiny amounts of mercury (like all fluorescent lights) it is better not to just throw them in the trash. Most places have suggestions for safely disposing of CFLs. Check your local options through this EPA site. Some stores (like IKEA) have a place to drop them off.
  • CFLs produce a lot less heat than equivalent incandescent bulbs. You can put your hand on a lighted CFL and not burn yourself. That's good if you are using air conditioning, but not as good if you are heating the house in winter. In most residential situations this shouldn't make much difference. You will notice that lamps are much cooler to the touch. (My desk lamp here is hardly even warm.) This is great for lights you need close to your work.
  • They come in most of the same sizes and types as incandescent bulbs. You can even get them for "3-way" lamps.
  • Since they take a lot less electricity, if you have a fixture that says "60 Watt Max." and you want more light out of it, you can get it. A 14-Watt CFL gives as much light as a 60-Watt incandescent bulb. A 20-Watt CFL is as bright as a 75-Watt regular bulb.
  • They save money on electricity. (According to the calculator on the One Billion Bulbs site I am saving more than $100 per year.)
  • They last much, much longer.
  • Since they need less electricity, they reduce the greenhouse gas emissions you cause. (I am cutting my emissions by half a ton per year.)
  • They show you care, yet they are much cheaper than a Prius.
So next time you have to replace a light bulb, consider using a compact fluorescent. You'll be saving money and helping the environment. That's green living.

(For more information about CFLs try the Energy Star site. If you want to join others in making the switch, check out the One Billion Bulbs project.)