Be more energy ef­fi­cient

NZ Lifestyle Block - - The Good Life -

Then there are the old-but-still-true things like turn­ing off lights when you leave a room, us­ing energy-ef­fi­cient ap­pli­ances (ef­fi­ciently!) and avoid­ing fly­ing. It might be over­whelm­ing to con­tem­plate wean­ing our­selves off fos­sil fu­els com­pletely, but re­duc­ing what we cur­rently use is easily achiev­able. Those are ways to re­duce car­bon emis­sions. But the other way to deal with the phys­i­cal prob­lem is to seek ways to cap­ture and store the car­bon af­ter it is emit­ted. This is much harder as it’s much more dis­persed and it’s one ar­gu­ment in favour of elec­tric cars; in­stead of many ex­haust pipes there would (in the­ory) be only a few large gen­er­a­tion sites.

Years ago I lis­tened to Can­ter­bury Univer­sity’s Dr Su­san Krumdiek de­liver her ‘myth-bust­ing’ lec­ture (see the box at right if you want to read it). One of her main points was that if you Google some­thing and all you get is artist im­pres­sions of what it will look like, chances are it doesn’t ex­ist. Car­bon Cap­ture and Stor­age (CCS) from coal­burn­ing, elec­tric­ity-gen­er­at­ing plants was one of the myths she touched on. Try a search of it, go to Google’s im­age op­tion and you’ll see for your­self.

Stor­ing car­bon in trees (and other grow­ing things) is valid and worth do­ing for a host of other rea­sons. We have to re­mem­ber though, that a ma­ture for­est - whether it’s a fully-grown ex­otic one or Fiord­land - can­not draw in more car­bon. Only new growth does the job and then only if it is never chopped down, or if it is turned into some­thing (like house fram­ing) which will lock it in for hun­dreds of years. Even­tu­ally, of course, you run out of new places to plant, you start com­pet­ing with other land uses, and no amount of re-foresta­tion can ad­dress our cur­rent rate of car­bon emit­ting any­way.

The best thing to plant, I heard re­cently, is na­tives as their habi­tat slowly moves south (as it gets warmer). There used to be a school of thought that you should plant only lo­cal seed stock, but cli­mate change may mod­ify that view too.

The spin-offs from plant­ing can be many: it can dou­ble as shel­ter, con­trol the loss of wa­ter (re­ten­tion or eva­po­ra­tion), en­cour­age bio­di­ver­sity, and it’s self­gen­er­at­ing: the birds come, scat­ter seeds and the seeds self-se­lect. Well, some­times. On our block it seems that hawthorn is pretty good at se­lect­ing it­self.

The change in ground cover also leaves less area to man­i­cure, of­ten sav­ing fos­sil fu­els in the process.

The down­side - and this is from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence - is the need to main­tain, prune, thin and de-weed those trees. These can be sat­is­fy­ing tasks with a lot of at­ten­dant feel-good fac­tor about them, but they’re never-end­ing. We prob­a­bly could have looked to ben­e­fit from the car­bon-off­set­ting of our trees but chose not to do so be­cause if you trace that ‘money’ through, chances are it would just ini­ti­ate more fos­sil fuel use. What­ever we choose, our in­di­vid­ual ac­tions will have flow-on ef­fects; if we’re not buy­ing and con­sum­ing so much we might have more time on our hands. Or maybe not, by the time we’ve used it to plant all those trees, grow all our own food and travel more slowly.

If the world does in­deed make a se­ri­ous at­tempt to wean it­self from fos­sil fu­els, it’s go­ing to be an ex­cit­ing time. I’m

The Role of Science, An­gela Merkel 1998 www.sci­encemag.org/ con­tent/281/5375/336.full

look­ing for­ward to so­lar pan­els ef­fi­cient enough to mount on my bike, and to the ap­pli­ca­tion of so­lar energy to agri­cul­ture which would lend a whole new mean­ing to mak­ing hay while the sun shines. n

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