The debate about climate change often creates more heat than light and has become centred on the role or non-role of one gas in our changing climate. This is probably a fatal mistake for all of us, asserts Simon Leadbetter.
Growing up we probably all remember the parable of the good carbon dioxide. Trees, plants and algae ‘breathe in’ (photosynthesise) carbon dioxide and ‘breathe out’ oxygen as waste that we need to breathe ourselves. They’ve been doing it for us quite happily millennia.
Obviously, it is a lot more complicated than that but the basic process is well understood, uncontroversial and widely accepted, based on what the balance of scientific opinion has told us. There are no photosynthesis deniers to our knowledge because scientists who have studied this tell us, that’s how it works.
We also use CO2 to chill wine, fizz our drinks and to put out electrical fires. At some point, however, CO2 stopped being our friend and became the enemy that must be vanquished at every turn.
This humble chemically compounded gas (one part carbon, two parts oxygen) represents just 0.035% of the earth’s atmosphere. Nitrogen and oxygen represent 99%. But the overwhelming balance of scientific opinion tells us that small increases in this gas affect the earth’s climate and temperature and, as a result, human life. Overtime CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have moved with temperature increases.
At that point a lot of people get very angry for some reason.
Otherwise rational people who accept the scientific proof of photosynthesis but cannot accept CO2 as a key component in climate change do some or one of the following. They either deny global warming is happening; that the climate models are unreliable; that surface temperature records are just wrong; point wildly at the sun as a cause of global warming; or argue that this is a plot by left-wing wind-farm profiteers attempting to drag our economy back into socialist dark ages and literally cover the UK in wind turbines while they’re at it.
Fine. Let us accept for one moment that CO2 has absolutely nothing at all to do with climate change and we should carry on, business as usual, just as we have done for the past twenty years or so. How is that working out for our planet and us?
Let’s carry on as though we are not running out of oil, gas or coal. Well for one thing, we are quite rapidly running out of the oil, gas and coal. The US Government, the Oil & Gas Journal and OPEC (all anti-fossil fuel protesters I think you’ll agree) estimate we have between 13-23 years remaining of supplies of oil. Natural gas is in better shape at 37 years (Oil & Gas Journal, BP and the CIA) and Coal at 70 years (World Coal Institute). All this stuff is non-renewable, i.e. you burn it once and it’s gone. That means in our lifetimes and those of our children and grandchildren we will run out of the very fuel that literally drives our economy.
Imagine what happens to a country with waning economic influence and few fossil fuel reserves as the stuff starts to run out. No doubt the brilliant minds at BP, Shell, and Cuadrilla etc. will find new and exciting ways to extract harder to find reserves but wouldn’t it be better if we found alternatives. There are clean alternatives that are freely available within our own territorial boundaries, which means young British men and women don’t have to fight wars overseas to protect our oil supplies. We have no shortage of wind and waves on our windy, wavy island. By harnessing just 29% of the tidal, wave and wind power around our shores, we have the capacity to power our economy and become a net exporter of electricity.
Moreover, it’s not just burning imported stuff that’s the problem. Burning fossil fuels puts particles into the air we breathe, leading to increased asthma, lung disease and cardio-vascular health problems. Children come off worst as their undeveloped lungs are most susceptible to this kind of pollution potentially meaning years of misery and tragically shortened lives. The European Environment Agency estimates that air pollution costs the UK up to £9.5billion a year, although our own House of Commons puts the cost as much higher. What price would you put on a child’s life with or without asthma or emphysema?
Nevertheless, let’s keep assuming and lobbying for one moment that CO2 has nothing to do with climate change. It still leaves the question as to what are we going to do when we run out of stuff to burn and none of our kids can breathe. It’s not alarmist, China and India and most of the rest of Asia have just started on their journey towards industrial nirvana when households have more than one car each and universal penetration in electricity hungry appliances. When fossil fuels run out, they run out for everyone regardless of which flag you fly, and in the meantime, the richest counties will pay a very hefty premium unless they can find an alternative. Pollution doesn’t care about borders so if we dash for gas, find a role for coal or toy with nuclear, when those stations start pumping out particles and the odd nuclear station goes wrong, we’re all affected.
The forward thinking Chinese are installing renewable energy like there’s no tomorrow because they fear there won’t be one if fossil fuel consumption patterns remain the way they are. Why aren’t we as worried or getting our own house in order?
Britain could lead the world in renewable energy technology and energy efficiency. Good Energy is one example of a company that provides 100% renewable energy but there are many other examples of clean technology that works. It’s a pity so much energy is expended and money is wasted arguing about one gas, when winning the easier to win argument on pollution and waste would solve that problem by default.
How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green
The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.
Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.
Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.
So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.
You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.
So what can you actually do to create a greener home?
Turn to tech.
Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.
Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.
Monitor Your Energy Usage
Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.
The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.
However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.
Use Smart Plugs
Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.
A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.
Update Your Lighting
Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.
To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.
Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
Take Control of the Thermostat
Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.
In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.
Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.
Stop Wasting Water
The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.
Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.
If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.
Working From Home And How It Reduces Emissions
Many businesses are changing their operating model to allow their employees to work from home. Aside from the personal convenience and business benefits, working from home is also great for the environment. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, if employees with the desire to work from home and compatible jobs that allowed for this were allowed to do so only half the time, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating automobile emissions from the workforce of the entire state of New York. Considering the stakes here, it is vital that we understand how exactly working from home helps us go green and how this can be applied.
Reduction of automobile emissions
Statistics by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the transportation sector is responsible for about 14% of the total Global Emissions of greenhouse gases, which is a very significant percentage. If employees work from home, then the need to travel to and from their workplace every other day as well as other business trips are reduced considerably. While this may not eliminate the emissions from the transport sector altogether, it reduces the percentage. As indicated in the example above, a move to work from home by more businesses and industries cuts down automobile emissions to as much as those from an entire state.
Reduction of energy production and consumption
According to Eurostat, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning accounted for as high as 26% of the Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU in 2014. EPA stats are also close at 25% of the total emissions. This makes energy production the single largest source of emissions. Working from home eliminates the need for large office spaces, which in turn reduces the need for electricity and heating. Similarly, the need for electrical office equipment and supplies, such as printers and computers, is also greatly reduced, which reduces the emissions from energy production in offices. Additionally, most households are now adopting green methods of energy production and implementing better ways of energy usage. The use of smart energy-efficient appliances also goes a long way in reducing the energy production and consumption levels from households. This, in turn, cuts down emissions from energy production from both the home and office fronts.
Reduced need for paper
Paper is also a huge source of emissions, considering that it is a carbon-based product. EPA stats show that carbon (IV) oxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes accounts for 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Working from home is usually an internet-based operation, which means less paper and more cloud-based services. When everything is communicated electronically, the need for office paper is reduced considerably. Moreover, the cutting down of trees for the sake of paper production reduces. All these outcomes help reduce the emissions and individual carbon footprints.
While businesses make an effort to recycle it is not as effective as homeowners. Consider everything from the water you drink to office supplies and equipment. While working from home, you have greater control over your environment. This means that you can easily implement proper recycling procedures. However, at the office, that control over your personal space and environment is taken away and the effectiveness of recycling techniques is reduced. Working from home is, therefore, a great way to go green and increase the adoption of proper recycling.
Even though the statistics are in favor of working from home to reduce emissions, note that this is dependent on the reduction of emissions from home. If the households are not green, then the emissions are not reduced in the least. For instance, if instead of installing a VPN in the router to keep the home office safe, an employee buys a standalone server and air gaps it, the energy consumption is not reduced but increased. Therefore, it is necessary that employees working from home go green if there is to be any hope of using this method of operation to cut down on the emissions.