Catastrophic Climate Change: Cutting Your GHG Emissions in February.
February: when January's impulsive resolutions to become perfect meet reality. Reality wins. Every time.
- Darryl McMahon
Car shopping research. You don't need a car right now? Doesn't matter. You should be doing your research
before going shopping anyway. You do need a car soon? Then no time like the present to get started on this.
I picked February for this because this is the month that new car sales are the lowest in the year. Because
people don't want to venture out in the dead of winter. So, around the end of this month, car sales people
and car dealers might actually be prepared to offer a real deal. And our plan is to make them work for it.
Mostly because what we will want is not what they are eager to sell us. Brace yourself, this is going to take
more than an hour of your time.
Now, let's start that research on the most important aspect of the car sale: You! What are your needs
in a car? How far do you drive in a typical day? How many people do you need to carry, most days?
If you have a demanding vehicle mission you do once or twice a year, can you rent a vehicle for that, and
buy something more suited to your usual needs? If only there was a checklist or something to help you
figure this out, right? (find a checklist, or make one)
Happy Ground Hog Day! Regardless of the actual spotting of shadows, think about your local
travel habits. Do you have a car? Do you need it? Could you use one that is powered by electricity,
even part-time? How far do you travel in a day? Could you use a rental vehicle on occasion for those
long trips, or when you need to move a big load or pull a trailer? Could a combination of transit and
a car-sharing serice meet your needs? How much does it cost you to own a car? Would you believe $30
a day or more? Even when it's parked. The CAA says it costs over $9000 a year for typical car ownership.
For most of us, that's paid in after-tax dollars. What do you really need from a private vehicle?
Even allowing for an occasional rental, taxi, ride-hailing service or car-share service, would you
spend $9000 a year? Just give it some thought.
Now, think about the climate change impacts of your personal vehicle. Over 4 tonnes per year of
CO2 emissions alone - assuming typical annual driving distance. So what options do you have to
fix that? Is your local transit system zero-emisisons or running on biofuel? Can you find E85
ethanol or biodiesel fuel locally? Can an electric vehicle meet your needs, remembering that cars
with a range of 400 km are now coming on the market at reasonable prices, fast charging stations
are appearing in greater numbers and many jurisdictions provide purchase incentives? And there are
plug-in hybrids including minivans and SUVs which can go some distance on electricity only before
operating the gasoline engine for additional range. Really, you should spend some time looking
at what is available; the choices are now many, and the numbers are growing year over year.
Need to move some snow? I did today (again). How about using electric power to do the job
instead of a gas-powered snowblower or hiring a service that uses gas or diesel trucks or
tractors for the job. Small corded electric snowblowers are remarkably effective. Or if you
need a bit more oomph, get creative and use something like these electric tractors. These date
from the 1970s and are still running strong.
IMG SRC="Snogo.png" alt="2 GE electric tractors with plow and snowthrower">
Seal the envelope (13). Windows. Seal them up for the heating season.
Replacement may be expensive, but applying the heat-shrink plastic film is not.
Apply it around the outside of the window frame, or even onto the wall beside the
window trim to capture as much of the potential draft area as possible.
Seal the envelope (14). Windows (more). Windows are likely the
worst-insulated part of your walls. Insulated window coverings are one way to
reduce the heat loss associated with our windows. Here's a piece I have written
elsewhere on insulated
Seal the envelope (15). Windows (more). Windows are about heat loss.
At the time they might actually provide a heat gain benefit, we are getting
the least amount of sunlight per day (winter). That's why it's cold outside
and we're looking for the heat. Windows are terrible at keeping heat in.
Further, unless your windows get a pretty unobstructed view to the sun from
mid-morning to mid-afternoon, they're not going to provide much benefit.
Ditto on the days when it is overcast, which has been frequent here so far
this winter. If you really want the benefit of solar gain in the winter,
you need to look to solar closets, not conventional windows. Here are a couple
of links on the subject of windows.
Natural Resources Canada on Energy-Efficient Windows, Doors and Skylights
National Fenestration Rating Council on U-values
In short, while pretty windows may improve the aesthetics of your home, and may
provide a great view of the outdoors, they are going to cost you money on
your heating bill, and likely on your cooling bill as well, unless they are designed with energy efficiency in mind.
Planning your garden. "What garden", you ask. It doesn't matter. Just decide you are going to plant
something, anything, and nurture nature to bring forth life. A flower, something you can eat. It doesn't matter.
It's the connection to the cycle of life and seasons you need to embrace. It can as simple as a small container
(perhaps a tub from some food you bought), some earth, a seed, some water and some light. And a little time.
Gardens can be set up indoors, and provide year-round produce for you. Never mind the '100-mile Diet',
you can have some of your food come from within a few metres. "Container gardens" can be set up indoors in the
winter and moved outdoors in the summer. Plant something - anything - and prepare to connect with nature.
Seal the envelope (16). Windows (more). If you have 'storm' windows,
use them. They will create another barrier to heat escaping from your house,
and possibly another block against drafts. If you cool your house with an
air conditioner in the summer, leave them up year-round (but consider shading them). They can act as a
barrier to heat getting in as well as out.
Seal the envelope (17). Windows (more). If you don't have 'storm'
windows, there are a couple of other options you can use to get much the
same benefit. You can buy clear plastic panels at a hardware store, and
'cut' them to size to fit your window frame. Drill holes along the edges
and use large, dome-head screws to attach to the window frame. If you don't
want to put holes in your window frame, you can invest in more sophisticated
mounting arrangements (e.g., build a frame around the panel and clip it to
the window frame). During the summer, make sure to store these panels in
a dark place, as many of these types of plastic will yellow and age with
exposure to UV light (as in sunlight). There are commercial products that
come with magnetic strips and frames, so mounting each year is just a matter
of snapping the panel into place and letting the magnets hold them.
If the window being covered doesn't have a view of value, you can also
use a heavy gauge vapour barrier plastic as the covering. Simple wood
framing applied around the sides of the window frame will help reduce
drafts and hold the plastic securely in place. If removed and stored
carefully, such plastic window covers can be used for several years
before sun damage will do them in.
Seal the envelope (19). Windows (more). I have been putting this
topic off as long as I can - replacement windows. If you still have
single-pane Pierson sliders (popular in the 1950s and 1960s), you probably
should replace them just for the heating cost benefit (and the reduced
energy use will reduce greenhouse gas emissions). However, if you have
more modern windows with at least two layers of glass, the cost of
replacement windows doesn't necessarily make it a slam-dunk decision.
If you are considering replacement windows, do some homework.
Consider the following factors. Windows, no matter how wonderful the
salesperson says they are, are heat losers. They cost more than walls
for the area they cover. So, at least consider the possibility of going
with smaller windows than the originals. Oversize framing on the outside
and moulding/trim on the inside can make it look fine. On a large window,
a bay treatment with a sitting ledge can be very attractive, and provide
additional insulation space opportunities. A window box treatment, both
inside and outside for sun-facing windows in particular can really dress
up the exterior with flowers, and possibly fresh herbs and spices on the
interior planter space.
Seal the envelope (18). Windows (more). If you already have
good quality double-glazed windows, consider a decorative treatment that
will effectively make them triple-glazed. We did this on a bathroom
window, which provided several benefits. First, it provided privacy from
the view from neighbours' windows. Second, it eliminated the need for a
curtain, which took up a couple of inches of space in a small room. Third,
it provided a nice aesthetic touch to the exterior appearance of the
window. Fourth, it provided an additional barrier to heat escaping from
In our case, I built a custom piece of stained glass (the image matched
a rose pattern on the shower curtain my wife made). The glass piece was
finished with a narrow zinc frame, which fit into the existing window
frame, flush with the glass. I took clear silicone seal to 'glue' the
stained glass panel to the glass and frame edge.
If you don't have a friend that does stained glass work, there are
other options. Faux stained glass based on plastic panels is a fairly
easy technique to learn and relatively inexpensive.
If you don't need the aesthetic effects, you could just have a piece
of plastic panel or glass cut to size, and install that. A solid
piece of textured glass can provide privacy while still allowing
sunlight to enter. If you are not framing the piece to be installed,
make sure you find a way to space the new panel off the glass to get the
desired insulating air pocket. Personally, I like to use thin strips (1 to
2 cm wide) of the same plastic or glass, but you can likely achieve the same
benefit with a generous, but carefully applied, line of the clear silicone
sealant, or 2-sided foam tape.
It is best to do this installation on a cool, dry day. This will reduce
the amount of moisture that may be trapped inside the new pocket. Heating
the area with a hair dryer just before finishing the seal (preferably
at the top) may be helpful.
Nothing today. You may have other commitments. Like picking up that new
zero-emissions bike, car, truck or whatever you're giving your special other(s)
to do your part for starting the change towards a survivable planet.
Water your garden.
If you really don't have space for a garden, but would like to grow your own food,
many cities have plots you can rent for a growing season. If you are in the
Ottawa Canada area, check out Just Food. If you
live elsewhere, look for a local community garden or garden plot offering near you.
Seal the envelope (20). Windows (more). If you are considering
replacement windows, definitely do your homework before deciding what to
buy. In Canada, you almost certainly want low-emissivity (low-E) windows.
Pretty much every manufacturer makes this claim for their products, so
check for certification of the R value and U values of the units. The
values vary widely depending on the materials used and the construction
quality. For example, R-values can range from less than 1 for a single
pane of glass to 4.35 for Soft Coat Low-E insulated glass with argon gas
between the panes. Triple-glazed units can do even better. However,
remember that even the worst wall (that meets building code) will be
at least R-12, or at least 3 times as good. Which just re-emphasizes my
point over the past couple of days - windows are heat losers.
How can you organize your household to use less fossil fuels? Tomorrow is Family
Day in many parts of Canada and President's Day in the U.S. How about using that opportunity
to talk with your family or others you live with to talk about the impacts of
climate change - present and future? Then, acknowledge the key change in GHG
levels in the Earth's atmosphere in the past 100 years are about us burning
fossil hydrocarbon fuels. The natural processes of the previous millions of years
sequestering carbon dioxide are the reason the planet is habitable to us today.
To quote Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold, just right. Right now, as a species,
we're turning up the heat pretty fast, and to continue the analogy, that porridge
is going to burn us, unless we figure out how to cool it off, quickly.
I'm not a fan of New Year's resolutions. But late last year (2018), I decided for
a range of reasons to try cutting my fossil hydrocarbon emissions further. We have
four road vehicles in our household for 3 working adults. Public transit doesn't work well
for any of us. Two of those cars are 100% battery electric; they are the regular
commuter cars. Most of my work is done via telecommuting. I have one small gasser
which is used primarily for going to client meetings, and one larger vehicle for pulling
trailers, moving gear and up to 5 people at a time. On December 15th, 2018 I filled
up the tanks on both vehicles. As of yesterday (February 17th), one shows a half-tank
remaining and the other still shows the needle at full. This is primarily the result
of reorganizing my schedule a bit so I can use one of the electrics for most of my
errand running, starting with my Christmas shopping. Come this summer, I hope my knee
will be sufficiently healed that I can get back to walking for many errands, including
light grocery trips.
A couple of days ago, my son and I did a minor repair on one of our small tractors.
An electric tractor. A 45-year-old electric tractor made by General Electric. Yes,
THAT General Electric. We live in a winter city - there can be snow on the ground here
from November until April. (Our City officials don't understand this. They consistently
underestimate how much it will cost to clear snow each year, and continue to issue
building permits for high density housing with no space to store snow cleared off
streets, driveways, private walkways and occasionally even sidewalks. Of course,
when they do remove snowbanks, they use heavy equipment and dump trucks powered by
fossil fuels, adding to our GHG and soot emisisons. And our tourism photos only show pictures
of summer scenes - well other than the obligatory iconic image of skating on the Rideau
Canal. ) So, having some potent snow moving gear is advantageous because we still have
to drive to work and run errands. However, having cranky hard-to-start equipment which
requires annual oil changes, testing spark plugs, cleaning carburetors and carrying
around jugs of toxic, carcinogenic fuel that belches sooty GHG emissions and noise
levels which should require hearing protection isn't the only option.
The tractors (one with a plow blade and the other with a snowthrower) do a very
nice job on clearing our driveway, those of a neighbour (or two), and a bit over 50 metres
of our street - including cutting back the snowbanks left by the infrequent visits
by city plows.
The electric tractors may seem a little over the top to a lot of people. Fair enough.
However, there are other options to consider. Muscle power and good shovels (a scraper/pusher AND
a lifter/thrower please) can be quite potent for people in moderate health. The small
corded electric snow throwers are pretty amazing for their size, price and power consumption.
More recently, larger snowblowers based on lithium ion batteries are becoming
available, and unlike some of the offerings 3 or 4 years ago, seem like they are
competent, robust and will be supported by their manufacturers. Anyway, if there's
more snow in your weather forecast in the next 2-3 months, why not open your Internet
browser for a few minutes and see what you can find. There might even be some end-of-season
bargains to be had.
One month until Spring. The amount of sunlight is increasing noticeably each day.
When we had a temporary winter sunspace, I loved to go sit in it on sunny February days,
basking in the glow and temperature in the high 20s C (that's low 80s for those of you
who speak Fahrenheit), while it was well below freezing just on the other side of the
vacuum-sealed double paned glass panels. There were many days it got uncomfortably warm
in the sunspace, so I would open the door to the house and heat the entire house
from the sunspace for several hours. That's the beauty of zero-emissions, zero-cost,
passive solar heating. And once the sun is setting, close the doors and the sun-space
becomes additional insulation for your house during the night.
Water your garden.
The sunrise is earlier each day and sunset a bit later (northern hemisphere).
If it's cold where you are (it sure is where I am), let the Sun do some of the work
in heating your house. Open the window coverings, move the window insulation out of
the way, and let the light stream in. Set up dark objects or fabric in the rooms
where the sun's rays fall. Dark objects will get warmer as they convert more of the
incoming light energy into heat (infra-red). Close up the window coverings again
in the afternoon after the sun is no longer lighting the room(s).
Seems like a good day to pull open the seed catalogue(s), or browsw online to
decide what you want to plant outside this year. Pick food items you really like
so you'll be motivated to do the weeding through the summer until harvest time.
Have you ever heard of 'square foot gardening'? If not, check it out.
Skipping a 10% tax increase. (2019) This one might seem a bit off-topic,
but bear with me for a minute. Last week, the Ottawa municipal government
announced their intention to raise water rates by almost another 10% for 2019.
This has become an annual event! If you find that tiresome and would like to
boycott this tax grab, there is a solution. Reduce your water consumption
by 10% or more. Fight the $70 increase (the estimate for the average
Ottawa household over a year), by reducing your consumption by $70.
Think that's difficult? Probably not. Typically toilets use about
a third or more of our residential water consumption. So, if you have
not already done so, switch to a model that uses less water. Personally,
I like our 6-litre (ultra low flow) unit, but I would not recommend our
more recent acquisition, an American Standard Flowise dual 3/6 litre unit.
If a complete toilet replacement is outside your recession budget,
how about a $5 refit
that will reduce the amount of water used to fill
your toilet, but does not affect the flush volume at all? (OK, it's
a self-serving plug for a product I sell, but this is exactly the reason
I found these years ago and chose to make them available to Canadians.)
What's this got to do with greenhouse gas emissions? It takes a lot
of energy to pump water to your house, and to treat it so it is safe
to drink. That energy comes primarily in the form of electricity, and
in this province, a goodly chunk of that is still produced by burning
coal and natural gas. So, reducing your water consumption reduces the
electricity used, and reduces the greenhouse gas emissions produced. Oh,
and it will also reduce your water bill.
I had not planned on dealing with water conservation and efficiency
until later in the year, but the recent Ottawa announcement today made me think
I should address it briefly now.
After some reflection and figuring out how much our small SUV has been costing us,
we have decided it's time to get rid of it. While it did not rack up a lot of mileage,
it's just time to let it go and start enjoying the savings. On those occasions where
we need something like that (typically several times a year), we'll rent.
Water your garden.