carbon

In these times of unnatural disasters—such as BP’s oil-hemorrhaging drill “spill,” as well as extreme weather events caused by increasing climate volatility—more people are seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint: i.e., their consumption of fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, and natural gas). We are all essentially junkies—or oiloholics—who don’t know how to live without these substances.

Power plants (especially those that burn coal), transportation (particularly emissions from cars, trucks, and jets), and energy use for homes and buildings (e.g., for heating and cooling) are the primary sources of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane. [For detailed information on the percentage of emissions from different sectors, see the U.S. Energy Information Administration: Energy Consumption Data and Architecture 2030’s data analysis.]

Until government and industry help shift our infrastructure and economy away from dinosaur fuels and into clean, renewable energy sources, we’ll never be able to get really “clean”—so we should all be pushing for government to end the huge subsidies and tax breaks for dirty energy industries and to support cleaner energy sources (e.g., local solar, wind, tidal power, biomass, and some types of biofuels—a topic for a future post). But we can also do a lot right now, in our everyday lives, to start weaning ourselves off the junk.

In addition to the most obvious steps that can be taken to reduce our direct use of fossil fuels and electricity generated by fossil fuels — such as driving as little as possible and conserving energy and water at home/work/school— there are lots of other ways that each of us can lessen our dependence on filthy fuels. You can do so in every area of your life, from choices you make for your home and household and yard and garden, to your vehicle/transportation, travelfood, and other consumer choices. For example, plastics and many household products (such as common cleaning products and personal care products) contain petrochemicals, most of which are toxic to humans and other animals, so it’s best to choose alternatives to such products (e.g., glass instead of plastic bottles/containers, and natural rather than synthetic chemical ingredients for household/personal products).

I’ve compiled this compendium of several other online resources that list other specific ways that we can start tackling our individual and collective carbon addiction, to gain a decent measure of independence from dirty energy sources:

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July 6, 2010
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If you’re thinking about doing a major renovation of your home or building a new home, I hope you’ll avail yourself of the growing number of resources on how to design and build houses that consume very little energy and that produce at least as much energy as they consume (i.e., net-zero-energy homes).

One of the most recent books on this topic is: Energy Free Homes for a Small Planet: A comprehensive guide to the design, construction, and economics of net-zero energy homes, by Ann V. Edminster (Green Building Press, December 2009). The publisher says: “Energy Free is designed to equip building professionals and homeowners alike with a toolkit for creating homes that use no more energy than they produce—this means homes that are free from the vagaries of energy-price fluctuations and that help to free society of the high political and environmental costs of fossil fuels. The author includes…step-by-step guidance on how to make decisions that will yield an energy-free residential project, whether a single-family home or multifamily building, new or existing, in an urban or a rural setting.” For more info about the book, click here.

One approach to designing and renovating homes so that they use very little energy is the Passive House approach, espoused by the Passive House Institute. The Passive House (or Passiv Haus) standard was originally developed in Germany. Passive houses are designed to reduce energy consumption by 80-90% compared to conventional houses. The first new home being built as a Passive House in California is a project of the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin (CLAM). The home, known as the Blue2 House, is an affordable second unit behind another home in Point Reyes Station; the main house was also renovated using some Passive House techniques.  CLAM is chronicling the home’s construction process and progress on a blog.

Other resources worth checking out include: GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, which has published several case studies of net-zero and near-net-zero energy homes; the Home of the Future program from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD); the Department of Energy’s Building America program; and Affordable Comfort Inc.’s Thousand Home Challenge and Deep Energy Reductions programs.

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June 3, 2010
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