If I’m going to work on climate change, I should probably start with an honest inventory of where I’m at rather than a hypocritical assertion that I’m living a green life. While the short story I wrote pokes a bit of fun at my own hypocrisy, that doesn’t mean I’m not taking my own personal carbon footprint seriously.
It was worth it for me to go back to the fundamentals:
- Reduce — Avoid waste-look for ways to produce and use goods that stop waste being generated. Reduce waste-choose products that can be used productively, recycled locally, and have minimal packaging.
- Re-use — Re-use containers, packaging or waste products.
- Recycle — Recycle waste material into useable products
Intentions versus outcomes
You can actually spend a lot of time and mental energy on being good for the environment and miss the big picture.
I used a “Cool Climate Calculator” (which is based in US dollars and US measurements) to look at my footprint of my life — both today, and then what it was a couple of years back. One thing really stands out from my life two years ago, and that was air travel. So it’s worth a little work to understand a few places where your behaviour can have the biggest impact, and start there.
Calculate and compare your carbon footprint to similar households and create a personalised climate action plan
Okay, let’s look at everything.
There is no part of this post that is “Look at me, look at how green I am.” There is nothing about the last 48 years of my life to be terribly proud of around my environmental impact. There isn’t just one thing we should all do. There’s a lot, but we can start somewhere.
- I’ve never looked at an electric bill in any detail (okay, that’s bad), but in my new apartment I am going to start, and I’m going to try to make each successive electric bill lower than the last. That won’t be easy in the summer months of Australia but I am willing to give it a shot.
- I have chosen an electric company that provides 100% of renewable energy. There are several, and there’s no reason to choose a provider that’s using fossil fuels. In Australia there’s a new kid on the block called Amber Electric which is doing a wholesale real-time cost model with 100% renewable energy.
- My rental apartment has a gas range. Always before this was thought of as the best option, now I’m burning fuel. I don’t know what options I have now that I’m in the place, but despite some slightly confusing articles, gas is worse.
- Thanks to being in Oz, I can turn off the power points (outlets for you Yanks) until needed and eliminate any “vampire currents.” I’m marginal at this now but will get better.
- I grew up in Alaska and a lack of water was never an issue, though some of the wells we had weren’t always easy for us to deal with given the silt that would come through. I am trying to shorten showers and wash dishes without keeping the water running. It’s actually pretty easy to make these changes.
- Grade: Meh. I can definitely improve here.
Recycling / Composting
- I have really tried here, and the amount I actually throw in rubbish has become quite small, but the volume of recycling still shows that I’m purchasing too much plastic.
- My last apartment had a compost bin, but now I’m cycling about 15 minutes to drop off compost every two weeks at a local garden.
- But Australia has just been piling our recyclables into big landfills. So this really means Reduce is even more important.
- Grade: Wrong focus. If I’m recycling a lot, that means I’m purchasing too much plastic.
- I haven’t owned a car for almost 10 years now. Previously I had a Nissan Pathfinder in Texas, which didn’t have great mileage.
- Since moving to Australia, I’ve commuted either on the ferry (which I have been told is the worst form of public transportation per capita, but still better than driving), and I rode my bike a lot.
- I am about to buy a car, which even though it’s electric, has a heavy carbon footprint, but over the lifetime will be much better than a petrol burning machine, especially as the grid gets more electricity from renewables and we shift away from the idiocy of coal.
- The last three years I have done a lot of international travel. Two years of flying to different company offices and customer events, and then last year’s two trips to the states and five-month trip to South America left my own personal trail of pollution in the atmosphere.
- Grade: Rubbish. The next 12 months, I’ll only fly internationally to see family and attend a wedding, and will combine it into a single trip for lower impact. I will travel to Tassie in December to experience the Overland track. But even with a massive reduction, it’s still likely one of my biggest “footprint” areas. See below:
- I have eaten four portions of beef in the last three years. One was an accident (half asleep on a plane), one was at a friends house where I had not warned them that I was veganish, another was just plain stupidity on my part, and the final one came when a Chilean family had cooked a beef lasagna just for me, and I could not refuse their hospitality even though my mouth and stomach weren’t that happy afterwards.
- I’m “veganish” — With the exception of a dozen eggs a week my grocery shopping is entirely vegan. Eating at restaurants, I’m strictly vegetarian and opt for vegan whenever possible.
- Grade: Okay, not bad.
- In 2017–18 I wrote down everything I bought that was not “maintenance” (i.e. toothpaste, food, recurring stuff I used).
- Then, in planning and traveling through South America I became a consumptive whirlwind — I bought almost all new camping gear, the latest and greatest ultralight, when a lot of the stuff I already had could have worked in a pinch.
- It’s so hard to avoid plastic when you purchase. It’s everywhere. But all the more reason to try even harder. Even my latest favourite yoga studio has tips!
- My biggest carbon sin might lie in the fiber that is beautifully woven to create bicycles. This addiction may at least be offset by the fact that if I commute using a bike, it’s avoiding fossil fuels, though that may be offset by the additional busload of food I eat for pedal power. Will someone please do the maths for me?
- I am really trying to avoid the worst types of disposable packaging. I am now packing my “Bag o stuff” with me anytime I’m headed out, which contains a keep cup (tea or coffee), a to-go container if I order out, a bottle for water, and a cloth bag for shopping.
- Grade: Ouch. Compared to my socio-economic status, it might look good, but compared to the rest of the world, I have a massively outsized negative impact.
Want some help?
There are a ton of great resources out there, and these are just the ones that I ran into (without searching) in a single week:
- The Neighbourhood Effect has a great to do list where you can get lots of simple suggestions. They also have much bigger plans for the future!
- 1 Million Women has a huge number of great suggestions.
- Australian Ethical Super has a guide to “How to live a 1.5 degree life.”
- Off the great Aussie film, the 2040 website has some super tips.
- The World Wildlife Federation has 10 Tips to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint (written for the UK, but ouch — apparently our Aussie plastic wine bottle caps are bad!)
Good luck on your own journey. We’re all counting on you. Or maybe, we’re coming for you. Or maybe, only you can prevent forest fires. Whatever slogan gets you to re-think things, get it stapled on your forehead.