This week’s permaculture assignment neatly coincided with a 7 February New Scientist article, I’d just read – I’m a bit behind on my weekly reading – ‘The truth behind how to reduce your energy use and still live well’.
Our assignment is to ‘Calculate your ecological footprint. Fill in the detail as well to get a more accurate reading. Next, come up and follow through on a few actions that you can take to reduce your footprint.’ We’re told, ‘On this site you can also find more information on how the footprint is calculated. And information on the obvious limitations on calculating our ecological footprint. These cards might or might not be of help to you.’
Although the assignment is about ecological footprint, I was intrigued by the New Scientist article. It assures us that, ‘In theory, it’s possible to live well while using energy at a rate of just 2000 watts– a quarter of the average for people in the US.’
Since I didn’t know what my ecological footprint is nor what my wattage use is, I decided to calculate both. Differently, I wondered whether if I was above the 2000 watt count – which I assumed I would be – in acting to reduce my watts expenditure would I reduce my footprint (as we were asked to do in the assignment) and vice versa. Let me know if you know the answer to that question.
I started with the watt calculator. How close was I to 2000 watts. But first, I had to find out what time period the 2000 watts refers to – it’s not very obvious in the article. Is it an hour, a day, a month, a year?
However, on a closer look, I found the article appends some info which I don’t understand (yet): ‘The 2000-watt target – which can also be seen as 48 kilowatt-hours per day – refers not just to electricity, but to your total average primary energy consumption. In other words, it includes all sources of energy (things like gas, wind and wood), any energy used to produce those sources and the energy lost due to inefficiencies of conversion and transmission. To meet the challenge, this must not exceed an average of 2 kilowatts.’
How many watts per day do I consume? Am I anywhere close to the target of 2000? I have no idea. I clicked the link to the on-line calculator given in the article. It’s all in German – but undaunted I put every question into Google translate and then entered my answers. I was pleased to find, at the end the accolade: ‘Bravo!’ The rest was in German, which I don’t speak: ‘Als Typ C mischen Sie ganz oben mit: Weiter so! Die Stadt Zürich dankt Ihnen für Ihr grosses Engagement für die 2000-Watt-Gesellschaft.’ Google took over and translated it as: ‘Bravo! As a type C, you’re at the top of the game: Keep it up! The City of Zurich would like to thank you for your great commitment to the 2000-watt society.’
But type C is not good really, I’m using 5,100 watts per day. I have to reduce by 3,100. As I don’t own a car, or a dishwasher, or a TV, sound system, or many other appliances or electronic devices. I don’t have much to turn off. But I did find out that, ‘The average UK household spends £65 a year powering appliances left on standby (40kgCO2e).
‘Standby is the energy used by certain appliances when not in use and not switched off at the plug. As well as standby power, other new additions to the average household’s collection of electrical goods, such as broadband modems, broadband routers, smart speakers, digi-boxes and telephones, use low levels of electricity when not in use. We tend not to think to switch these off, but as they’re often on for 24 hours a day, these appliances gradually consume a great deal of electricity.’
I also read the 2000 watt small print and discovered that my ‘5,100 watt energy label provides information about your personal lifestyle in and around Zurich. Your emissions of climate-damaging greenhouse gases (CO₂) are not calculated using the 2000-watt calculator.’ I don’t live in Zurich, but what this statement suggested to me was that maybe I needed to calculate my CO2 emissions?
I think about that. It could be that my ecological footprint is similar to my emissions of climate-damaging greenhouse gases. But not so fast, ‘the Ecological Footprint adds up all the biologically productive areas for which a population, a person or a product competes. It measures the ecological assets that a given population or product requires to produce the natural resources it consumes (including plant-based food and fibre products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure) and to absorb its waste, especially carbon emissions.’
And our carbon footprint is ‘the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions. This is all very confusing. It appears that as well as my 2000 watt rating, I have two different footprints: ecological and carbon. I started to calculate my carbon one but didn’t have all the information I needed to hand – it’s very detailed. I’ll finish it later in the week. I’m guessing that it tell me my carbon emissions are too high (for my liking).
Even so, with info I got from the three calculators (although I still don’t know whether they are measuring things in common) I see I need to reduce on all three. What is realistic? There are three actions I can take immediately.
- Avoid leaving appliances on standby – ‘The average UK household spends £65 a year powering appliances left on standby (40kgCO2e).
- Insulate my loft space with a better insulation material
- Grow more fruit and veg for my own consumption (Carrots and radishes sown!)
Beyond these three, I’ll look at other possibilities. There’s a good list of ideas for reduction here some of which I am already doing, or have done. There’s also an interesting read on the Ecological Footprint site on the limitations of the calculation methods and the difficulties. They comment on the reduction to a single number of a person’s footprint, saying. ‘While sustainability can’t and shouldn’t be defined by a single number, it is still necessary that human demand be within the regenerative capacity of the planet if we do not want to jeopardize humanity’s future.’
I completely agree, no calculation is perfect. It just raises awareness of the issues and possibilities. Repeating what I said in a previous blog I wrote, Produce no waste , maybe it is not too pie in the sky to hope that by 2030 there’ll be a global mandate to bring into everyone’s daily living The Seventh Generation Principle, “The decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.”