Being the Change – Book Review

What if burning less fossil fuel made you feel healthier and happier?

Reading Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution will show you that you can hugely reduce your fossil fuel use and have a good time doing it.

Being the Change by Peter Kalmus Book CoverLast November, I was browsing the Volumes of Pleasure book table at the Central Coast Bioneers conference in San Luis Obispo, CA when I spotted Being the Change by climate scientist Peter Kalmus. I read the back cover and flipped through the book.

Kalmus’ message seemed to be that you could substantially reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and still enjoy your life. I think many people are fearful of life without fossil fuels because they are worried that it will be all about struggle and deprivation. I liked the upbeat tone of the book so I bought it.

Book Review

In the first part of Being the Change, Kalmus talks about what motivated him to change his life and then provides an overview of global warming. In the second part, Kalmus describes specific changes he has made in his own life on the individual/family level and then wraps up with a review of large-scale actions that we need to take at the governmental and societal level to mitigate climate change.

Part I: Predicament

It comes as no surprise that Kalmus became interested in learning about global warming just after the birth of his first child, which made him look further into the future and beyond himself.

Like many of us, Kalmus’ life ran on burning fossil fuels and he lived enmeshed in the society that constantly urges us to buy more stuff. He decided to reduce his own fossil fuel use dramatically and in doing so perhaps encourage some other people to join him. I agree with Kalmus that small actions do matter and can lead to larger actions. I also concur that trying to make people feel fear or guilt is not a good motivator and that we cannot shop our way out of our predicament.

I think Kalmus did a good job of explaining the science and far-reaching consequences of global warming using mostly “regular people” language. However, I do understand if you find your eyes glazing over and want to skip ahead. This information is really, really important so if you can only absorb a little at a time, read ten or twenty pages and then go do something else or read ahead and then come back to this part later.

“The Earth system answers only to the laws of physics, not to the needs of humans.” —Peter Kalmus

Part II: A Mammal in the Biosphere

Over several chapters, Kalmus tells stories about starting a food garden, converting an old car to run on waste vegetable oil, biking everywhere, beekeeping, and a variety of other actions. He openly shares his successes and setbacks. I see these pages as being more about describing what is possible and encouraging you to think about what changes you can and want to make in your own life versus following his path.

Perhaps because he is a scientist, Kalmus calculated his pre-change and post-change carbon emissions or maybe he just did it for fun. He provides information for readers who want to do their own calculations.

The last few chapters describe actions requiring legislative support like putting a price on carbon, community actions such as participating in backyard produce exchanges, and love.

“When I feel unsure about whether or not I should speak out, I think of the billions of people with no voice on the matter. I think of those who are most vulnerable. I think of my children. And then the decision to speak out is easy.” —Peter Kalmus

The Bottom Line

By day, Peter Kalmus is a physicist and climate scientist working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The rest of the time, he strives to reduce his reliance on fossil fuels and live happily with his family.

As a climate scientist Kalmus has the necessary chops and knowledge to write about what causes global warming, how it impacts Earth (and us), and what the future holds (of course, no one really knows what will happen in the future).

I am an avid reader and I have read many books about global warming, climate change, and activism. I think Being the Change provides readers with solid information and practical inspiration. One thing that sets it apart from many of the books I have read is that Kalmus focuses on the joyfulness possible in a world without fossil fuels.

I recommend reading Being the Change to anyone who is planning to continue residing on Earth or who is concerned about his or her children or future people’s ability to do so.

Featured Image at Top: Gingerbread Person with a Smile Peeking out from of a Line of Gingerbread People – Photo Credit iStock/AlasdairJames

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Energy Awareness Month – 10 Energy Saving Tips

You have the power to conserve energy.

This October, fulfill the promise you made to yourself earlier in the year to get serious about saving energy and reducing your carbon footprint.

October is an ideal time to address your energy use for a number of reasons. First, you still have plenty of time to put energy saving ideas into action before cold winter weather arrives in earnest and the holiday season diverts your attention. Second, if you enjoy challenging yourself during national awareness days or months, you are in luck because October is Energy Awareness Month (it should be Energy Action Month). Third, reducing your energy use can also save you money.

I realize that switching to LED light bulbs and putting on a sweater instead of cranking up the heat will not stop Americans from burning fossil fuels. However, if millions of Americans take these and other seemingly small actions, it all adds up and can make a significant impact.

For instance, if each American household tackled their energy vampires for Halloween we could save 100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and use it to provide the annual power needs of 35 million Americans.1

I believe that taking action, even a tiny action, acts as a strong antidote for inertia. The first action may be difficult but each subsequent action is easier because you gain momentum.

Are you ready to take action to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint? If you are, below are ten tips of varying degrees of difficulty and expense to help you get your creative juices flowing. Most of the tips include links to other posts where you can get more information and find useful resources.

Light with LEDs

If you have not made the switch to LED light bulbs yet, now is the time.

Residential LEDs use 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and they do not contain hazardous mercury as compact fluorescents do.2

The cost of LEDs has dropped dramatically over the past several years and now you can purchase an LED light bulb for around $2.00 maybe less (depending on wattage and type).

If you put LED bulbs in your indoor and outdoor light fixtures this month, you may not need to change a light bulb for a couple of decades and you will immediately reduce your energy use. You can even decorate your Christmas tree with a few strings of colored LEDs.

Snug House

Snug House - Scarf Wrapped Around Miniature HouseKeeping cold air outside and warm air inside during winter months and vice versa during the summer is a good idea, right. What you may not realize is how even small air leaks can wreak havoc with your heating and cooling bills. For example, a 1/8” gap under your front door lets in as much air as if the door had a 2 ¼” hole.3

Fortunately, you can shore up your home’s air defenses with a caulking gun, door sweeps, and weather stripping. You may be able to reduce some air leaks with things you have on hand like rolling up a bath towel to minimize door drafts. I folded up a piece of cardboard and stuck in a crack where the weather stripping on the fixed side of our double front door did not quite reach the threshold.

Read more in Seal Air Leaks to Reduce Home Energy Use and Cost.

Take Advantage of Your Thermostat

A thermostat is a useful device for moderating your home heating and cooling system. Turning back your thermostat 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day could save you 10% on your heating and cooling bills.If you frequently forget to adjust your thermostat when you leave for work, try hanging your keys on a hook next to it.

Learn more about thermostats, recommended temperatures, and thermostat options by reading Use Your Thermostat to Save Energy and Money.

Staying Warm Indoors

On average, home space heating consumes a whopping 42% of the energy Americans use in our homes.5 Hot air rises and cold air sinks so during the winter we are living in the coolest layer of our homes.

You probably take care to dress appropriately for the weather when you go outdoors in the winter so why not carry that theme indoors. Instead of ratcheting up your heater consider wearing clothing made of warmer materials or trying one or more of the tips in 7 Ways to Stay Warm Indoors in the Winter and Be Green.

 Shower Power

Low-flow showerheads are water and energy saving devices. Using less water also means using less energy to heat water. A standard showerhead sprays out at least 2.5 gallons of water per minute even when you are lathering up your body or washing your hair.

Low Flow Handheld ShowerheadWhen you switch to a low-flow showerhead that puts out 1.6 gallons of water per minute you can easily cut your water use by 25% and reduce the energy needed to heat your shower water. If you buy a model with a “trickle” button or a shut-off valve you can reduce your water and energy use even more by restricting the water flow while you are soaping up.

Even non-handy people like me can easily install a low-flow showerhead for under $50.00.

Use Your Dishwasher

Washing dishes by hand is not a water or energy saving activity. A kitchen faucet pumps out 2.5 gallons of water per minute so you may be using more water than you think filling up the sink or a dish tub and then rinsing dishes.

Cramming a bunch of dishes in a dishwasher willy-nilly may result in some items not getting clean so do pay attention to where the spray jets are and learn to load your dishwasher efficiently.

Green and Lazy Laundry

Doing the laundry is a habit that you learn and then repeat thousands of times over your lifetime so you may find energy and water savings hiding in your laundry room.

I did not think much about my own laundry habits until my kids went away to college but if you have children at home you do not have to wait that long. If you are interested in evaluating your laundry habits, you may find the posts Laundry – Laziness is Good and Greening Your Laundry Habits useful.

Extra Credit: Using the sun to dry your clothes on a clothesline is a significant energy saving action, but I admit that I do not do it, at least not yet.

 Tackle Your Energy Vampires

Energy Vampire - Cell Phone ChargerAn energy vampire is a piece of equipment that sucks power even when it is not in use; this is called standby power. For instance, a cell phone charger left in a wall socket or a television both draw power just standing by waiting for you to use them.

Our Halloween activity for 2013 was tackling our energy vampires. It was fun, easy, and inexpensive. A few weeks after we completed our energy vampire project I learned the hard way that cable boxes must be on standby power to receive system updates. Our cable television service was abruptly discontinued without notice because our cable box had been going offline each evening. Now I leave it on.

Energy and Water Efficient Appliances

I am not advocating buying new appliances unless you need to replace a worn out or un-repairable appliance or piece of equipment. However, if you are in the market for a new refrigerator, air conditioner, or television, consider adding energy and water efficiency to your list of must-have features.

Look for the ENERGY STAR and WaterSense labels to identify and compare appliances and equipment. I wrote about my search for a high-efficiency replacement dishwasher in Dishwashers – Top 3 Eco-Friendly Features.

Go Solar

There is no better time than right now to go solar. Solar panel prices are low, tax incentives are available, and the summer rush for solar installers is over. You can increase the value of your home with solar panels while reducing or eliminating your electric bills. If you do not want to buy a rooftop solar system, then consider leasing.

Purchasing solar panels for your home is a sound financial investment and even more importantly, it pushes the ball forward in creating a clean renewable energy future for all our children.

You can learn more about home solar panels and our real life rooftop solar experience by reading Go Solar with Home Rooftop Photovoltaics – We Did, Rooftop Solar Costs Less than You Think, and You Can Increase Your Home’s Value with Owned Solar Panels.

My energy saving action for Energy Awareness Month is washing our laundry with cold water. I know, I know, why did I not make this change years ago? My only defense is that old habits stick with you. The good news is that you and I can change our habits today or any day and make a positive impact.

I hope one or more of the above ideas has struck your interest and helped inspire you to take action to reduce your energy use and carbon footprint. Please share what you are doing to reduce energy use with other readers.

Featured Image at Top: Coal-fired power plant looming over a residential neighborhood in West Virginia – Photo Credit Wigwam Jones

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References

  1. Energy Vampires and Phantom Loads – Standby Power, Green Groundswell
  2. LED Lighting – Energy.gov
  3. Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  4. Thermostats –U.S. Department of Energy
  5. Use of Energy in the United States Explained: Energy Use in Homes – U.S. Energy Information Administration