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It isn't easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things

As much as I admire and respect Mr. The Frog, he's wrong about that. It is easy being green. And I can prove it.

Many of these topics have been diaried before, so I don't lay any claim to great originality here, but there are so very many things you can do to save the world (or at least lay waste to a little less of it). I've taken many of these steps. I'll be taking more as time and money permits. The important thing to remember is that you don't have to huddle cold by the light of a single white LED to improve your working relationship with planet earth. Details follow.

Back in the mid-1990's I wrote the FAQ for the newsgroup. Newgroups are still alive out there, but only us very old net geeks seem to know and use them. All you young whippersnappers have moved to the world wide web. (I use it, but it scares me!) (Actually, it doesn't. I wrote the first proof-of-concept web application for the Minnesota Department of Revenue back in 1995 using a C CGI API on AIX under an early version of Apache, but there's no doubt the youngesters keep leapfrogging me, just as they should).

Since that time, I did very little to advance the cause of environmentalism and renewable energy. I rationalized my inaction by thinking that my FAQ had helped others to go photovoltaic.

Well, I did little things, like using compact flourescent light bulbs, driving the highest mileage cars I could find, and so forth.

There are people opting for radical simplicity. And it well may be true given population, peak oil, carrying capacity, and whatever other facts will come calling at the door of our extravagant lifestyle that we will all be forced down that route one day. But until that time, for those of us with money to spend and who like being cool in the summer, we can still cut back without giving up all of our comforts. In fact, some of these steps can enhance your comfort.

1. Buy a TerraPass for each of your cars. TerraPass invests directly in non-carbon emitting energy projects. If you buy a TerraPass, you will "bring into being" carbonless energy production that is the equivalent of your car's carbon output. Strictly speaking, this doesn't reduce carbon or consumption at all. It suffers from the problem that all efficiency increases have, namely that it makes more energy available to others at low cost. Still, if this accelerates the economics and the replacement of aging polluting technologies with clean renewables, then it will be great benefit in the long run.

2. Get a home energy audit to see where you can save the most.

3. Move closer. Yes, I live in affluent, white exurbia, but I now live a full 50 miles closer to my metro than I used to. I haven't calculated the carbon effects of that, but they are huge. Even if you use public transport, it is huge.

4. Replace incandescent with compact flourescent lights. I have done this everywhere except over my wife's and my grooming mirrors and directly over my stove (the different color temperature of these light sources makes for undesirable colors in those contexts. I am also looking at white LED lighting but I have yet to buy and try these. I'll report when I do.

5. Take energy into account when upgrading. Part of our move closer included new appliances. We spent a bit more to get the lowest energy consumers we could afford. Front-loading clothes washer, two drawer dishwasher with "eco" setting. The one place we really could have done better is on our refrigerator. The very lowest power units I know of are Sun Frost refrigerators. We couldn't afford these (after our other expensive appliances). We went with the lowest energy consumer sold in our local big-box appliance retailer.

6. Telecommute. I am a self employed software engineer and I push for as many telecommute days each week that I can get the client to accept. Obviously this is only possible in certain professions!

7. Join a CSA Association. I found mine in Minnesota through the Land Stewardship Project. What is CSA? I'm sure it has been diaried many times here, but briefly it stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it is a system where you buy a share of a farm's harvest directly through cash, labor, or both. It is good for the farmer in that they get the money for the season up front and gets a higher price than he or she can get from the giant agriculture distributors like Cargill, ADM, and so forth. It is good for the buyer in many ways. You get very fresh produce, usually purely organically grown, every week during harvest time (for my farm, May to September). You get local crops. You get healthier food. You get greater variety in your diet and less processed food. You develop your cooking skills. You get real variety in your diet. Many of these operations are vegan by choice, some by pure practicality, but you can find CSA organic farms that do meats, poultry, and eggs. You get high quality food at a lower price than you would if they had passed through the middlemen. It is good for the environment in that more land is used organically, without bioaccumulating toxins. Less energy is used, if in no other sense than the food is not processed and doesn't travel. Unless you are going to home can and pickle like crazy, you'll still get food from the supermarket, but less and less. And I've started making homemade jerky with paper furnace filters and a big box fan. You'd be amazed how good it is!

8. Go renewable directly. I contacted a local renewable energy company called Innovative Power Systems and got a design and bid on a multi-element renewable energy system.  My home is currently LP gas and electric grid powered. I have a high efficiency furnace, water heater, and central AC, the most efficient I can get in fact. But I plan to switch to natural gas now that it has come to my neighborhood. But no matter how you look at it, it is all fossil fuel (or at least non-renewable). Luckily, I have a large, south facing roof, a well sealed and insulated home with excellent passive solar gain, some acreage in the backyard, and roughed-in in-floor radiant heat in the basement. So, I'm switching from a LP gas 60 gallon water heater to a tankless electric water heater with a 60 gallon solar thermal heated pre-tank. I'm also hooking the solar thermal system to the radiant floor system, so I will have three zones of free heat during daylight hours. With luck, I will use very little electricity to heat my water, and very little gas to heat my  home. While I'm at it, I'm putting in grid-intertie solar PV (about 3kW worth -- not much, but a start) and a 10kW wind turbine. I've mentioned this project before, and I will diary it in detail. I'll be years implementing it all, but I'll start with the solar thermal since that gives the biggest bang for my buck. I'm literally days away from a closing that will give me the funds to start these, my most ambitious efforts so far. I'm finally putting my money where my mouth is on renewables.

9. Turn things off. You'd be amazed how much junk is on sucking power in your home. All those gizmos that come on when you hit a button on your remote are there sucking power just to see if you've hit the damned button. The simple expedient of plugging all your stuff on to a single power strip that you shut off when you leave the room can save you $100/year and several thousand pounds of atmospheric carbon.

10. Use a laptop instead of a desktop. They really use less power and they aren't substantially less powerful computers anymore. I run an always-on network at my home for my business. All my "servers" are laptops with their displays shut off. It works well.

Well, that's what I'm doing so far. My effort? Pretty damned small.

I don't claim to be an authority. Before I wrote this diary, I did some looking around at other similar diaries and I got lots of good ideas. I suggest you do the same. If you've got simple and effective tips to add, please comment! I'd love to hear the ideas.

I very much applaud those going the whole route to simple living. But for those of us not quite ready for that, we can do so many things. I'd love to hear from you about what you do. I'd love to exchange conservation ideas.

Good luck to us all!

Originally posted to evilpenguin on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 03:51 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (28+ / 0-)

    I still feel I haven't posted a truly worthy diary, but I put these up anyways. I hope you enjoy the diary, and please share your ideas!

  •  Here are some other sources....... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    juliesie, evilpenguin, Mother Mags

    to help 'being green' -

    Great fact sheet for household uses prices/CO2 emmissions.

    The Personal Environmental Impact Calculators - For energy usage - For water usage - For recycling - For transportation

    The average amount of carbon dioxide generated in a year by:

    An average Person (world-wide) 4 tons
    An average American 22 tons
    An average Chinese 2.25 tons
    Driving an SUV* 5 tons
    Making 10 CDs 34 pounds
    *10,000 miles at 18 miles per gallon

    Source: NRDC; Future Forests; WSJ research

    Carbon builds up quickly in the atmosphere. When gasoline burns, the resulting carbon atoms bind with oxygen to form CO2. Burning one gallon of gasoline, which is about 80% carbon by weight, puts 19.5 pounds of CO2 into the air, Mr. Dauncey figures. Driving a sport-utility vehicle for a year can create about five tons of the gas.

  •  Definitely (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    evilpenguin, temeraire

    We live in NYC. We get our power from supposedly a renewable resource energy production company (through ConEd), we participate in the Park Slope CSA (wish they would change that abbreviation...are we the Confederacy?), and we use compact fluorescent bulbs as well as all recycled paper. And, of course, no car needed here. When we need a car we rent and when we visit my family in Los Angeles we rent a hybrid.

    I can't say it's the easiest or cheapest, but it is pretty easy and some of it saves us money while some costs a little more.

    •  I have always wondered... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mole333, AnonymousArmy

      ...who makes sure that these suppliers don't bill for more than they actually produce? Who audits this? Anyone here know? As I hope we all know, when you buy "wind generated" electricity at a higher price per kWh, you aren't literally using the wind power. You're using power from the grid. You're paying them to put that much power into the grid. No one can know for sure "whose electrons" you're actually using.

      It is technically possible for them to bill for more than they produce. So who keeps 'em honest?

    •  Thanks for the local energy link! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Xan, mole333

      I, too, live in NYC & have been wanting to do something like this.

      I'm in a CSA, too--yesterday was our pickup day. Mmmmm! (currently right now I have chocolate zucchini bread--sounds disgusting, but is delish!--in the oven, made w/CSA zucchini)

      Another green thing I do that a lot of people don't seem to have thought to do is: I reuse padded envelopes. I used to sell books on & I tend to buy a bunch of things on eBay, & am forever sending my friends packages besides. If you're careful when you open a padded envelope, all you have to do to re-use it is stick the new address on (or write it on the other side) & tape it back up. Cheaper, greener AND you never have to run out to get envelopes when you're packing up your holiday gifts!

  •  Wonderful ... on disagreement ... (3+ / 0-)

    This is a great discussion ... with a wonderful opening. Wonder whether whether Kermit can be 'reborn' to do the song differently -- or to have someone explain to him how easy it is to be green ... at least in your living patterns ...

    Your list is truly excellent -- except you start with the item that absolutely should be last.  I would highly recommend the WorldChanging discussion Energy's 'Three Rs': A Primer.

    • When addressing your energy use or climate impacts -- again, whether a household, a business, or a city -- the single most important thing to do is to reduce the overall amount of energy you use -- by purchasing energy-efficient appliances, light bulbs, cars, computers, etc., and by running them as little as necessary.
    • Of the energy you do use, purchase as much renewable energy as possible -- whether from a local utility program, by generating your own (say, by installing solar panels), or by using biofuels for your transportation needs.
    • Finally, after you've used the least amount of energy, and the highest possible percentage of renewable energy, you should remedy the climate impacts of the nonrenewable energy you use, by purchasing carbon offsets, perhaps in the form of "green tags."

    For the record: I have little ownership in the design of these "Three R's." I'd be thrilled if someone improved upon this alliteration, either by choosing better words or by finding an entirely new mnemonic that clearly articulates this concept.

    What's the point? The point is that, much as they do with recycling, a great many smart people are focusing on offsets as their principal strategy for addressing their climate change impacts, despite the fact that it's the third choice. This is apparent from the seeming gold rush of green tag providers of late. You can now offset just about everything: your home, business, driving, vacations, and other purchases and activities.

    Your first item -- terrapass -- is focused on what should be the last thing that each of us invests in. Invest time/energy/resources on reducing energy demand. Then go renewable. Then remedy the damage.

    Energy Consensus: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

    by A Siegel on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 04:01:12 PM PDT

  •  Added tag ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AnonymousArmy, evilpenguin

    Note, I added a tag:  Sustainable Energy Action which is meant for exactly this: sharing tips/providing guidance on how to move toward a more sustainable life style.

    Energy Consensus: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

    by A Siegel on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 04:02:31 PM PDT

  •  What is interesting ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    After getting much advice, I am switching my heating from gas to electric .... or sort of ...


    • Current: 1988 systems: SEER 7 air conditioner and 60% gas furnance.  Actual performance probably 70% of those levels.
    • Being installed:  Fossil Fuel system:  e.g., SEER 14 HVAC and an 80% gas furnance both with dual blower system that increase efficiency. Will have automatic thermostat to be able to control when each system heats (probably set around 40 degrees for shifting from electric to gas).

    My reasons:

    • Gas prices have been skyrocketed.  I do not see this changing.
    • This provides some control as to whether gas/electric for heating.
    • Near future, PV will become sensible in my area (5-7 years) which will enable use of solar to (partially) cover heating requirements.

    This fall, after roof replacement, I will be putting in a solar hot water system with the high-efficiency pump running off solar PV.  Haven't decided on back-up/supplemental system as of yet.

    This is a (VERY) expensive year ... with needing to replace refrigerator (looking for efficient -- but can't afford Sun Frost amid every thing else) ... and will be putting in a high-efficiency stove into the fireplace to provide supplemental heat. And, I am sealing air leaks, adding insulation, and considering putting in a reflective / radiant barrier.

    I hope to cut my energy requirements for heating/cooling (we mainly use fans)/hot water by somewhere in the range of 70% ...

    Energy Consensus: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

    by A Siegel on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 04:23:38 PM PDT

    •  I understand (0+ / 0-)

      I understand your choices. However, peak demand electric capacity is almost entirely natural gas. In other words, I suspect electricty will get more expensive, although it may do so more slowly. It will be the last "to go out." That's why I chose a tankless electric water heater instead of tankless gas.

      I didn't feel I had to go electric with my heat because of my excellent passive solar gain (which I improved by replacing white carpet with dark stone flooring, giving me better heat collection and thermal mass) and my solar thermal install plan.

      Another improvement I'd like to make is to put in a ground source heat pump which can be used both to heat and cool and is electric powered. It is far and away the most efficient way to do these things with electricity. Alas, installation is very expensive.

      But I'm confident that if I want my home to have any future value out here in the boonies, I'll have to make it as near self-sustaining on energy as I can.

      •  Would have loved to go geothermal heat pump ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Cost was exorbitant due to difficulties of putting into my home.

        RE rural ... I tend to agree.

        My only question on your system is why limit yourself to 10KW wind?  Are you allowed to sell back to the utility?  You efficiency / production per $ invested goes up with larger wind turbines -- in general.

        Now, re 'Tankless' ... I don't know whether I will go that route ... and, if you plan to heat your house with the water (radiant), you might not as well.  For me, 3 young kids plus guests for month+ means reasonably hot water usage (even with high efficiency washer/dryer, dishwasher, low-flow showerheads, 1.4gallon toilets) can be high at times -- even in winter when the solar is providing perhaps just a few degrees of heating. Tankless is a risky backup with young kids.

        Energy Consensus: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

        by A Siegel on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 04:42:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I bought a unit (0+ / 0-)

          that can maintain heat to two users simultaneously. It won't be connected to the in-floor system at all. That will be opportunity solar heat only.

          We have no kids (and do not plan to have any -- another good for the planet decision, although that wasn't the primary reason) so we'll save a lot of energy by heating water only on demand and not maintaining a big tank of hot water all day. Since it is just the two of us, and it can support two simultaneous users, we'll never run out of hot water.

          •  Absolutely... (0+ / 0-)

            demand driven ...

            And, what is interesting, no kids is good for planet decision ... yes ... but also perhaps no ...

            If we can navigate to a better world (or for navigating), whose children would you prefer to see running the world?  

            • People who have great concern for the environment and develop a sustainable life style, educating their children/community about these values.
            • People who hold onto the keys to their 7,000 pound SUV to their dying breath, living in a 17,000 square foot McMansion, heating their decks with outdoor heaters because they "just hate to wear sweaters" ...

            Energy Consensus: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

            by A Siegel on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 04:51:35 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Go renewable indirectly. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The DOE website has a list of renewable energy providers in every state. A lot of power companies offer renewable options for a slight premium.

    It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government. -Thomas Paine

    by Jawis on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 04:29:30 PM PDT

  •  Small house (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    murrayewv, evilpenguin

    My first choice to have a smaller footprint was to buy a small house and preserve some meadow, pond and woods in the process.  I really hate the huge McMansion developments with no trees, or even room to plant trees.  Every year we've been here, we've planted at least one tree; and there are plenty of volunteers also.  Heat is a mixture of wood and oil, we do have a high efficiency furnace and woodstove, and are adding a pellet stove to the fireplace.  All the plug-ins are on power strips with accesible on-off switches; I find having these reachable makes me a lot more inclined to use them.

    Retrofitting for passive solar is really expensive; I do try to keep the north side of the house particularly well insulated in winter and take advantage of the south facing front windows.  I want to add solar hot water next year (if I can save up enough to pay for it).  VA alas does not really offer much in the way of rebates.  Looking to replace old refrigerator this year also.

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 04:46:54 PM PDT

    •  Our house is the smallest in the neighborhood (0+ / 0-)

      We too downsized our house (although the new one is much more expensive, being much closer to town). Although the square footage is greater, it is much more architecturally interesting.

      We were heavily influenced by the book The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka when we chose our house.

      We have an extravagant McMansion right next door whose A/C I have heard humming on 73 degree F days. I wonder how they will do? They obviously have more money than we do, but I wonder how long they can throw it away...

      I very much wish I had been involved in the design of the house. It was built on spec by the builder and we are the first owners, but it was complete before we moved in. It was well designed and built for conventional energy efficiency, but while it won't be too hard to add renewables, it wasn't built for it. Luckily, I had it in mind when we shopped for our house. It won't be cheap, but it is a relatively easy house to do it in, with easy paths from roof to utility spaces without having to make new holes.

      Planting trees is also a big part of our plan. Leafy trees that will shade the south in summer and allow sun through in winter are definitely part of the plan.

  •  Good ideas all. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thanks, recommended.

    Fear will keep the local systems in line. -Grand Moff Tarkin Survivor Left Blogistan

    by boran2 on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 04:47:01 PM PDT

  •  I'm trying a number of smaller things... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the CFL bulbs, more of my solar oven, etc.  But my electric bill went from:

    May: 350 KWH, $76.53 to
    Jun: 262 KWH, $58.89

    I think mostly from not using the clothes dryer.  It was my best month ever on KWH, which I have been monitoring because I'm thinking about some solar panels for the roof.  

    262! Woot for me!  

    •  Definite woot! (0+ / 0-)

      You do not want to know how much electricity I use.

      You started well below what I'm down to. But then I'm also trying to recover from the whole consumer thing...

      I like my creature comforts. That's why I intend to invest in PV and wind. Over time, I hope to grow my PV array to ridiculous size. Conservation pays more than a larger system, but I think our energy future will bring those curves to the same slope much sooner than we think.

      •  I have some advantages. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I work from home every day, so if it isn't sunny one day I can easily just wait until the next one to do the laundry and hang it.  Also, because I work from home there are few clothes crises.

        Similarly, when I want to heat up something for lunch, I can put the solar oven out back, heat it up, put stuff in, saunter on back in a little while....

        There are a lot of hidden advantages to working from home, beside the commute.

        •  How well... (0+ / 0-)

          I am a major baker. How well can you control the temp in a solar oven, and how hot will they get in a Minnesota winter? Can they reach at least 350 degrees in the dead of winter?

          I've always beem interested in these (and my deck is off the kitchen on the south side of my house!)

          •  I bought one of the manufactured ones. (0+ / 0-)

            Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

            From Sun Oven that heats up and holds heat really well.  I'm regularly at 300 degrees in good weather.  In cool weather I can still get over 200.  That photo was my first baking exercise with the sun oven, a lovely cornbread.

            But I haven't tried it in a New England winter yet.  I'll let you know.

            I don't need really high heat for most of the things I make.  Mostly rice, lentils, veg.  These slow cook really well.  It's not the right thing for every purpose, but for my needs it is helping.

            •  Yeah (0+ / 0-)

              My oven tends to be at either 200-250 (for slow roasting/braising), 350 (for muffins and cakes), 450-500 for home bread recipies, or 650-700 (for baugettes and pizza). I've got a commercial oven for that.

              I need ~400 for bread. If it can get to ~400 tops, it'll be great. And I'm guessing designs can be scaled up to that.

              Thanks for the info. I'm going to look into this further.

    •  Wow! (0+ / 0-)

      My last bill was for 433 KWH at $65.88, which is substantially better than how I did last year at this time, but now where near as good as you.

      I live in FL and have the thermostat set at 80 degrees. I always use cold water to wash my clothes and I'm a stickler for keeping lights turned off when I don't need them.

      Currently, I'm replacing my incandescent bulbs with CFLs and I've got alot of my electronics plugged into a single power strip (my entertainment center for example) so I can shut them off completely - no need for them to be using power when I'm not using them.

      Hopefully those will help make a difference in my bill.  

      I'm a renter, so some home improvements aren't an option for me.

  •  solar is getting better & better, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Cheaper & cheaper. There are definite issues with photovoltaics- primarily that one has to engage in the destructive activity of mining just to get the materials for solar panels- that said, at least you only neeed to dig it up once, instead of drilling, pumping & burning stuff indefinitely. We have a solar panel the size of a coffee table that runs 2 good CFL reading lights + area lights, this laptop, charges batteries, & has juice left over to power an electric scooter. Very reliable, too. Our grid is constantly going down from windstorms in spring, thunder & lightening storms in summer, or the odd truck slamming into a pole, & we are often the only folks we know with electricity at these times.

    •  Back in the FAQ days (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Back when I wrote the FAQ in the early 90's the numbers were really bad.

      Today, well, it depends.

      There is a shortage of PV panels because demand exceeds supply. This is where public policy can enter the picture. One of the reasons that investors are leery of RE is because of what happened in the 1970's: Oil prices skyrocketed and RE investment surged. But by the early 1980's, the price of oil began to fall, and it just kept on falling. The bottom fell out of renewables, and a lot of people lost a lot of money.

      Today's situation is different. We are enetering an era of permanent supply shortfalls. But not everyone knows and there are a few who disagree. Government can offer tax incentives and subsidies that give confidence to private investors. They're doing it with ethanol, which has a poorer EROEI (although it is much more convenient for transportation than PV is).

      I don't want to launch on the policy question in depth because I wrote this diary about personal, individual action. But policy is important.

      Government matters.

  •  Thanks. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Good info

  •  Shamless begging (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    If you are interested in this topic, this diary, and want to see more ideas, consider hitting the "Recommend" button if you haven't already. The best way to get more people in the discussion is to get the diary in the rec list.

    I feel like I'm whoring just asking, but I'd really like to hear from more people (and, yes, I'd also like a recommended diary, I have to admit that!)

    Diaries fade so fast.

    Both as a writer and a reader that is the addest thing about Daily Kos: How much good stuff I miss because it fades from sight so fast.

    Search is good, but it can be hard to find the gems that way.

  •  Going Green (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The U.S. Department of Energy has a site where you can find information about purchasing renewable energy to provide electricity for your home.

    General information:

    Can you buy Green power in your state:

    I discovered that my city actually has such a program!  The one drawback for me is that it is more expensive and simply may not be an affordable option for me at this time.

  •  Number 7 ESPECIALLY (0+ / 0-)

    Eating locally grown, organic food, in my opinion, could be the greatest single thing any individual can do for the environment and for his or her well-being.

    broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the human race. - H.G. Wells

    by Brudaimonia on Fri Jul 07, 2006 at 08:42:57 PM PDT

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