Environment Forum

How much electricity do you use in a year?

It was a disarmingly simple question but, embarrassingly, I didn’t have a clue when first asked that 18 months ago. Even though I’d have to describe myself as a genuine tightwad when it comes to expenditures, I simply had no idea, strangely enough, about how much money my four-person household was spending on electricity — nor how much carbon dioxide was being produced.

Now, after a year of carefully tracking the daily use of electricity, I’ve discovered a bit about when and where power is being used and, in theory, saved — without much pain. It seemed like a no-brainer and it honestly was not hard to cut our consumption by 1,000 kilowatt hours in 2008 to 5,000 kWh — saving about 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2 in the process. There were only minor sacrifices: rigidly turning off “standby” switches and unused lights, pulling plugs on little-used appliances, putting in energy-efficient lightbulbs, using the washing machine sparingly and the dryer only rarely, and replacing an inefficient dishwasher with a low-energy model.

In the past year, we used as little as 4 kWh on some days (in the summer) and as much as 30 on others (in the winter) — although most days were in the 10-to-17 range. Annoyingly, the house “wasted” about 3 kWh per day when we were away on holiday — largely due to the refrigerator, which I’ll be emptying and turning off next time. The 2008 total of 5,000 kWh (which amounted to an electricity bill of about 1,000 euros) isn’t bad for four people (one rule of thumb I’ve seen is 1,500 kWh per person/year) but I’m convinced that usage could be even less (the benchmark of 1,000 kWh per person/year is considered “thrifty”).

So the goal at home for 2009 is to cut electricity consumption by another 1,000 kWh (saving another 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2) to 4,000 kWh. Having a photovoltaic system on the roof (it produced 3,800 kWh that went into the grid) has helped wake me up to the mathematics and economics of power consumption and the goal of producing 100 percent of the electricity we need is now tantalisingly within reach. (The utility has to pay me 49 cents per kWh for the solar power I “export” into their grid while I have to pay 20 cents per kWh for the electricity I “import”.)

My wife was not exactly thrilled at first at my turning-the-lights-off crusade, which she saw as an unhealthy obsession rather than a good habit. But I was eventually able to win her to the cause. It didn’t hurt to promise her the “windfall” profits from the power savings. Saving another 1,000 kWh in 2009 won’t be as easy, I fear. A new A++ fridge (refrigerators are the real power guzzlers in most households) is at the planning stage and perhaps a new energy-saving washing machine, too. They aren’t cheap but they should pay for themselves through energy savings in the long run — and save a lot of CO2 in the process. Closely tracking the amount of gas for heating and diesel fuel used for the car in 2008 proved to be insightful as well: we cut both by roughly a third in 2008 by simply turning down the thermostat and driving less.

On Antarctic safaris, remember to bring a microscope

Many people hope to come back from a wildlife safari with close-up pictures of lions or elephants – this picture below is my best attempt from a search for the largest land animals in Antarctica.

If you look hard you can see a reddish blob at the tip of the thumb — it’s Antarctica’s most aggressive land predator, an eight-legged mite known as Rhagidia.

Pete Convey, a biologist at the British Antarctic Survey (that’s his thumb), says that such tiny creatures evolved in Antarctica over tens of millions of years — they can freeze their bodies in winter in an extreme form of hibernation.

Landing in Antarctica — first icebergs

A buzz of excitement went around the plane (left) when a scientist spotted the first mountains of Antarctica through the window on a flight from the southern tip of Chile.

Even veteran Antarctic visitors say there’s something special every time they see the continent — after all, Antarctica was only first spotted in 1820 — Fabian von Bellingshausen, a Estonian who was a captain in the Russian navy, usually gets the credit.

Stuart Mc Dill of Reuters Television and I flew in with about a dozen scientists and other staff to the Rothera Base, run by the British Antarctic Survey, on the Antarctic Peninsula in a tiny Dash-7 plane from the southern tip of Chile.

from UK News:

Decision time at Heathrow

The government has approved the third Heathrow runway, in the interests of jobs and British competitiveness.

The third runway -- something airport operator BAA pledged it would not seek if it was granted permission to build Terminal 5 -- will open up a sharp political divide, with several Labour MPs, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats opposed to the idea.

A cross-party parliamentary group is expected to be formed this week to press for the construction of an airport in the Thames estuary, an idea that has the backing of London mayor Boris Johnson, and protest groups like Plane Stupid and Climate Rush say they will hold protests.

American Museum of Natural History Exhibit on Climate Change

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City is running a new exhibit on Climate Change. Prior to seeing the exhibit I had read one of the few reviews of it in the New York Times, which was very harsh and essentially described it as a version of ‘apocalypse now.’ Without having seen the exhibit, the review made me shake my head in disappointment that the Museum may have really overdone it and perhaps blown it.

However I just spent 3 hours going through the exhibit carefully and want to report that the NY Times review is incredibly misleading and even arrogant. It’s the kind of review I would have expected from the conservative Weekly Standard. The exhibit does not at all make one ” … feel like an agnostic attending church and listening to sermons about damnation …”

from FaithWorld:

Did climate change stoke past religious persecution?

A thought-provoking new book on Christianity's "lost history" holds that one of the central causes of 14th century religious persecution may well have been climate change. You can read my interview with author Philip Jenkins about "The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia -- and How It Died" on the Reuters website here.

"The Chronology of Christian sufferings under Islam closely mirrors that of Jews in Christian states," he writes, noting that "Around 1300, the world was changing, and definitely for the worse."

"If we seek a common factor that might explain this simultaneous scapegoating of vulnerable minorities, by far the best candidate is climate change, which was responsible for many economic changes in these years, and increased poverty and desperation across the globe."

California: Man the lifeboats!

California’s already in the vanguard on U.S. carbon reduction (well, planning so far), and now Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to be ready for rising sea levels.

 On Friday he ordered the state to study how high waters could rise and what to do about it, in an executive order which could be seen as the Cliffs Notes of why climate change is a big deal financially.


(PHOTO: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

2008 to be 10th hottest year: warming trend up, or stalling?

This year is set to be about the 10th warmest since records began in the 19th century, according to Phil Jones, a leading British climate scientist — see story here.

But does that confirm a long-term trend of global warming, stoked by human emissions of greenhouse gases, or show that it has stalled? The warmest year on record is now a while ago, in 1998.

Jones, head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, has no doubt that the underlying trend is still up — 1998 was an unusual year when global temperatures were boosted by an El Nino weather event in the Pacific Ocean. And this year, the opposite La Nina effect is cooling the planet.

Green Obama Dreams: Environment Bloggers Weigh in on The Historic Day

Kenyan blogger Juliana Rotich is the editor of Green Global Voices, which monitors citizen media in the developing world, and is a regular contributor to this page. Thomson Reuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone. 

Tim Hurst of Ecopoliticology blog posts an entertaining video titled ’5 Green Obama Dreams’. The video mentions his posts on high resolution energy resource maps and the solar powered lawnmower.

On the DotEarth blog, Andrew Revkin muses on the significance of Obama’s election, writing

“Post 2012″ strikes fear in carbon market players

No pun intended but for the world’s carbon community, times are looking a little black.

The global financial crisis, or GFC as it is being called this week during Australia’s largest ever carbon market gathering, is deeply troubling many participants. But a larger, more worrying issue remains “post 2012″.

This is when the Clean Development Mechanism under the current phase of the U.N. Kyoto Protocol runs out, along with the hundreds of CDM projects already approved and the 3,000 still awaiting approval by a U.N. board.