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Climate Solutions by Daniel Bailey

Posted on 30 November 2011 by Daniel Bailey

After writing the blog post Throwing Down the Gauntlet, 'Actually Thoughtful' suggested SkS authors/contributors write about what personal measures they've taken in regard to climate change, and what steps readers could take.  Previous, personal, iterations of this theme were explored earlier by dana1981 and Rob Painting.  This is my response.

Me, me, me...   Nobody but me

Given the enormity of the task we as a civilization face in the changing climate we are the cause of, what is one person to do?  After all, I live in a temperate northern clime, my job requires me to travel up to several hundred miles per day via car (necessarily a 4-wheel drive SUV due to the snow & ice in the winter) and I live in a downtown area, not in the countryside.  Given that, it would be easy to throw my hands up in despair.

But giving up is not in my nature (when someone mentioned to one of my coaches that I didn't know the meaning of giving up, Coach cracked, "I've seen his grades...there's a lot of words he don't know the meaning of."  Funny guy, that Coach).  Well, the words of Lao-tzu come to mind:

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

What To Do...

Well, for starters, the obvious stuff comes to mind:

  • Changing out incandescent light bulbs to CFL's
  • Insulating wall cavities in the house
  • Insulating above-grade foundation walls in the basement
  • Injecting foam insulation into electrical outlet boxes on exterior walls
  • Replacing leaky single glazed woodframe windows/storm window combination units with high-efficiency double-glazed vinyl windows
  • Replacing inefficient wooden exterior doors with modern thermal exterior doors and modern thermal storm doors
  • Turn off all lights in rooms not in use
  • Installing light timers in rooms staying lit while out
  • When appliances fail, replacing them with more energy efficient models
  • When replacing personal vehicles, choosing ones with better efficiencies (my commuting radius exceeds the capabilities of all-electric models & the winter snowfall levels here entail vehicles with 4-wheel drive capabilities)
  • Recycling all paper and cardboard products (all that our local recycling center takes, unfortunately)
  • Installing a gas insert into our fireplace to improve efficiencies

A good start, but clearly not enough.

The Road of Barnabas

Given the talents I was endowed with, the knowledge I've learned and the experiences which have shaped me throughout my life, I have decided that the best use of my time remaining to me was to build up a new generation of those who can make a difference amongst those around them.  And by my participation here at Skeptical Science I can do that with individuals worldwide.

So I work mostly behind the scenes here at SkS, sometimes writing blog posts, moderating (a very thankless task I find, but someone must do it) and by performing in an outreach capacity with the climate science community (scientists, bloggers and talented individuals alike).  With the hope that, in my own small way, I am making a difference.

So What Can You Do?

Once upon a time there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing.  He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day he was walking along the shore.  As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer.  He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day.  So he began to walk faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"

The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish in the ocean."

"I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?"

"The sun is up and the tide is going out.  And if I don't throw them in they'll die."

"But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it.  You can't possibly make a difference!"

The young man listened politely.  Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, "It made a difference for that one."

There is something very special in each and every one of us.  We have all been gifted with the ability to make a difference.  And if we can become aware of that gift, we gain through the strength of our visions the power to shape the future.

We must each find our starfish.  And if we throw our stars wisely and well, the world will be blessed.

So go find your starfish...and do likewise.  For we will be judged by those who come after us both by what we did do...and what we didn't the time given to us.

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Comments 1 to 47:

  1. Daniel: I would guess the most significant thing people can do to reduce GHGs who travel a lot is to either move nearer to work, or telecommute and telework as much as possible, and simply avoid unnecessary journeys. Of course everyone has a good excuse why they are different or it can't be done for their job, and very occasionally it is believable! Perhaps in your case it really is true considering what you are prepared to endure! Sorry for sounding like a record, as you probably know I have been over this before with someone. I assume you drive something more fuel efficient than a 4x4 outside the winter season?
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  2. I would be surprised if buying a 2nd more fuel efficient vehicle was a more efficient use of resources than running/building only one of lower efficiency.
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  3. My personal solutions : wood-fuel boiler, thermal solar, teleworking, electronic rather that print reading, gardening, very few travel for leisure, locally-produced consumption when possible. But I live in a very rural area, some of these choices are uneasy in urban context. Contrary to Daniel, I tend to think that small acts produce small effects… Of course, it’s better than nothing but often, I observe my friends imagine that we can ‘save the climate’ with just such small gestures. It’ll be much more complicated, orders of magnitude are welcome! Interesting considerations about that in David MacKay ‘without the hot air’
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    [DB] "Contrary to Daniel, I tend to think that small acts produce small effects"

    In isolation, perhaps.  But one point of this post is to model for others so they can later emulate. 

    The other, much larger, point of this post is that if everyone does nothing, nothing gets done.  And that if enough do enough of the little things often enough, then attitudes can change on a large enough scale so that larger, more significant and meaningful change can be implemented.  Hence the Lao Tsu quote. 

    'Nuff said.  ;)

  4. This is probably redundant on Daniel, but may apply to others. Bring about change with your wallet. Do not buy those products with high negative environmental (or societal) impacts and/or carbon footprints. Also vote for representatives at all levels of government who are concerned about AGW and plan to actually do something about it. Consider "offsetting" natural gas and electricity consumption with wind power, for example. Phantom power draw is also quite a biggy. Daniel is quite far north, but a solar water heater might be an option. And rain barrels to collect water in the warm season. The car is tricky, there are 4x4 hybrids out there but they are expensive.
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  5. The three best things to do with a house: insulate, insulate, insulate. I wish there were a magic wand for transportation. Use mass transit as much as possible.
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  6. pbjamm @2 - at least in terms of energy, 80 to 90% of a vehicle's lifetime energy use comes during operation, so at least from that perspective, getting a second, more efficient vehicle can result in lower overall energy consumption.
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  7. Tire chains on a two wheel drive are a viable alternative in most situations. They are just inconvenient to take on and off. 4wd doesn't help you stop in icy conditions. I'm not without sin myself in this category.
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    [DB] Tire chains are problematic in Michigan:

    MCL 257.710 of the Michigan Vehicle Code covers the use of tire chains, and states that a person may "use a tire chain of reasonable proportion upon a vehicle when required for safety because of snow, ice, or other condition tending to cause a vehicle to skid." If used, the chain must not come in contact with the surface of the roadway.

    (Emphasis added)

    That last requirement effectively nullifies their usage except in extremis.

  8. Daniel, Thanks for all your effort moderating the scene here at Skeptical Science. The tone of the discussion is what sets this site apart.
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  9. My back-of-envelope math shows that driving a 30MPG car 2/3 of the year would save roughly $1500/year in gas. That is an immediate fuel/CO2 savings (25% reduction) and a payoff on a used commuter car in only a few years. Someone who drives as much as Daniel could actually benefit from a 2nd car. Surprising. This is why math is superior to guessing. This assumes you drive 100 miles/day (250 days/year), the 4x4 gets 17MPG and that gas is $3/gallon. Taxes and insurance are not factored in.
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    [DB] "Daniel could actually benefit from a 2nd car."

    Actually, we do have 2 vehicles (my wife also works fulltime).  Unfortunately both are classified as SUVs.  As soon as we can afford it we plan on getting a "riceburner" or hybrid for non-winter usage and park the larger of the two.

    I had neglected to hilite it in the OP (didn't survive my final edits), but we just had moved back into town last winter.  Thus we are able to park both vehicles after work so we can walk & ride bicycles (um, in the NON-winter months), especially on the weekends.  And we do have a moped for just running errands around town when the weather permits (67 mpg).

  10. DB, Kudos to you! This "skeptic" can tick off the same accomplishments as pertains to my house. We even close off a large room that is rarely used and have shunted heating/cooling duct output from areas that don't them as much to areas that do. I also have shade trees that are maturing and help keep the house cooler in the summer. My wife just traded cars and is getting 50% better gas mileage for her commute. Like you, I am forced to drive a 4WD SUV for job purposes, but I drive a smaller one with better gas mileage, and I ride a bike or run to the gym when time and weather permit. Regardless of my view on the AGW theory, I do these things because they are right. Along with recycling all glass, paper, and aluminum/metal products, composting, and using a mulching mower.
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  11. "Contrary to Daniel, I tend to think that small acts produce small effects". It is not clear to me that Daniel thinks that. Some things he suggested were small, but using the numbers in MacKay's book, house heat/cooling and transportation are big items. The effect is only small if only a few people make those changes. I crunched MacKay's numbers for NZers ( see here though this version has cost of insulation out by order of magnitude) and found you make big difference with flying and transportation.
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  12. On the other hand, I do agree though it is not enough for say Pirate and Daniel to do the right thing. There has to be a plan that gets everyone on board to make a real difference.
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    [DB] "There has to be a plan that gets everyone on board to make a real difference."

    To train up a legion to effect change:  part of the long-term strategy I have.


    Meh.  But more positive than this.

  13. #12, indeed, but it is also good to see positive examples - this can show to some, and hopefully eventually to policymakers, that leading a more energy efficient lifestyle does not equal living in a cave. So kudos to Daniel, pirate and others who have made conscious positive decisions.
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  14. First of all, DB, please don't think we are ungrateful to you for your efforts as moderator. My list of personal efforts is mainly similar to yours with a couple of exeptions. Living in a much warmer climate and having far less distance to travel for work purposes, I drive an energy efficient vehicle and am hunting for something even less thirsty to replace it with. Unfortunately, public transport is not an option for me as no services run from where I work to where I live. I find that any perceptions of me being some kind of do gooder who wants to save the world (a bad thing to many people)can be avoided by simply explaining that I'm a cheap skinflint. I don't use airconditioning because it is expensive. I use room heating only on the coldest of evennings. It seems cheapskates are more socially acceptable.
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  15. Regarding bullet 3: use tufts of leftover fiberglass insulation instead of spray foam to fill those exterior outlet boxes - you or your electrician will be glad you did when it comes time to replace the outlet. Regarding several posts about small improvements not making any difference: don't forget to include the multiplier from application of cheap fixes by large numbers of people. See the left end of this graph.
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  16. PS That graph is from
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  17. PPS the correct link to the large version of the figure is Don't know why the link in the original post contains an extraneous 'current='
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  18. Switching from electric hot water storage to continuous flow gas hot water has probably been the single biggest impact on my personal CO2 emissions. My electricity use went immediately from almost 13kw-h per day to less than 6kw-h per day, with only a very small increase in my gas use. I also have nothing but CF globes in my house, am on a 100% Green Energy Scheme & use nothing but public transport to make my daily commute.
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  19. "can be avoided by simply explaining that I'm a cheap skinflint." LOL Stevo. This is a point I often make myself. Yes I'm a "do-gooder" who wants to cut his CO2 emissions, but I'm also trying to cut my costs & save money, & what better way to do it than to cut my energy & fuel consumption?
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  20. The skinflint approach is now being used as an advertising tool for solar PV in Australia. "I'm not trying to save the world. I'm saving up for ....." In fact anyone living in a region with reasonable solar incentives / FIT could justify installation as simply an investment option rather than a save-the-world choice. The cash return for capital outlaid can be much better than normal investment. With a very nice backup that the returns are stable, increasing and near permanent even when the bonus FIT reduces, a reassuring alternative for those worried about their savings, shares or superannuation. And for those concerned about 'over-capitalising' their house, solar PV is a much, much better option than a granite benchtop in the kitchen.
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  21. Re-the skinflint approach,I think that this will ultimately be the thing that will turn the tide.I have heard many stories of companies that changed their business practices for what they considered to be the greater social good,only to find that they unexpectedly reaped finincial savings beyond what they expected. This kind of win-win is the message that needs to reach the ears of CFO's and shareholders of companies worldwide.
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  22. CFL's have mercury, why not LED's ???
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  23. re. #9 My 'back of the envelope calculation' shows that $3.00/gallon gas translates to about 80c per litre, a price most of the developed world has not seen in a long time. Here in Alberta for example, the average price per litre for regular gas is $1.09. A simple, but politically impossible task that might encourage the use of more fuel efficient cars would be to bring the price of U.S. gas more in line with the rest of the developed world.
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  24. DrTsk: yes, CFLs have mercury. It's a very, very small amount, though, and not a problem unless you're in the habit of breaking CFLs in sealed rooms. :-) (personally, I find all those mercury switch central heating thermostats used in some cold climates to be a far greater risk) LEDs are great - I replaced the halogen downlights in our kitchen with LEDs a few years back. Being early model LED downlights, they're not quite equivalent to a 50w halogen in light output, but they're more than bright enough (how bright does your house really need to be at night?) Cost-wise - they cost me, each, about 50 times the halogen bulbs I replaced. Based on the price I paid, I would have to run them for 4 hours a day for 7 years to make up the $$ cost difference. That's ignoring the fact that the halogens were burning out at the rate of 1 every 6-9 months, and I also had to replace one transformer that died (and another was clearly on it's last legs when I pulled it out to install the LED transformer). I will say, though, that costs have come down at least 50-60% since then, so the payback period is now only 3-4 years (or less!), for about 4 hrs per day of usage. We've had them for maybe 3 years so far, and I'm planning on replacing a few other light fittings with LEDs. One disadvantage - the halogens used to throw an enormous amount of light up in the ceiling space. Wasted energy, generally, but it was quite handy on the rare occasions that I was working up there... Now I have to carry an LED worklight up with me. :-)
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  25. Re gas pricing - it was $1.49 per litre here in Australia when I filled up last night. That was diesel, but petrol(gas) and diesel are similarly priced at the moment. One suggestion - diesel vehicles are generally far more fuel-efficient than gasoline / petrol engined vehicles. I used to fill up my previous car every 10-12 days, but the diesel I bought to replace it a few years ago only gets filled about once per month! Combine that with the high price of petrol/gasoline, and you can see why diesel cars are so popular in Europe (and are becoming more so here in Australia - I was the third person in my 40-employee office to get one).
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  26. Speaking of lighting. We're planning to replace the decrepit late 60s/early 70s kitchen here, and I'm going to imitate something I saw in a cafe. A mirror! They've placed a mirror about 4ft long, 18in wide on the ceiling - basically it's directly above the area where customers stand to order/pay. It means they need very little lighting apart from the windows. All I have to do is line it up with the not very large window and keep it away from steam etc. Means I won't have to worry about lighting for new positions for oven and other appliances. Nifty! (Thankfully this house has conventional ceiling heights, not the 11ft+ monsters in our old (very old) house. Wouldn't have been anoption there.)
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  27. NZ - 91 octane is bouncing around NZ$2.02 - $2.10 (say US$1.60 per litre. Looks like UK citizen paying something like US$2.08 per litre.
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  28. A lot of the focus of energy saving concentrates on the obvious things - standby electric power, more efficent vehicles, low power fluoro lights, etc. But you can actually make a bigger difference by reviewing your not so obvious uses of energy. For example, the energy required to produce a couple of kilos of beef is substantially greater than that for the equivalent vegetables, so becoming a vegetarian is actually an excellent way to save energy (if you want to become a vegetarian). A less drastic solution would be to cut down your meat intake, or to stop eating fast food. A large part of the problem is over consumption and wastefulness. How about you ask yourself if you really need all the material good you possess, or whether you need to replace things so quickly. Have a look in the mirror. Do you eat too much? Do you waste food? It will be wonderful when all our energy comes from non-polluting sources. But the problem of too many people consuming more than they realy need will remain, unless we substantially change our approach to life.
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  29. mandas, you're probably right. Though at the moment the gazillion cubic metres of straw/mulch and the gigantic bags of chook/cow/other poo we're bringing in to create something resembling soil here makes me think our first vegetable crops will represent a huge carbon investment. Lugging a trailer around does horrible things to fuel consumption. But it is an investment. Now that the 4m by 1m heap of potato crop (in straw and other goodies) is nearing maturity, even if the potatoes aren't that impressive, we'll also have a good crop of earthworms. (I'm not that desperate for protein, so they're going to keep on improving the soil for further crops.) I expect we won't be vegetarian but more like potatomatocapsicarian looking at what the garden's doing. And of course, there's what to do with zucchinis. Buying a freezer to store a chocolate-zucchini-cake mountain doesn't seem very sensible - but there are limits to how many zucchinis family and neighbours are willing to take on after weeks of gritting their teeth and smiling at you. The obvious solution is chooks. But they'll have to wait until sheds and tanks are done. As for people who don't grow their own, I think council waste collection systems that provide separate containers for food waste along with other compostables might get a few people rethinking their food purchases. They can actually see the volume of their 'waste' and maybe even compare it to the volume of their shopping. And reframing sell-by and use-by dating on many products would also cut down a lot of unnecessary discarding of perfectly good food.
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  30. Mercury bioaccumulates. Dead CFL's must be properly recycled which I don't see that happening much. LED's prices have been plummeting. From one specimen two years ago, I see 10-15 types at hardware stores.
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  31. Daniel Bailey, thank you for the work you do at SkS. And that's an excellent summing-up, at end of this post. From my "quotes" file (to which I've added your "we will be judged...") - === As Bill McKibben says: “The number one thing is to organize politically; number two, do some political organizing; number three, get together with your neighbors and organize; and then if you have energy left over from all of that, change the light bulb.” ===
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  32. ...or more generally, Greg Craven's "You do: everything you can to increase public demand for significant and immediate policy action to combat global climate change. (Here’s the part where you get creative)"
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  33. Widespread degradation and deepening scarcity of land and water resources have placed a number of key food production systems around the globe at risk, posing a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, according to a new FAO report published today. The report, “State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture” notes that while the last 50 years witnessed a notable increase in food production, “in too many places, achievements have been associated with management practices that have degraded the land and water systems upon which food production depends.” Source: “Scarcity and degradation of land and water: growing threat to food security” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations news release, Nov 28, 2011 To access the entire news release, click here.
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  34. uuurgh don't like vinyl windows. There is a Scandanavian company that makes soft wood/aluminium combo triple glazed windows which would be my preference. Not that it would make any difference in the UK, where many old houses are abused with fitted plastic windows and other plastic building materials.
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  35. There are more significant changes that can be made culturally and in legislation. 1. Build infrastructure that puts businesses closer to homes. Build communities where it is natural to walk and cycle etc. and the car is not seen as being essential. 2. Legislate for all new homes to be built to use the minimum amount of energy. This would depend on the location globally, but passive home design is a proven idea that works.
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  36. I would add that an area for big potential savings in energy consumption and CO2 emissions is not just what or how much you drive a personal vehicle, but how you drive it. Unnecessarily hard acceleration kills your vehicle's efficiency. One study from a dept. of the US gov't (EPA, I think) found that avoiding hard acceleration would save the average American driver (who drives like a movie stunt man on a bad acid trip) about 30%(!) in fuel consumption. Add in other obvious savings like not carrying a lot of dead weight in the vehicle, keeping tires properly inflated, not speeding, etc., and the average driver can easily see real world improvements about equal to swapping their car out for a hybrid version of the same model. I drive a Scion xA and routinely get 40 mpg, which is above the EPA rating for that model (when it was still in production). We certainly need to change the nouns and verbs in our lives (what we buy and what we do with it), but we also need to change the adjective and adverbs (how we do things).
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    [DB] I have found that I improved my gas mileage by 6 mpg by reducing my average speed from 5 mph above the speed limit (yes, I was one of the masses who routinely flouted the speed limits) to 1 mph under the speed limit.  Much better mileage and no chance of speeding tickets.  And lower blood pressure.

  37. WRT living closer to work, this is not always a reasonable solution. In my case I live relatively close to my primary employer and plan to move farther away as the neighborhood is not good. My 2nd job (which I work remotely 90% of the time) is in an even *worse* area. Moving to a nicer area and commuting might be the wrong environmental choice but the right one for my family.
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  38. In the UK the vast majority of people don't need the types of vehicles they use and could easily make do with smaller vehicles. People make up excuses for buying a vehicle with large carrying capacity, stating things like: 'it would be really useful for carrying a lawnmower to the repair company, or for picking up some timber from the DIY store'. Yet they often only ever do this once or twice a year or even never! So the reality is they could have got the store to deliver for a fraction of the cost of the the fuel and materials needed to build and use the bigger vehicle. Yeah a few people 'need' them, but most vehicles are driven with just the driver at the wheel 90% of the time. Plus of course cars need a lot of parking space at various places to cope with the probability of someone needing a parking space.
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  39. What you say about the UK applies even more in the US Paul. The epidemic of obesity afflicting the country has turned into an epidemic of enormity, and beyond people and pets, it now also affects automobiles.
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  40. paul D. Carry a lawnmower? My little mini that I treasured in the early 70s could take massive things - lawnmowers, compressors, food for 40 people for a weekend. Made the proud owners of large cars weep. How? Just remove the front passenger seat. Much easier access than in the largest boot. It's all about design. And spanners. (But not modern safety standards, unfortunately.)
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  41. re: DB in #7. I see that Michigan also has rules which effectively prohibit studded tires.,4643,7-123-1586_27094-73839--,00.html California at least is a lot more liberal on that. For those afflulent enough to afford 4 wheel drive who live in snow country, it is hard to resist the feeling that you have to have it. For those who can't afford it, take comfort that you are helping your own bottom line as well as the planet every time you get your fingers icy cold and your clothes wet by putting on the chains or taking them off.
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  42. Philippe @39: 'an epidemic of enormity' is a really nice turn of phrase, and dead accurate. Maybe one needs vehicles that size just to accomodate the drivers. I always thought the narrow streets you find in most European cities were designed on purpose to keep gross vehicles out. Imagine trying to drive something like a typical American SUV in a (French, Italian, Spanish, English) village - or trying to park it. A little less tongue in cheek - a lot of US drivers buy what amount to tanks for simple self-protection. There are an awful lot of idiots here who run a stop sign or a red light because of chatting it up on a cellphone, or whatever. Small cars lose in confrontation with one of those. Adelady #40: The mini is still a nice car - and I bet you could get a sheet of plywood on the roof if you wanted to move it. Why can't they make these small cars (I have a Fit) so you can get an 8 ft long piece of lumber inside?
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  43. My personal solution - move to Japan. It's cut my emissions by about half. My wife and I dropped from one car (a Prius) to zero. Our apartment shrank by a third. Like most Japanese, we have no clothes drier. Food here tends to be more local and farmed in a more sustainable manner than in the US. Our rice and most of our seasonable vegetables, in fact, are grown on my wife's family plots. We using less heating and cooling, partly because we need less (moderate climate, smaller apartment) and partly because that's just the way things are done here. We use less electricity as well, for the same reasons. We are typical for Japanese, but that automatically implies that we have about half the environmental impact of a typical American. And you know what - the quality life here is completely comparible to the quality of life in America, all across the income spectrum. In fact, I would argue it is quite a bit better for the bottom third. But that is another subject entirely. Either way, this country proves that there is no substantial trade-off between the good life and drastically cutting one's emissions.
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  44. Daniel - nice post. If you don't mind sharing what your heating/cooling system is (40-60% of typical American home energy consumption) and how you heat your hot water (20% of typical consumption) - I would be glad to share a *very* green plumber/heating professional's opinion for improvements.
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  45. Oh - and on the foam/fiberglass debate - I am partial to drilling a hole in the back of the outlet box (easy when they are plastic) and spraying foam there - which insulates more of the gap created by the box (with batt insulation there is typically a void there).
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  46. Daniel good job, we all should do the best we can. Only a narrow mind may think it isn't worth doing our own part. I recently heard a meteorologist tell a story when asked what we could personally do about climate change, the story of the great fire in the forest. While all the animals were running away the lion saw a tiny humming bird flying toward the fire. The lion stopped and shouted "what the hell are you doing!?" and the hummingbird bird, with a littly drop of water in his mounth, "I'm doing my part". I heard different versions of this story and unfortunately I can't trace it back to the original. Daniel, no matter what other peolple do, do the rigth thing.
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  47. My top tip on reducing your household heating bills... Hot water bottle.
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