Monday, 9 April 2012

#CTWW - Daily Challenges 2012

Change the World Wednesday is a fantastic concept curated by  Reduce Footprints which sets a weekly challenge to reduce our environmental impact.  Over the period of Lent, Reduce Footprints has set a daily challenge under the banner of an Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast.  I have been following these challenges on and off but March has been a particularly busy month and I haven't had the time to blog or otherwise respond to most of the challenges but now as Lent draws to a close I have some free time to reflect on the challenges and post some comments.

The challenges:

Week One challenges and responses from others can be found here.

Day 1 - Calculate your carbon footprint
My Carbon footprint for 2011 was 3.3te based on energy directly consumed, i.e. domestic gas and electricity and petrol but excluding the carbon footprint of goods and services used during the year - that is too difficult to calculate in any meaningful way.
Day 2 - Say no to bottled water and drink tap water
Tap water is perfectly palatable and has to meet higher purity criteria than bottled water so we always use tap water, the children have reusable bottles to take to school.
Day 3 - Only use your washing machine when you have a full load
Always. But we need to work on how quickly the laundry basket fills up!
Day 4 - Get a home energy audit from your local utility company
Our utility company does not offer this service, but we did our own audit last autumn to look for potential savings - sealing drafts, putting in extra insulation, putting up heavy curtains etc.
Day 5 - Save energy in the kitchen
Well fitting lids on pots helps, also using the minimum quantity of water possible to boil/steam vegetables and cooking extra portions for reheating, especially when it comes to the big pot of soup.
Day 6 - Remove one light bulb from your home
We skipped this one but every light bulb is a low energy bulb, 20 watts or less, and I do run around the house ensuring people have switched them off when leaving the room...
Day 7 - Learn about current scientific thinking on how extreme weather events are caused by climate change
There are plenty of examples of this, such as the large number of tornadoes that hit the US last year, drought in many parts of England, more rain in the west of Scotland, possibly triggering landslides. Changes to ocean currents and jetstreams are all part of the mix.
Week Two challenges and responses from others can be found here.

Day 8 - Reduce the number of plastic bags you use
I try to avoid them at all times. Possibly slightly obsessed by them but wary of some alternatives. My last plastic bag post.
Day 9 - Think about greening your "final arrangements"
This is a bit morbid to dwell on but one of the neighbouring areas recently opened a new more environmentally friendly crematorium.
Day 10 - Host a party with friends and neighbors to watch and discuss a film on the environment
Discussed issues with friends & colleagues instead.
Day 11 - Plant a tree
We planted a tree in our garden about 10 years ago and don't have space for another. We are members of the National trust for Scotland which is encouraging natural regeneration of woodlands and other habitats through management of harmful activities, such as overgrazing by deer.
Day 12 - Don't eat any meat
We are working on this, we eat less meat than a few years ago, partially relpacing it with beans and pulses, but we still have a way to go to wean ourselves completely off it.
Day 13 - Put on a sweater and turn down your thermostat
I am wearing one now.
Day 14 - Ask your electricity and gas suppliers if they have a green or renewable energy plan
I am wary of of these schemes. If I opt for the "green" option, my electricity supplier will feed electricity generated from its wind farms in to the grid to match my electricity consumption. But it will feed all the renewable energy that it generates in to the grid  regardless of which tariff people are on.  It will also count all of the renewable energy it generates as part of its overall supply regardless of whether it is ring fenced for green tariff customers.

Week Three challenges and responses from others can be found here.

Day 15 - Consider setting your hot water thermostat to 120°F
Hot water thermostat is at 55°C (130°F) but is only on when we expect to use it, i.e. first thing in the morning and in the evening. I've now adjusted to 50°C and we'll see of we notice the difference.
Day 16 - Dry your clothes on a clothes line
Letting the side down here, we lost our line during building works last summer and replacing it is still on the "to do" list.
Day 17 - Clean or replace air filters
We don't have air filters
Day 18 - Reduce your use of household cleaning products, soaps, shampoos, hair care products and other items which contain chemicals
We try to keep it simple, avoiding products with triclosan and excessive fragrance.
Day 19 - Fireplaces - we love them and we want to use them but ...
We don't have a fireplace.
Day 20 - Find out who your elected representatives are and tell them what you're doing through the Carbon Fast
I will do, and we have a local council election in May. I'm keen to get the candidates views on local environmental issues. 
Day 21 - Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline
I have previously signed a petition against this and have tweeted about it. I don't like telling others how they should run their own country but I'm happy to promote the issues.
Week Four challenges and responses from others can be found here. 

Day 22 - War affects the environment
It does, in many ways. The aftermath of war can be decades of exposure to depleted uranium shells, unexploded ordnance or landmines which sterilise areas suitable for agriculture as well as killing and maiming anyone who treads on the wrong place, most often children. Destruction of oil wells in the first gulf war and water treatment works in the second add to the toll of environmental degradation and human suffering. Then there was testing of nuclear weapons on pacific atolls. 
Day 23 - Weather and climate change
The Day 7 Challenge also relates to this.  In the UK, more people are affected by flooding but that isn't entirely down to climate change: it has been caused by changes we have made to river systems, including building on traditional flood plains.  As populations increase globally, especially in cities, the same is happenning elsewhere so that only small increases in rainfall caused by climate change can have a disproportionate effect on people.
Day 24 - Environmental justice
There are clearly different sorts of justice in different parts of the world.  Compare the environmental impacts and accountability for BP's Deepwater Horizon accident with Union Carbide's Bhopal accident, for example.
Day 25 - Children and climate change
The linked article highlights some of the effects of climate change which affect children more acutely but of greater concern to me are the effects of pollution on children, such as contaminated drinking water and airbourne pollutants from industry and desertification.
Day 26 - Climate change and world hunger
Local changes in climate has an impact on food production.  The Russian wheat crop in 2010 was badly affected by drought. English farmers are changing their mix of crops due to drought, crops that need water, such as potatoes and carrots are being replaced with other crops. The food distribution systems are broken too and that exacerbates the problem - Oxfam Food Price Spike Map
Day 27 - Reuse, recycle and compost
Start with reduce or refuse, before reuse and recycling! We compost raw vegetable waste such as peelings and eggshells along with the garden waste but we don't compost cooked waste or animal products as these can attract vermin unless you use a sealed composting system. 
Day 28 - Reduce water usage
Changed toilet to dual-flush type a couple of years ago and use an electric shaver rather than water. 
Week Five challenges and responses from others can be found here.
Day 29 - Have a truly "Green" lawn and garden
There was an article in the Independent newspaper a few weeks back on this topic, presenting a fairly negative view. I posted my thoughts on the matter in "How Green are Green Fingers".
Day 30 - World Water Day
I have previously posted a couple of articles on water and sanitation.  In Water, Water, Everywhere I present some figures from WaterAid and from the Waterfootprint Network which together show the disparity between access to water and the amount of water we in the UK (and other developed countries) import. One kilogramme of chocolate has a water footprint of 24000 litres!  There was also an inrteresting article in the Independent here, with my comments here.
Day 31 - Be conscious about water and energy use when washing dishes 
Yes, wait until there are enough dishes to use a full basin of water. Or that the dishwasher is full. 
Day 32 - Take a shower instead of a bath 
I normally do, and only every other day as far as possible. The children tend to have a bath sure to their dry skin but only a shallow bath and they share the water. 
Day 33 - Save paper 
Why does the paperless office use so much paper? I always print double sided and only the pages I need from a document. I get frustrated when I print an email and so much paper is used by the headers or the "Please think before printing" logo spills on to a fresh sheet of paper. Doh.
Day 34 - Keep your highway driving speed between 55 and 60 mph 
If I'm travelling for business I try to give myself time so that I can stick to 60 mph max.
Day 35 - Company travel and managing environmental footprint 
We don't use this scheme but we have started to record how much travel (especially air travel) that we avoid by using teleconferencing.
Week Six challenges and responses from others can be found here.

Day 36 - Bicycle sharing
We don't have anything like this in Glasgow but we do have a growing number of cyclists. I think better facilities for cyclists would be more beneficial than bicycle sharing in the first instance.
Day 37 - Address your "standby" habits
Every evening I go around the house checking that battery chargers, cell phone charges etc are all off.  I used to charge my phone overnight but it only needs a couple of hours to charge so I've adjusted my routine and charge it first thing in the morning or in the evening.
Day 38 - Read about climate change
I've read extensively on climate change over the years.  The Huff Post website has a lot of very interesting articles.
Day 39 - Celebrate Earth Hour
Can I put the lights back on yet?
Day 40 - Walk, bike, take public transportation or carpool
Walking/bike are certainly best for short trips but for longer trips it is harder. Often public transport takes much longer, is infrequent and considerably more expensive than driving.  My five mile commute to work takes almost double the time and costs more than double when I use the bus compared with driving, but on the upside I get to read my book.   
Day 41 - Eco Justice
Twenty percent of the world's population uses 80% of the resources (and we are in the 20%).  Herve Kempf discusses some aspects of this in his book: How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth.  He talks of pressures to emulate the wealthy, the growing disparity between rich and poor and the things the impoverished must do to survive
Day 42 - End junk mail
We have registered with the Mail Preference Service which puts you on a list to not receive direct mailings from companies. It doesn't stop circulars put through every house by the postman but it eliminates some junk mail.  While typing this I came across this website which has information on how to opt out of the unaddressed fliers but it does appear difficult and ineffective.
Day 43 - Buy Locally grown food
We often shop at the local farmers market and grow a small amount of food in our garden.
Day 44 - Read about the enormous amount of water used in electricity generation
I read the Union of Concerned Scientists report and was surprised at how much water is used by thermal power stations
Day 45 - The Earth Charter
The The Earth Charter looks like a fantastic idea but it needs more support at grass roots level to have an impact on global policies.

Day 46 - Replace the lightbulb from Day 6 with a CFL and review the actions taken over the daily challenges.
We use CFL bulbs throughout the house and I have reviewed the daily challenges here.

Many of the daily challenges give practical ideas on ways to reduce our footprints, while others have given food for thought and I'm sure I'll be back to several items on this list on future posts.

A big Thank You to Reduce Footprints for putting this together and if you haven't been involved, there will be a new weekly challenge this Wednesday.


  1. Nice post. You might like this cartoon about bottled water Bottled Water Cartoon and this post on the same subject Tap or Bottled Water?

    1. I liked the cartoon, but then there is the water footprint of chocolate...