Sustainable Living

We tend to look to politicians and scientists for solutions to humanity’s greatest problems: climate change, biodiversity loss, the water crisis. I worked in science for more than twenty years and I don’t know a single* scientist who works hard on lowering his/her own carbon foot print. I can’t imagine politicians being any different. I don’t believe that true solutions will come from these people. I might be wrong (I hope I am), but I do know one thing: Individuals created these problems and individuals must solve them.

 

What makes our climate change? For the most part, it’s your greenhouse gas emissions. And mine, and those of a whole bunch of people. While a per-capita carbon emission of 2.5 metric tons per year is considered sustainable, it’s far from what people are actually doing:

CO2

Data source for Germany and US: World Bank. Emissions of our own family are overestimated (see below)

Where do greenhouse gases come from? You won’t like to hear this but…greenhouse gases are produced all the time: when you drive your car, buy clothes and food, switch on the lights, flush the toilet, watch TV. As a rule of thumb: poorer people lead a more sustainable life that richer people. You can calculate your carbon footprint at Oroeco, but please note that their suggestions seem to be purchase-oriented (You must buy stuff to be a good climate activist. Sorry folks, but that makes no sense)

Click on the image to get to the BBC's article "What is Climate Change"

Click on the image to get to the BBC’s article “What is Climate Change”

How can you change any of this? By thinking about where you spend your money. Solutions are as diverse as there are people. Buy local, buy less, grow your own, stop watching TV, declutter, recycle, avoid plastic. Here’s a useful list by The Earth Guardians. Most of all: THINK. When you buy something, anything, you communicate this: I like what you are doing. Here is my money. You make politics with your wallet. Every day. Whether you want it or not.

How much does it cost to lower your greenhouse gas emissions? Nothing to very little. In fact, you’ll probably save money. In the graph below you see three factors that greatly influence the carbon footprint of my family: Air travel, electricity, and heating. We purchase green electricity which also runs our main heating system (a heat pump). The second heating system is a highly efficient wood-burning oven. This alone lowers our annual carbon footprint by almost 10 tons compared to the German average. Not flying around the globe helps a lot, too, and saves another 3.4 tons of greenhouse gases.

Contrary to common belief, you don’t have to invest money or dramatically alter your lifestyle to make a significant difference!

CO2_Budget

CO2 calculation tool from the German Federal Environmental Agency

Another no-budget solution: Network! Barter goods and services with your friends and neighbours. People have different talents and needs, and they can share and help each other.

What else do I do? My family and I live in the countryside. We grow our own food, keep bees, make cheese with milk from the friendly neighbourhood goats, we make wine and all kinds of delectable things. Even this webpage runs on renewable energy. Follow my Instagram feed to see how we live. Here’s what we do to keep our carbon- and eco-footprint low:

  • Water: We collect rainwater in ponds and barrels for our veggies, fruit, and livestock.
  • Wastewater: We use dry-separation toilets, because we find it kind of…stupid to mix drinking water with poop and pee, then flush it down into sewer systems that notoriously leak shit (as is: faeces, drugs, pathogens) into groundwater, which is then elaborately cleaned up so we can drink it. Gah! Our wastewater from washing dishes, laundry, and ourselves (aka: grey water) runs through a reed bed and comes out clean. So in fact, we don’t produce wastewater.
  • Electricity: From Greenpeace Energy
  • Food: Mostly home-grown.
  • Car: Yes, we have one. It runs on natural gas and biogas and we still commute way too much for our taste.
  • Vacation: LOL none. I used to fly to Sweden twice a year to teach, emitting 1 ton of CO2 in the process. But no more…
  • House and stuff: We fixed up our old house using natural resources like clay, straw, wood, and rocks. There’s also a growing friends-and-neighbours network to exchange goods and services locally.
  • (more coming soon)

So what’s our CO2 footprint? We don’t really know. The online calculators never have a “grow your own” option or a “no flushing toilets” option. So whatever we calculate with these thingies, is probably overestimated. However, this is only what we think happens (the overestimation), because that’s what common sense tells us; for example by buying milk from the organic neighbour and making cheese, we avoid the whole industrial shebang such as transportation and packaging. By not using flushing toilets we don’t use energy and resources necessary to clean wastewater. And so on…

Follow my flipboard magazine “Shit on the Fan” to stay up to date!

Join the Global Climate Movement: Screenshot 2015-11-21 08.27.21

*BREAKING NEWS: I now know TWO scientists, who work hard on lowering their own carbon footprints.

Blog Comments

Hi Analie
The wood Stove that You use, What type is it? l am heating my house by buying forestry thinings and cutting these into logs. It is a lot of work, and | think that a more effective stove May help. I amsure as a scientist that you Researched this before you got your stove. Thanks .

It’s called a “Grundofen” in German, but there seems to be no good english translation for it.It’s basically a huge thermal mass (made of several tons adobe and clay bricks) and a small burning chamber that gets very hot very quickly (you burn only wood, never coal in these). You fire it only once a day and it stores the heat for 24 to 48 hours, depending on the size of the oven and how cold it is outside. Here’s a link to an image that shows nicely how the thing gives off heat (it’s the bottom graph).
http://www.grundofen.de/tl_files/03grundofen/grundofen_parabel.jpg

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