Thursday, 27 May 2010

Day Ten: Planning for The Future

I've not posted a blog in three days - tut tut. This is not because I've decided to abandon this project, quite the contrary, I've been busying myself with research and, a bit of first time venture for me - the garden.

I'm lucky enough to have a manageable little spot here that, I hope, will one day become a great resource for both myself and my partner in future years. Now though, I need to garner my green skills by finding out how to actually make the garden work for us. I confess, apart from growing a few pansies in a pot on the patio, my knowledge of horticulture is limited and so, this year, I've taken it upon myself to take those first tentative steps into the world of 'grow your own'. Spurred on my the likes of the wonderful Alys Fowler, I have done the impossible (in my mind anyway) and have actually cultivated plants from, wait for it, seed. This may not seem like a big deal to many people, but for me it's quite an accomplishment. In my garden at the moment I have a few herbs - Rosemary, Thyme and Mint that seem to be doing well. I have successfully grown peppers, chillies and tomatoes from seed that, after a few nail biting weeks, now seem to be getting stronger every day. I find myself weeding, pruning and also, much to my surprise, consciously thinking about my garden rather than just sticking some plants in the ground and hoping for the best. Last night, for example, saw the first real downpour of rain in quite a while and, as I lay in bed listening to the rain, I was wondering - I hope my plants are okay. I awoke to bright sunshine again this morning and to find my little seedlings looking healthier than ever - hopefully a modest crop will present itself later in the year. 

Aside from my new found gardening pleasures, I have found some interesting little nuggets of information through my research. The Green Build Expo, for example is a two day event in Manchester that promises to showcase all the potential renewable energy sources we could be using. The event is free and, by targeting large national builders, tradesmen and the like, seems to me a great sign that the environmental agenda is getting pushed more and more into the limelight. You'll also be please to hear that the few shopping trips I've taken have all been either on foot or by bike, and I have made a conscious effort to buy the right sorts of food - environmentally friendly, organic, fair trade and with minimal packaging. My recycling boxes now greatly outweigh my 'non-recyclable' waste and, apart from a snotty note from the bin men asking me to cut my cardboard into smaller pieces, the whole transition seems to have gone without a hitch. I've been washing my clothes at 30 degrees, taking showers instead of baths and have become a full member of the Green Party. Phew. That was exhausting. What remains to be seen is how all of this will pan out over the coming weeks/months. I am still far from leading a 'carbon neutral' life, but feel I'm on the right track.

- James

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Monday, 24 May 2010

Day Seven: Create, Bristol

So the weekend saw an unseasoned heatwave and saw me do my bit by cycling over to Bristol (about an 18 mile round trip) to visit the Create centre. Unfortunately, I didn't plan ahead and when I got there it was closed! Eco-homes don't open on a Sunday apparently. Still, the ride was great and I did get a chance to peek through the windows and have a nose around the garden. As good as it all looked, without actually going inside, I confess I can't really say a lot about the place - a second visit needs to take place I think!

 Aside from my apparent awful planning, what came as a pleasant surprise was the actual cycle over there. I have lived in and around Bristol for most of my life and have always taken the city for granted. As a relative newcomer to cycling as a form of transport, and not just as a recreation, I was surprised to learn that Bristol is the UK's most bike friendly city (that's official) and I can see why. Bike lanes everywhere on the roads, plenty of bike racks and there just seems to be an absolute acceptance of cyclists on the roads - not one angry impatient driver revved their engine behind me. The cycle track I took from Bath (Sustrans 4) takes you right into Bristol's main train station, and from there it is easy to get across the city to practically wherever you want to go. I will confess, not having ridden my bike long distances since I was about, well 11, the journey did take it's toll on me but, 24 hours later, I feel refreshed and a little bit smug.

- James

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Friday, 21 May 2010

Day Four: To BBQ, or not to BBQ?

What a glorious day! Temperatures have hit 25 degrees in my little corner of the planet, and all of a sudden it feels like summer. It's hot, muggy and there's that feeling in the air that barbeque's will be happening up and down the country this weekend - just remember you carbon footprint when you're stoking up those coals. It struck me that I actually did not know which fuel was best to use on my barbeque, up until now I have always used charcoal (mostly through the lack of a gas powered unit), but what is actually environmentally better?

A little digging later and I found out that research has shown that gas barbeque's are the most C02 efficient, churning out approximately 2.5kg of C02 per hour, with charcoal coming in at around 5kg. This is, of course, based on the use of a certain type of charcoal - a mix of things like sawdust, corn starch, lighter fluid and borax(!?) - the kind you get in those ready to light bags at the petrol station, and more commonly known as 'briquettes'. Real charcoal, or 'lump wood' charcoal, is made directly from hard wood and can produce significantly lower emissions, but still does not reach the lows of natural gas. The problem here is that this 'real' charcoal isn't always readily available and, if it has to be transported for thousands of miles to get to your back garden, there's the danger it's lower emissions are negated by the carbon it takes to transport it. All very complex, as per usual. Gas, of course, does have the drawback of it's origins - it's a fossil fuel and, as such, is non-renewable; whereas charcoal is renewable.

So what do you do? Have nothing but salad? Massage your statistics to offset the C02 emissions against something else that you haven't done: I didn't drive my car to buy the coal, therefore that negates the emissions of me burning it. The truth is, in this situation, it's a little bit 'you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't' - helpful, I know. There is, however, progress being made in sourcing and producing an environmentally sound charcoal to use on your barbeque. Amidst some Googling, I discovered a wonderful French company called 'Green Hearts', they produce 100% certified carbon neutral charcoal briquettes. Very simply put: they plant enough trees to replace those they turn into charcoal - take a look at Gilles Provenzano (one of the company's founders) talking about the product below. Also, not that this adds any eco-credentials to the product but I thought it worth mentioning - they're heart shaped so, you know, you feel like you're doing something good!

The product is currently not available in the UK (sigh), but there are alternative eco-friendly products you can buy from places like Nigel's Eco Store that may not claim to be 100% carbon neutral, but they're one step closer, and a damn sight better than what you'd find at Tesco's petrol station. So fret no more - that barbeque you were planning can still go ahead.

- James

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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Day Two: 50 Things You Can Do

So it's day two. I've successfully calculated my own personal 'carbon footprint' and I'm ready to take on the world! Not that it's that easy, of course.

Those of you who may follow my Twitter feed (@c02neutralproj) may know that I already hit a small hurdle this morning. The mission: to get into the city centre to buy one item (a bike pump) without the need for cars, buses or public transport. Now, I used to walk to work everyday and it never bothered me, but faced with an ominous, heavy gray sky and seeing the bus, which stops virtually outside my house, every hour made my 'lazy gene' kick in, and I very nearly succumbed. You'll be glad to hear that I did not take the bus, and I did indeed cycle - and I feel all the better for it!

So now, new bike pump in hand I feel a renewed sense of 'eco-pride' (if there is such a thing) and am ready to get on with living the environmentally friendly life I've subscribed to. As a good start my partner came home yesterday, from a course of renewable energy, with, low and behold, a leaflet called: '50 things you can do to lead a more sustainable lifestyle' - my project, it seems, has the backing of the Powers That Be, or something like that. The list is mostly very achievable with things like: take showers instead of baths, turn your thermostat down by 1 degree and change to energy efficient light bulbs. These are all things that I am either already doing, or can easily fit into my lifestyle so, you know, kudos for me. You can find the full list of 50 on my page '50 Things' here, so you don't have to read through pages and pages of bullet-points in this post. Suffice to say, of the 50 things, I reckon I can easily fulfill at least 36 of them, but that does still leave me with a heinous 14 that either do not really apply to me, or are unachievable at the moment (install Solar Panels, for example - I do not have the cash for that right now).

One thing I have come to notice in all my research is that this whole 'environmentally friendly' lark really is a lot more complex than you might think. I stumbled across this video from the blog Every Small Thing and it just goes to show how you may think you're doing something beneficial for the environment, but in actual fact you're not helping at all. You'll never look at a paper towel in the same way again.

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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Day One: Calculate my Carbon

Before I throw myself into an 'eco' lifestyle, I first need to assess what my impact is now. There's not much point in doing this if I can't compare it to my life before. This experiment is hardly what I'd call scientific, but this is the closest I'm going to get to having some kind of 'control' to compare my results against. 

Here's where you have to be careful with the statistics, and things get very fuzzy, very fast. On a personal level, I would argue my impact on the environment is small, but then it's not just me I have to consider. I live with my partner and, although my impact may be small, I cannot ignore our joint impact. We run (although I personally do not drive) a 2.0 litre diesel Land Rover, for one thing. Up until this experiment it was the norm to drive to the local supermarket to load up with a weeks shopping (interspersed with eco products where possible) and back again. It may only be a fifteen minute round trip, but calculate that over a year and that's around 13 hours of gas guzzling. So our 'Carbon Footprints' then, in my opinion, should be calculated using the 'unit' you call home. This may comprise of just yourself, or a family of seven, either way I believe that the 'home' (and all its constituent parts) is what needs to be assessed.

You may argue, 'how else would I do my shopping without a car?' - This is what I want to find out. Get the bus maybe? Practically though, few of us have the luxury of public transport links to the places we want to go. Then there's the crux of the issue: which is better? If you don't live in a major city (like me) then getting the bus may not be the better option. The bus closest to me, for example, rarely has more than two or three passengers, and of course runs all day everyday, stopping and starting and emitting C02 like crazy - surely the car is more efficient? All of these issues are a little foggy, a little contradictory even. So, to kick things off, I calculated my carbon footprint in order to see where I stand (pardon the pun), and here's what I got:

According to Mark Lynas' criteria here:

I came in just over 6 tonnes (roughly around 12 tonnes for both myself and my partner, over a year.) This put's me in the 'not too bad' category, apparently. When you consider though, according to Lynas, a sustainable carbon budget per person should be around 1 tonne annually, it sort of takes the shine of being in the 'not too bad' category. Obviously this 1 tonne ideal emission is pretty much unreachable for the average person in the world today, but that doesn't make me want to shave off a few kilo's here and there any less. Just in case you're interested, here's how my carbon footprint stacked up:

Carbon Footprint (over 1 year, for just me)
  • Gas = 851.2 kg
  • Electricity = 614.47 kg
  • Car emissions = 1,484.3 kg
  • Return flight to Barcelona = 1,282 kg
  • Other (manufacturing, retail & services) = 2,000 kg
My carbon footprint = 6,232 kg (around 6 tonnes)

So, now that I know what affect I'm having now, it's time to start reducing it.

- James
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The Carbon Neutral Project - What's the 'Big Idea'?

What is my 'Carbon Footprint'?

Up until recently, I would have said minimal, negligible, maybe even (dare I say it) neutral. How do I know this? Why do I care? What affect can I really have on the environment, and can 'we' really make a difference?

I have always considered myself fairly low on the list of carbon criminials, for one simple reason: I do not own a car - but does that really make me exempt from all this? The short answer is, of course, a big fat no. I may nag my friends to recycle, and despair at those who refuse to take a look at the mounting evidence that we're all going to be screwed in a few years time; but can I really call myself an environmentalist? I decided to take a step back and look at my personal impact on the planet and try to lead as eco-friendly a life as I possibly could. I will follow the guidelines that we are bombarded with almost on a daily basis and, more importantly, find out why I'm following them and ascertain the impact (or lack thereof) my actions will have.

When I came to planning this project, I hit a wall: how long should this go on for? The answer? I really don't know. You could argue that by living an eco-friendly life for, say a month, would be enough to show how easy or difficult, how effective or ineffective and how necessary or indeed unnecessary it all is. It's mid-May though and I know that, given the bright sunny weather, I'm going to be far more interested in growing my own food, walking to the shops and all the other eco-friendly things that are, let's face it, much more alluring with the chance of a suntan, than I would be in November.

This project then, will last as long as it lasts. I have no 'yard stick' to go by and no means of comparing any results I may come across to any sort of reliable 'control' experiment. This is all, you might say, a work in progress.

To avoid losing all but the already converted 'Green' people amongst us, here's the crux of what I want to find out: can I lead a 'Carbon Neutral' life, and what impact will it have?

So as to give as accurate a picture as possible, I will be blogging as often as I can. I will let you in on all the nitty-gritty details that you don't often hear about and tell you what it's like, in all aspects of my day to day living, to lead a 'Carbon Neutral' (or as close as I can get to it) life. I would also really appreciate any feedback and ideas from those whom stumble across this blog, I'm firmly of the belief that the more issues like these are discussed, the better educated we all become.

Wish me luck,

- James

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