CO2 reduction in daily life

CO2 redution in daily life could be so simple
10 Aug 2015

CO2 reduction has to begin in the mind. One has to really want it. Then we understand that each one of us is a small gear in the big transmission of energy consumption. And now we’ve arrived at the actual keyword. The more energy consumption per capita, the higher the amount of harmful for the climate CO2 that we release in the air.

The Americans are ahead of everyone on this point and Barack Obama’s current, almost surprising initiative for a national long term drastic CO2 reduction is long overdue. Lets hope that he can push it through. The people in Central Europe and Germany are “only” mid-range when it comes to energy consumption, but the valve can be turned further off without a loss in comfort. How this can be achieved is the topic of this article.

The average citizen in Germany uses most of the energy for heating and mobility. Lets start with the latter. Our mobility here means:

  1. The daily commute to work,
  2. the movements around the place of residence, for example for shopping, going to the doctor or to the swimming lake,
  3. the weekend trips and
  4. the annual vacation.

As for 1)

The most CO2 intensive road to work is the individual drive with the car. Do you sometimes look through the windows of the cars overtaking you on the highway? Have you ever noticed that in the limousines with the most HP there’s only the driver? The wish to carpool clearly correlates with gas prices. Not until it hurts the wallet are we willing to accept the small inconvenience of organizing a collaborative journey. And this option of going to work is always a good and cheap possibility. If the road is too long for a bicycle, the other alternatives are the bus or the train. While the cheap bus connections finally have the chance to develop rapidly, many passengers are complaining about the high ticket prices and the constantly unpunctual train. To those people you can say that the total cost of having a car comes to 20 to 50 cents per kilometer and apart from filling the tank you have to include the purchase price and the occasional repairs of coupling and belts.

As for 2)
In the center of a big city you can of course get your fresh breakfast rolls in the morning on the way to work with the car, from the bakery on the next street corner where you have to drive 17 times around the block to find a reasonable and legal free parking spot. This has the added advantage that the motor is finally warm and the automatic choke normalizes the gas consumption after the 11th round. Still, the CO2 balance for the breakfast rolls goes towards the infinite. This should express that small, manageable paths in the city should be covered without a car when possible. Nowadays, a bicycle is a good alternative for fast movement in most cities that have good bicycle paths and public transportation is not too expensive when you decide to buy a monthly ticket. Those are actually very cheap when you can do without owning a car. If you still need a car from time to time for bulk buying or for transportation, there are car rentals, different car sharing models and also the good old taxi with a friendly, motivated driver who will occasionally lend a hand.

As for 3)
As for weekend trips, the train can offer several interesting offers and rates. A “Beautiful Weekend Ticket” can be shared with many friends or acquaintances and it’s really cheap for all participants. If a personal car is not available, you can follow the advice above and register with a car sharing association if necessary.

As for 4)
The annual vacation is a very important point. In the moment when we decide to board a plane we deliver a mean side blow to our climate. With the kerosene used here per flight passenger everyone can commute with their car for 100 km per day for years. Whoever really wants to avoid CO2 gives up (basically) flying when it’s somehow possible. A vacation in Germany can be really wonderful, and driving with the car to France or Italy is also possible to achieve with no stress.

Optimal heating

Lets also come to the topic of heating. It would go beyond the scope of this article to discuss each heating type and to compare their positives and negatives. Therefore a couple of important general words on the topic should be enough. The higher the difference between interior and exterior temperature in the cold season, the more heating energy is burned and the higher the CO2 strain on our atmosphere. This may sound trivial, but it’s actually not when you realize that the energy consumption is not linearly connected to the temperature difference. A person who wishes to bring their living room not to 20, but to 40 degrees in winter doesn’t use double, but eight to ten times more energy. For this reason every reduced degree Celsius is a big benefit for the environment. Practically this means: A person who doesn’t need a 23 degrees room temperature for their well-being in winter, but can also manage with 19 degrees and a pullover, is saving (in the long run) not only a lot of money, but is also making a big contribution towards CO2 reduction.

Building insulation

With heating costs, we come directly to heating insulation of residential and office buildings. The most prominent example is the uninsulated attic. The place where roof tiles from clay or concrete are laid out on the carpenter’s wood structure – you’d have to spend an hour in winter or in high summer there and you would immediately understand what it means to have missing thermal insulation. On the topic of building insulation in Germany there is a regulatory frenzy nowadays and it’s connected to legal consequences for the smallest non-compliance. This overshoots the goal. A lot of construction experts have already noticed that insulation is often overdone. Some constructions are so sealed that they don’t allow for a healthy air exchange and air humidity. To avoid (or at least reduce) the resulting mold formation that’s hazardous to human health, the highly insulated buildings have to be aired constantly in winter or costly software controlled ventilation systems have to compensate for the well meaning insulation. To find the optimum here each individual case needs an expert consultation from a real specialist, otherwise the damage can be bigger than the benefit.

Other tips for CO2 reduction in daily life

Lights out

Although the share of renewable energy is increasing, a large part of the electricity production is still done by coal-fired power stations and this will remain as such, so for example we are not left in the dark when it’s windless. Therefore saving electricity means at the same time a reduction in CO2 emissions and turning off the lights in an unused room is generally a positive contribution. However, minimizing our electricity consumptions includes more than this. For example the stove or the oven are still heating long after they are turned off, so that the devices can generally be switched off a couple of minutes before finishing preparing the meal. The number of washing cycles in the washing machine can also be significantly reduced in most households using intelligent planning. The same goes for the dishwasher. This would result not only in saving electricity, but also in saving water. Stand-by devices can be turned off.

Regional Products

It’s really crazy that turkey meat from New Zealand is cheaper than the beef from the butcher on the corner. The whole food and goods market is full of products from far away which are cheaper than regional products from nearby farmers. And those products have been through many 10.000 km long cold chains lasting for days and several shipments. How that is even economically possible, hardly anybody can explain conclusively but it’s become everyday life. Only the consumer can punish this insanity when he decides to buy the more expensive regional products, which have not been brought with a truck from Vladivostok to Germany and don’t carry with them an impossible CO2 balance.

Waste prevention

The avoidance or at least minimization of packaging waste and particularly the plastic bag, leads the environmentally harmful flame in the waste incineration plant to slowly die out.

A final note

Many readers will dismiss the one or the other saving proposal as quite ridiculous. And they would be right at first. But it’s always the sum that makes the effect. When several million people every day do a couple of small “ridiculous” CO2 savings the annual result for a whole country would be a substantial amount that has a positive impact on our environment and our climate. Each individual can take part, we don’t need a globally organized regulatory institution for this.

Stefan Winklhofer

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