Warmer but not always wetter: NRDC predicts that a majority of US counties will face moderate to extreme water shortages by 2050, due to climate change and demand.
‘Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.’ This poetically plagiarized prose precede a, probably unpopular, International Energy Agency (IEA) report. As the climate changes, so do our precipitation expectations, and the latest portrait drawn by the IEA makes those words look like a possible future photographic caption. Water demand is expected to double by 2035, according to the IEA. Around half of the projected 66 billion cubic meter increase will be swallowed by coal production. This is equivalent to the residential consumption of everyone in the US for three years. The United Nations estimates that 1.8 billion people will have to deal with severe water scarcity and two-thirds of the population will be living in ‘water-stressed conditions.’
Fortunately there is no guarantee of being stuck out at sea sans both paddles. Water awareness is a good first step, and you can simultaneously cut your carbon and water footprint, since water, agriculture and energy are so intertwined. We’ve mentioned before how becoming a weekday vegetarian can save you around 2 tons of carbon, there are also benefits for your water footprint. The average American diet uses around 1,000 gallons a person everyday. Choosing to eat less meat and dairy and (if you are eating meat) picking grass-fed over grain-fed can make a real difference. National Geographic estimates that a vegan consumes around 600 fewer gallons of water than the average American. Then there’s all the embodied water in the energy you consume and the products you buy, many of which come from water stressed regions of the world. So as you buy less stuff and make your home a model of energy efficiency you’ll also be working water wonders for the people and ecosystems that need it most.
Posted in by Bianca Silva, Climate Change, Eat, Energy, Environment, Food, Life Cycle Assessment, Water | Tagged climate, environment, international energy agency, nature, science, water scarcity | Leave a Comment »
Dirt cheap solar panel prices and government rebates mean home solar systems can now pay for themselves in a few years (and continue to save you bundles of $ after that). Here’s a graph of solar savings for a typical home in Los Angeles, CA (green means you’re saving money beyond your initial investment).
Once upon a time home solar PV systems were only the playthings of off-the-grid hippies and Hollywood celebrities. But now a dramatic drop in the price of solar has made it a sound investment for nearly all of us (as well as a major win for the environment). This is thanks to a cornucopia of national and local installation incentives, as well as improvements in PV technology, and competition from a massive oversupply from China.
If you live in a sunny part of the U.S., a typical home solar installation will now pay for itself in less than 10 years. Sites like find-solar.org can calculate how quickly solar will payback for you based on your average monthly electricity bill, local incentives, and the amount of sunshine your home receives each year. There are also now a number of companies (like 1BOG, Real Goods, Brightstar, and CSS) that will install solar systems for free, provided you sign a contract to purchase power for a fixed period of time (with electricity prices that are still typically cheaper than what you get charged by your utility). It’s also worth checking out crowdfunding platforms that finance solar in both the U.S. (Mosaic) and the developing world (SunFunder).
Of course it takes energy (and associated greenhouse gas emissions) to make solar panels, but with improvements in technology the energy and emissions generally get paid back in carbon-free electricity production in less than 4 years, and future efficiency improvements could decrease this payback period to about a year. So, although the current low solar prices are hard on manufactures, the future for solar has never looked brighter for both the planet and your pocketbook!
Posted in Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Home, Live, Solar | Leave a Comment »
Up to 40% of food is wasted on its way to your plate.
We’ve already blogged about how eating less red meat and cheese does more to reduce the environmental impacts of your diet than eating all local and organic. Turns out there’s an even easier way to green up your groceries: only buy what you’ll actually eat. A new study by NRDC estimates that up to 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted, which includes waste at the farm, supermarket, in your fridge, and scrapped off your plate. All this rotten rubbish adds up to a tremendous waste of resources each year: 25% of all freshwater used in U.S.; 4% of total U.S. oil consumption; $165 billion in food costs; $750 million just to dispose of the food; and 33 million tons of landfill waste (leading to methane emissions, a greenhouse gas ~25 times more potent than CO2).
While part of the problem lies with inefficiencies in our food production and distribution infrastructure, which could be rectified with some government intervention, the good news is that you can also be a big part of the solution. Only buy and cook what you’ll eat and don’t shun imperfect produce (that’s still perfectly edible) and you’ll go a long way towards improving the efficiency of the whole system. Efficient eating is made extra enticing by the fact you’ll even save money in the process. And perhaps you’ll also avoid packing on pounds from polishing off overly-plentiful plates, a win for both the wallet and the waistline!
Posted in Climate Change, Eat, Energy, Environment, Food, Home, Office, Shopping, Water | Leave a Comment »
LED lighting is getting cheaper, "warmer", and more efficient. Time to switch?
An offshoot of the semiconductor industry, LED lighting technology is already abundant in our lives, from traffic lights to flat screen TVs and computer displays. That’s because LEDs produce are about 10 times more efficient than conventional incandescent lighting, and they can last up to 100 times longer, equating to substantial energy, cost and eco impact savings over time.
So is it time to re-illuminate your home sweet home? The downside is that LEDs still aren’t cheap, with standard socket LED bulbs costing anywhere from $5 to over $50. LEDs have also struggled a bit matching the “warm” light put off by incandescents, the same problem faced by compact florescent lamps (CFLs) when they first hit the market. But LED prices are coming down quickly, while both efficiency and light quality are improving. The typical LED is now twice as efficient as a CFL, and takes roughly the same amount of energy to manufacture. LEDs also last 2 to 3 times longer, and they’re better than CFLs at dimming (“dimmable” CFLs still tend to flicker, while LEDs are better at maintaining smooth illumination and color temperature, though some brands still have kinks to work out). LEDs also have a leg up on CFLs in that they don’t contain mercury, a toxic component of all CFLs that subjects users to special recycling and breakage clean-up recommendations.
If you’re ready to dive into the future of light, sites like Amazon are of course awash with LED options. Beyond price, pay close attention to customer ratings, “dimmable” claims (if you need dimming), and color temperature (2,700-3,300 K will match standard incandescent lighting, while higher numbers mean a “cooler” color). The EPA award-winning Light Bulb Finder app is a great way to quickly see how options stack up, and there are a number of fabulous online calculators out there that estimate how LED when investments will payback and start turning a profit (vs. both CFLs and incandescents). When both energy savings and longer bulb life are factored in, replacing an incandescent with a $25 LED should save you at least $150 over the 25-year life of a frequently used LED bulb, and if you’re willing to get a bit more creative with your lighting you can save even more.
Posted in Climate Change, Earth Day, Electronics, Energy, Environment, Health, Home, Life Cycle Assessment, Live, Office, Shopping, Toxics | 1 Comment »
Bottled water keeps selling BS by the billions.
At about $100 billion in 2010 global sales, projected to rise to $125 billion by 2015, bottled water is big business. The average American consumed over 28 gallons of the stuff in 2010, which starts looking low compared to an average German (34 gallons) or an average Mexican (64 gallons). But is that H2O in a bottle any better than what comes out of the tap? Well, first there’s the fact that you’re paying between 240 and 10,000 times the price you’d pay for the same quantity of tap water, despite the fact that over 25% of bottled water is actually just repackaged tap, and the bottled stuff is less regulated (and therefore often more contaminated) than fluid that flows out of your kitchen sink.
Then there’s the environmental footprint of making a bottle plus trucking that bottle around for your consumptive convenience. A 2006 Pacific Institute study estimated that just producing the bottles for water sold in the US consumed the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil, emitted more than 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gas, and wasted 2 liters of water in the production process for every one liter that ended up on store shelves (and that’s NOT counting refrigeration and transportation energy). Of course these bottles can be recycled, but about 75% of them still end up in a landfill, and (as any enviro-hip elementary school student will tell you) it’s better to reduce and reuse to render that third “R” unnecessary. Adding it all up, the environmental footprint of bottled water is over 1000 times greater than running the tap.
But that refreshing bottled stuff tastes better, right? According to a highly unscientific televised study by renowned investigators (Penn & Teller), over 75% of people in a blind taste test preferred New York tap water (out of a hose) over “premium” bottled brands. So better taste is probably more in your head than on your tongue, and brands that claim otherwise are likely selling a load of BS (which, given the lax FDA oversight of the bottled water industry, bacteria from that BS may even end up in your cup). So forgo the bottles of blues, and equip yourself with a groovy green refillable canteen.
Posted in Climate Change, Eat, Energy, Entertainment, Food, Health, Home, Life Cycle Assessment, Office, Shopping, Toxics, Water | 1 Comment »
Must every flight lead to a warmer world?
Ever wonder if it’s better to fly or drive to your destination? The plane certainly wins on speed, and often cost, but what about planetary impact? Turns out those wispy white contrails are looking increasingly dirty, bad news for lovers of in-flight movies and mile-high mischef. While planes, trains and automobiles all spew out carbon dioxide emissions (that contribute to climate change), planes tend to be the least efficient of the bunch (due to higher speeds and energy it takes to get to altitude). But recent research is showing that CO2 is only part of the story. Planes also emit high altitude NOx, water vapor, and particulate matter, all of which also contribute to global warming. So jet-setting to far off places may be anywhere from twice to more than quadruple the impact of driving the same distance, based on the latest science.
Depending on which numbers you believe, air transport makes up anywhere from 4% to 9% of current climate forcing. But these figures are likely to increase, as air traffic has been growing at over 5% per year for much of the past decade, with some projecting aviation’s impact to more than triple by 2050. There are certainly some very cool electric-, solar-, and human-powered aircraft out there, as well as hypermiling conventional planes, but substantial efficiency improvements in commercial aviation aren’t likely anytime soon, due to limits in conventional technology.
So what’s a globe trotting adventurer to do? As we’ve blogged before, cutting back on air travel through telecommuting, teleconferencing and staycations can help. But it’s a wonderful world out there, and we know that the only efficient way to get to much of it starts on a runway! There are plenty of creative solutions out there that need not leave you entirely grounded. If you’re flying to an exotic locale for work, try to get in your annual vacation fix in the same trip. In general, take fewer trips that last longer (to compensate), and choose closer destinations when you can. If you’re in need of tropical paradise, Mexico or the Virgin Islands probably require a lot less carbon to get to than Bali. Flying coach also emits less than business or first class (because you’re taking up less space), so saving money also equates to saving carbon. Check out Careplane to see how your flight emissions options stack up on your travel site of choice (Kayak, Hipmunk, Orbitz and Bing are all supported).
Posted in Energy, Life Cycle Assessment, Office, Play, Transportation, Vacation | 1 Comment »
Roses are red, violets are blue(ish); our heart is green, and yours can be too(ish).
Want to win the undying affection of that special green someone? If gifts are your style, there are plenty of guides to V-Day green goodies, ranging from fair trade chocolate, to organic wine and sexy bamboo lingerie. Heck, there are even eco sex toy options (jolly green fun for you and/or your significant other)! Of course, as we’ve pointed out before, it takes stuff to make stuff, so the simple gifts that show you care through craft and prose are often are best at expressing your love for both your beau and the planet (call us cheesy, but it’s true).
Activities and services are generally greener than products too, so go ahead and book that massage and take that long walk on the beach (provided you don’t fly half way around the world to get there). If you absolutely must take that romantic getaway to Micronesia, consider at least calculating and offsetting your carbon sins. And try not to get so liquored up on mai tais that you inadvertently bring a bundle of joy into the world. Turns out babies are the least green thing of all (though we still think they’re cute… at least when they’re not screaming, releasing bodily fluids, and belching GHGs).
Posted in Climate Change, Clothing, Energy, Entertainment, Food, Green Labeling, Home, Life Cycle Assessment, Shop, Shopping, Toxics | Leave a Comment »