The zero-emissions challenge

Zero emissions

Asymptotic Life has published an invaluable 10-part series on how to do an energy audit, with the aim of cutting back to zero carbon emissions. They live on a small ranch in rural Utah and explain the process. The posts are long, informative, and most definitely worth reading.

Part 1. Introduction

George Monbiot says we need to cut carbon emissions below zero to halt global warming. Yes, below zero, as this includes absorbing carbon already present. How can a household do this? The first step is to audit energy use. That’s what they did.

Part 2: Electric Use Audit

Create a spreadsheet with estimated amounts of energy used by each appliance, then determine where and how to cut usage. CFLs and turning off computers and printers are a good start. (Even with that, many devices still draw power when turned off. We need smarter, more efficient electronics, and while we’re at it, universal transformers too. Having one transformer per device that gets tossed out with the device is wasteful.)

Part 3: Heating

Their solution is to burn more wood and use less propane. However, I question the premise that burning wood is carbon-neutral because decaying wood emits carbon too. The rate of decay is much slower for decaying wood vs. a few hours for burning wood, thus the emissions get pumped out much faster with burning. Then there is the problem of particulate emission, which is particularly nasty from wood.

Part 4: Propane Appliances

They turn the hot water heater off at night to save propane. Tankless water heaters are another option, as they only heat water when needed (and do so extremely quickly) but are more expensive. Ditto for stoves with electronic ignition and no pilot light.

Part 5: Transportation

This is always the problematic one. How do we cut automobile usage? Car pool. Plan trips more efficiently so each trip accomplishes multiple things. Buy a more fuel-efficient car. None of which really solves the huge dependence on cars (and trucking) in America.

Part 6: Other Sources of Carbon Emissions

A single round-trip, cross-country flight produces half the Kyoto protocol’s 11,000 pound per person annual allowance of CO2.


Part 7: Tallying It Up

They found they could cut carbon emissions by nearly 70% using “simple and relatively inexpensive changes” but more than that would require major expenses, like for more solar, wind power, and a root cellar. One option, pay for the planting of trees.

Part 8: The Hard Way

To cut emissions to zero means they would use only their solar power for energy. This would lead to a much more primitive life style. Therein lies the problem. To cut emissions to zero on a national level would mean trucking and air transportation would stop, putting millions out of work as all the industries that depend on them would collapse too. A depression would inevitably follow.

In short, cutting emissions to zero the hard way would not be pretty. It would look a lot like the Stone Age, but with internet.

It behooves us all to look at cutting emissions in some sort of planned approach because, speaking for myself, the Stone Age is not where I want to live.

Part 9. Commitment to Action

Make a plan to cut energy, then stick to it. They have a detailed plan and will be reporting back on the implementation at the end of the year.

Part 10: Will You Take the Challenge?

I’ve posted about the step-by-step process through which my wife and I analyzed our CO2 emissions, and how we plan to reduce our carbon impact to zero. Now, I’ll ask you join me in taking the Zero Emissions Challenge. Because if we wait for someone else to act, we may wait too long.

Also includes links to resources to help you calculate your own carbon footprint.

There is a wealth of information in this series. Dive in.