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sunrise in Mendoza, Argentina

sunrise in Mendoza, Argentina

We sat around a table tasting several varieties of Malbec wine, watching the magnificent sunset colors of orange, pink, red and yellow dip behind the snow capped Andes Mountains. Surrounding us were hundreds of miles of Malbec vineyards within Uco Valley of Mendoza, Argentina, and it was absolutely gorgeous. At the time, it did not cross my mind that this land and climate might not look like this forever, and that the delicious local wine might not be available in the future. I had little idea of the disastrous effects that climate change could have on this beautiful region.

Wine production in Argentina is a crucial part of the country’s vibrant culture, historical development, and economic success. Argentina’s western region, Mendoza, is extremely influential in Argentina’s domestic and international wine success. With more than 1,500 wineries in the region, Mendoza’s Malbec wine produces seventy-five percent of all Argentine wines, and represents eighty-five percent of all Malbec vineyards worldwide.

Mendoza’s terroir, or their unique climate and geography, allows agriculturalists to produce grapes (and therefore wines) unlike any other region in the world. Mendoza’s high altitude, arid climate, lack of rainfall, nutritious soil, and differences in day and night temperature allow Malbec grapes to thrive. But, the increasing impacts of climate change already have affected and are expected to continue to affect Mendoza terroir, the Malbec grape, Mendoza’s wine industry, and, potentially, the Argentine economy. The Mendoza region has already seen increasing temperatures, melting glaciers in the Andes Mountains, changing precipitation patterns, decreasing water availability and unpredictable storms.

Most Argentine wineries, as well as worldwide consumers assume that Mendoza will be able to produce its wines indefinitely. But this is not the case if wineries do not learn to protect their region’s climate and agriculture. It is not the case if we do not take the basic steps to minimize our global footprint.

When managed well, wineries can actually help to sustain their climate and continue to produce delectable wine by minimizing their carbon footprint with practices like implementing irrigation techniques that conserve water, instituting composting processes, building recycling systems, or by choosing organic or biodynamic production methods. More importantly, as global citizens WE can take steps to protect this region and its unique agriculture. We have the responsibility to protect this region so that future generations can see its beauty and taste its deliciousness just as we do now.

Here’s how you can help now!

  1. We can help spread knowledge and awareness of climate change, and its affect on the Mendoza region and their delectable wines. Together we can catalyze the global environmental movement.
  2.  We can support Argentine wineries (among other businesses and their products) that are certified organic, Fair Trade, B Corporations, and have adopted some of the environmentally friendly agricultural techniques listed above.
  3. We can continue to lower our own global footprint by recycling, driving less, eating locally, and buying products that were produced in environmentally responsible ways. Oroeco’s web apps help you easily manage, understand and minimize your carbon footprint!

Cheers to making us all Climate Heroes!

image from Flickr Creative Commons.

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Climate-Saving Resolutions Time to ring in the New Year with resolutions to be healthier and happier humans. We here at Oroeco can’t help you get to the gym or eat less chocolate (which we consume in copious quantities). But we DO have a few climate-saving resolutions that make it easy to save money AND save the planet this year, leading to health and happiness all around!

Did you know the average household can save over $1,000 each year while reducing climate impacts by 20%? Here are 10 easy-to-implement climate-saving resolutions that cost little to put into action but can make a big difference for the world, your wallet and your waistline. Ready to awaken your inner climate champion? Take any of the actions below and you’re on your way to a better year already!

  1. Kill the vampires: This tip is perhaps the easiest of them all and doesn’t require anything beyond a little brain power: simply unplug your electronics when not in use, or turn them fully off with a powerstrip. Most electronics suck ‘vampire power-’ which means they use energy even when turned off! Unplugging appliances when they’re not in use is the best way to slay these vampires. Some, like the oven, might be impossible to unplug, but others, like TVs, DVRs, stereos and wireless routers should be accessible and easy to unplug or switch off with a powerstrip.
  2. BYO-Everything: Carrying a silverware set, a reusable/washable napkin, a cup and even a small container with you to parties, to the office and elsewhere might seem a little daunting at first, but it has a lot of rewards. Cutting out the need for plastic and paper supplies goes a long way to reducing your footprint and virtually eliminating your use of styrofoam and plastic to-go containers. Bring your own takeout container to restaurants to save even more.
  3. Reduce your food waste: Here’s another freebie tip: by simply reducing your food waste you can eliminate about 2,200 pounds of CO2 each year and make a ton of other impacts! All the energy used to grow, transport and chill that wasted food can be saved each time you make conscious purchasing decisions. How to reduce your food waste: plan your meals ahead to avoid overbuying, serve smaller portions (which is also good for your waistline), freeze foods if you can’t eat them soon enough, and turn less-than-perfect veggies into soups or pasta sauces.
  4. Choose transportation wisely: Bike, walk or take public transport whenever possible. Or, choose a rideshare program to get you where you need to go without having to own a car. You can save up to $10,000 each year if your forgo four wheels to support cleaner transportation!
  5. Try Meatless Monday (or everyday): Reducing the amount of meat and dairy in your diet can make a huge difference in your daily carbon footprint, even more so than choosing all local and organic foods. Eating less meat saves money and improves your health at the same time!
  6. Make your home brighter with energy efficient bulbs: LEDs are super energy efficient light bulbs and are great investment for your home. The initial cost will be quickly offset from immediate energy savings. How much can they save you? A typical 60 watt incandescent can be replaced with a 6 watt LED! That’s a huge decrease in energy usage, and with LEDs now costing less than $5 per bulb they pay for themselves in energy savings very quickly!
  7. Reduce your water use: Low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators are easy to install and can reduce your water use immediately by half or more. This means less energy used to heat your shower and sink water, dropping your electric bill and your water bill at the same time.
  8. Know your climate impacts: It’s said “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” but it’s easy to track the climate impacts of your spending and lifestyle choices with our fun (and FREE!) software at Oroeco. You can improve your impacts with personalized tips, collaborate and compete with your friends, win prizes and engage your community to scale your personal actions into bigger change. Sign up here to start tracking your impacts and begin changing climate for the better this year.
  9. Clean up climate with carbon offsets: Supporting pollution reduction projects by purchasing carbon offsets is the only way to fully eliminate the climate impacts of your lifestyle. Unfortunately there’s not yet a global tax on carbon pollution, but you can start paying your carbon cost now to make a real difference for climate and communities. You can subscribe to monthly offsetting through Oroeco to make sure you’re treading on the climate as lightly as possible. Your offset purchases fund clean cookstove projects in Africa, supporting healthier forests and families through our partnership with Impact Carbon, and you can even gift offsets to your friends and family.
  10. Share your climate love! Each change we make as individuals has a positive impact, but we encourage you to amplify your impact by sharing these resolutions with friends and family. Perhaps the biggest change we need to make is to shift the culture around climate action, so that climate-friendly living is the new normal. The only way that’s going to happen is if we talk about climate with everyone we respect and care about. Let your friends and family know why you’re passionate about climate, and how you can support each other to change climate for the better this year. We’ve built Oroeco to make these conversations a bit easier, and we’re on Facebook and Twitter, so you can share the climate love with us there too!

Got some other climate resolutions for the New Year? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Hope your year is off to a grand beginning, and sign up here for even more tips to change climate for the better in 2015!

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A sneak peak at Oroeco's spiffy new Dashboard, which automatically tracks your personal climate impacts, compares you with your friends, and gives you personalized tips for saving carbon and money.

A sneak peak at Oroeco’s spiffy new Dashboard, which automatically tracks your personal climate impacts, compares you with your friends, gives customized tips for saving carbon and money, and rewards you and your friends for taking action.

Earth Day 2014 is upon us! We’re marking the auspicious occasion with the launch of Oroeco BETA, the world’s first service that automatically tracks your impacts on climate change, then rewards you and all your friends for taking actions that lead to a happier, healthier planet. The journey has really just begun. Oroeco’s team, advisors and intrepid beta testers have put in long hours to get us where we are now, but Oroeco is still only scratching the surface of the transformative tool for sustainability we think it can be. We’ll always remain a work-in-progress, as we hope to be adding a LOT more functionality and improving your user experience for many years to come.

Whether or not Oroeco puts a dent in climate change really depends on you. We’re only as powerful as the number of you using us, the amount you decide to take meaningful action, and the friends you encourage to do the same. So go ahead, sign up to take us for a spin; then invite all your friends. If you don’t have one already, you’ll also have to create a (free) Mint.com account to get started, and our About page and FAQ will fill in some details about how and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’d also love to hear your feedback about what you like, what you don’t, and what we should add next to make Oroeco as awesome as can be!

And if you dig Oroeco BETA, stay-tuned for our first awesome mobile app, launching soon(ish)! OK, we’ll get off our self-promotional soapbox now…

We’ve been a bit delinquent about blogging while diving neck-deep into Oroeco’s web app, but we’ll be reentering the blogosphere soon. We’re planning to delve deep into the nitty gritty scientific details of personal sustainability, but we could use your ideas for what you’d like to see us research and write about. So tell us, what burning climate conundrums keep you up at night? Paper or plastic? Trains, planes or automobiles? Cow-fart collectors? We are at your blogging disposal!

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Not all foods are created (climate) equal. Reference: EWG 2011

Ever wonder how much it matters to eat locally produced organic foods? From a climate change standpoint, turns out what you put on your plate matters a lot more than where it came from. Healthy eating for the planet means a lot of things, and one or the most important is avoiding lamb and beef (along with other red meats). This is partly because sheep and cows are not particularly efficient at converting the vegetable protein they eat into animal protein in their muscles (so you need a lot of grain to produce a little bit of lamb and beef). But another important factor is the fact that sheep and cows are ruminant mammals, which during food digestion produce large amounts of methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than CO2.

Since dairy products also come from ruminants, they suffer the same methane emissions problem, though to a lesser degree which varies depending on the type of dairy product. Cheese looks a lot worse than yogurt and milk, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which fashioned the spiffy graph you see above.

A study out of Carnegie Mellon University compared eating local to eating less red meat, and concluded that “shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more greenhouse gas reduction than buying all locally sourced food.” Yes, that’s all locally sourced food, as in everything you eat (bananas and coffee included) comes from your friendly farmer down the road.

We point this out not because we don’t love the ethos behind local and organic as much as your average treehugger. There are still plenty of compelling reasons to eat local and organic, like reduced chemical pesticide and fertilizer use, building community, supporting your local farmers, and becoming more connected to your food. Organic farming does have climate benefits, which can come from eliminating chemical fertilizers (made from fossil fuels) and no-till cultivation techniques that enhance carbon storage in the soil. The Carnegie study also showed that eating local can have significant climate benefits, but since only 11% of the climate impact of food comes from transportation, there’s not a whole lot of room for improvement.

So you don’t have to become vegetarian overnight, but if you fancy yourself a mealtime climate warrior then cutting back on your red meat intake should rise high on your to-do list. You can join the “Meat Free Monday” movement, or (if you’re feeling a bit more ambitious) become a “Weekday Vegetarian.” Regardless of where you live, typing “vegetarian” into Yelp will find great options down the street, and that magical system of tubes called the Internet is also awash with advice and recipes for cutting down on meat without your taste-buds skipping a beat. If your taste buds are set in their ways, try to at least reduce your food waste, which can have a BIG impact in making your eating habits leaner and greener.

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Up to 40% of food is wasted on its way to your plate.

Did you know that eating less red meat and cheese does more to reduce the environmental impacts of your diet than eating all local and organic? And it 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!

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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.

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Warmer but not wetter: NRDC predicts that a majority of US counties will face moderate to extreme water shortages, due to climate change and increased demand.

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 precedes an International Energy Agency (IEAreport. 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.

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