Sunday, 17 November 2013

Population growth

I get into debates about population growth quite regularly, whether it is regarding the justification to build homes for 10,000 people on my doorstep, or a wider global population debate. I have always felt that population is stabilising, due to limitations on resources.

Well last week BBC2 aired an amazing presentation by Professor Hans Rosling using UN data to demonstrate what we don't know but should know about the population. If you haven't seen it then please take the time to watch it, because it is totally amazing the figures that he presents, in a very down-to-earth manner.

(Sorry - Youtube  video removed, but you can still watch it here )

What I like the most is how the World has been changed by individual peoples choices. If we can do this to stabilise population growth then we can do it to eliminate poverty and prevent climate change. Makes the future seem brighter :)

Friday, 8 November 2013


It is November and I still picked a small handful of raspberries from the garden this morning, though it really does look like the last! I have also harvested Honey Bear squash for the first time, thanks to some free seeds from my mum. They are too hard to peel so I just roasted them whole Jamie Oliver style. Yum!

I have also been picking all the green tomatoes and ripening them in a bowl on the windowsill with a few ripe tomatoes amongst them. Many people suggest laying newspaper on them, but we no longer get a free advertising paper, so this would mean buying one especially. The tomatoes seem to have ripened well without it though. These ones were totally green when I picked them.

I trimmed my bay tree last week, and as always had a huge pile of beautifully fragrant green bay leaves. It always seems such a waste. Last year I dried as many as I could and gave them to friends and Transitioners, but still there were loads left.

I had a lot of success giving away green beans to my neighbours and unexpectedly received an abundance of gifts in return, so I took to my street with the bay leaves. It was actually quite intrepidating knocking on my neighbours doors. Most of them I only ever speak to if I see them walking by or in their front garden, I had never knocked on their doors before! Some I had never even spoken to, just waved a greeting. At this point I should point out that I have lived here for 13 years, but we are mainly very reserved people down this cul-de-sac. An Englishman's home is his castle...and all that. Ok, that is not a worthy excuse for not getting to know my neighbours.

It is strange because before living here, we lived in a 1950's ex-council house for 5 years, and in that time I knew all of my near neighbours and even their parents or children, that didn't even live on the street. I was regularly round neighbours houses for a cup of tea, or their kids would be round playing in my garden. In fact I had been inside at least 5 of my neighbours homes for a long chat and a cuppa in my old neighbourhood, whereas I have only been inside 2 neighbours homes here, and only once long enough for tea!

It's not that my neighbours aren't friendly, it's just that I don't 'see' them much. I did invite some into my ago, but generally being the large and scruffy family that we are, I'm a little embarrased. Hmmm.... maybe everyone else is the same, thinking that they have to live up to a higher standard of immaculate homes in this neighbourhood. Or maybe it is because there are less families and more couples with grown-up children?

I started with the neighbours I knew the most, and knocked on the door, looking rather an idiot with a big box of clippings in my hands. Luckily several of my neighbours did use bay leaves, and yes could they take some for others in the family too? Hurray! So I had some lovely conversations and continued further along the street. The further I went the fewer people even answered the door, which seemed like a good time to quit with the whole love thy neighbour thing. I'll just stick to the nearest neighbours, who recognise me as not being a 'stranger' next time.

It is amazing how different the view looks from my neighbours' doorsteps. As StreetBank, a community sharing online group, pointed out recently, you choose your friends, who tend to be like you and share your values. Whereas your neighbours can bring different perspectives from a whole range of cultures and backgrounds, so there is so much more opportunity for learning different perspectives or something new. This has certainly given me food for thought.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

90% energy correction

So I have got it wrong! I have just found the original 'Riot for Austerity' Rules as laid out by Sharon Astyk, and it gives all the average US consumption figures to compare with. Of course it would have been good to have found this earlier :)

It turns out that when the US Energy Information Administration gives a figure for domestic energy consumption it is just heating energy and doesn't include electricity. No wonder it was all in BTUs! So if you look back to Part 1: Choices in March you will see the following table comparing my energy consumption with the average US consumption. If we add in the additional 11,000kWh per year of electricity consumption for the average household that I inadvertently missed off, it changes everything. I'm sorry if I have misled anyone with my mistake.

Average Household Energy Consumption kWh
Average Household Energy Consumption Btu
US 2009
(Actually 40,587)
(Actually 138,500,000)
UK 2009
My home 2009
My home 2012
90% reduction target
(Actually 4,058)
(Actually 13,850,000)

I am somewhat relieved to find that our household consumption is already only 56% of the average US household, rather than 86%, and it certainly makes the target seem much more achievable. Whilst I am not prepared to give up my fridge and use a coolbox as Sharon did, I have got plans for further energy reductions, including installing solar PV panels to generate electricity and reduce my grid-supplied electricity by around 40%.

The relief didn't last long because I started thinking about the average person in the US. I had found it incredibly daunting to contemplate an 86% reduction in energy consumption. It is not easy to achieve without significant investment or losing some luxuries, like a warm home and a fridge. Yet on the other hand how can we justify the vast amount of energy we use when millions of people get by with very little at all. And here's me fretting about giving up my fridge!

Here is a graph that I spotted in the UK Energy Trends for September 2013 from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Though not about the domestic energy consumption it shows the disparity in consumption for crude oil across OECD countries, and I think demonstrates the point. It is showing the proportion of crude oil supply that is produced at home on the vertical 'self-sufficiency' axis. The 'diversity index' along the horizontal axis is showing the stability of the supply. Neither of these features interests me though. It is the size of the bubbles which are used to represent the actual consumption of each of the countries, which made this graph stand out for me. The big blue bubble represents the US crude oil consumption and the red dot on top of it represents the UKs consumption.

This disparity doesn't make reductions any easier, but it just amazes me how the differences can be so large. I can't really get to grips with what it all means, and all sense of outrage or guilt has been suspended. It seems like the choices we make now are even more important than ever.

I have posted the Riot for Austerity rules below in case anyone would like to have a go. It is copied from here I have just inserted a few conversions in to make it easier for us Europeans to compare.

Here are the 7 categories:

1. Gasoline. Average American usage is 500 gallons (2,273 litres) PER PERSON, PER YEAR. A 90 percent reduction would be 50 gallons (227 litres) PER PERSON, PER YEAR.

-No reduction in emissions for ethanol or biodiesel.
-Public transportation and Waste Veggie Oil Fuel are deemed to get 100 mpg, and should be calculated accordingly.

2. Electricity. Average US usage is 11,000 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR, or about 900 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH. A 90% reduction would mean using 1,100 PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR or 90 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH

- Solar Renewables are deemed to have a 50% payback – that is, you get twice as many watts.
- Hydro and Wind are deemed to have a 4 to 1 payback over other methods – you get 4 times as many.

3. Heating and Cooking Energy – this is divided into 3 categories, gas, wood and oil. Your household probably uses one of these, and they are not interchangeable. If you use an electric stove or electric heat, this goes under electric usage.

- Natural Gas (this is used by the vast majority of US households as heating and cooking fuel). For this purpose, Propane will be calculated as the same as natural gas. Calculations in therms should be available from your gas provider.
- US Average Natural Gas usage is 1000 therms  
(29,307kWh) PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% reduction would mean a reduction to 100 therms (2,930kWh) PER HOUSEHOLD PER YEAR
- Heating Oil (this is used by only about 8% of all US households, mostly in the Northeast, including mine).
- Average US usage is 750 Gallons (3,410 litres) PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% cut would mean using 75 gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. Biodiesel is calculated as equivalent.
- Wood. This is a tough one. The conventional line is that wood is carbon neutral, but, of course, wood that is harvested would have otherwise been absorbing carbon and providing forest. There are good reasons to be skeptical about this. So I’ve divided wood into two categories.
- Locally and sustainably harvested, and either using deadwood, trees that had to come down anyway, coppiced or harvested by someone who replaces every lost tree. This is deemed carbon neutral, and you can use an unlimited supply. This would include street trees your town is taking down anyway, wood you cut on your property and replant, coppiced wood (that is, you cut down some part of the tree but leave it to grow), and standing and fallen deadwood. You can use as much of this as you like.
- Wood not sustainably harvested, or transported long distances, or you don’t know. 1 cord of this is equal to 15 gallons of oil or 20 therms of natural gas.

4. Garbage – the average American generates about 4.5 lbs (2kg) of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs (0.2kg) of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY.

5. Water. The Average American uses 100 Gallons (450 litre) of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons (45 litres) PER PERSON, PER DAY.

6. Consumer Goods. The best metric I could find for this is using money. A Professor at Syracuse University calculates that as an average, every consumer dollar we spend puts .5 lbs (0.2kg) of carbon into the atmosphere. This isn’t perfect, of course, but it averages out pretty well.

The average American spends 10K (£6,200 or 7,400 Euros) PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on consumer goods, not including things like mortgage, health care, debt service, car payments, etc… Obviously, we recommend you minimize those things to the extent you can, but what we’re mostly talking about is things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars (£620 or 740 Euros) PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR

~_ _+ Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual purchase price. That is, if you buy a used sofa for $50, you just spent $5 of your allotment. The reason for this is that used goods bought from previous owners put money back into circulation that is then spent on new goods. This would apply to Craigslist, Yardsales, etc… but not Goodwill and other charities, as noted below. This rule does not apply if you know that the item would otherwise be thrown out – that is, if someone says, “If you don’t buy it, I’m going to toss it.” Those items are unlimited as well, because they keep crap out of landfills.
~_ _+ Goods that were donated are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon cost. That is, you can spend all you want at Goodwill and the church rummage sale. Putting things back into use that would otherwise be tossed should be strongly encouraged.

7. Food. This was by far the hardest thing to come up with a simple metric for. Using food miles, or price gives what I believe is a radically inaccurate way of thinking about this. So here’s the best I can do. Food is divided into 3 categories.

1- is food you grow, or which is produced *LOCALLY AND ORGANICALLY* (or mostly – it doesn’t have to be certified, but should be low input, because chemical fertilizers produce nitrous oxide which is a major greenhouse contributor). Local means within 100 miles to me. This includes all produce, grains, beans, and meats and dairy products that are mostly either *GRASSFED* or produced with *HOME GROWN OR LOCALLY GROWN, ORGANIC FEED.* That is, chicken meat produced with GM corn from IOWA in Florida is not local. A 90% reduction would involve this being AT LEAST 70% of your diet, year round. Ideally, it would be even more. I also include locally produced things like soap in this category, if most of the ingredients are local.

#2 is is *DRY, BULK* goods, transported from longer distances. That is, *whole, unprocessed* beans, grains, and small light things like tea, coffee, spices (fair trade and sustainably grown *ONLY*), or locally produced animal products partly raised on unprocessed but non-local grains, and locally produced wet products like oils. This is hard to calculate, because Americans spend very little on these things (except coffee) and whole grains don’t constitute a large portion of the diet. These are comparatively low carbon to transport and produce. Purchased in bulk, with minimal packaging (beans in 50lb paper sacks, pasta in bulk, tea loose, by the pound, rather than in little bags), this would also include things like recycled toilet paper, purchased garden seeds and other light, dry items. This should be no more than 25% of your total purchases.

#3 is Wet goods – conventionally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, juices, oils, milk etc… transported long distances, and processed foods like chips, soda, potatoes. Also regular shampoo, dish soap, etc… And that no one should buy more than 5% of their food in this form. Right now, the above makes up more than 50% of everyone’s diet.

Thus, if you purchase 20 food items in a week, you’d use 14 home or locally produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of season thing