The 90% Project

Emme and Sharon, to wonderful sustainable bloggers I’ve been following, recently started an agreement to try to cut their carbon footprint by the 93% (rounded to 90 for sanity’s sake) it will take for Americans to not kill the planet, within a year. Some of these I really can’t get below a certain level since I rent, but here are my stats as they stand:

1. Gasoline. Average American usage is 500 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR. A 90 percent reduction would be 50 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR.
No reduction in emissions for ethanol or biodiesel.
Public transportation and Waste Veggie Oil Fuel are deemed to get 100 mpg, and should be calculated accordingly.

Me: for commuting, it comes to about 100/year, so call it 120 for normal things. I do fly for most of my fairly infrequent vacations, which is just not ok, and isn’t even in this calculation anywhere. I’m trying to switch to train where remotely possible.

2. Electricity. Average US usage is 11,000 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR, or about 900 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH. A 90% reduction would mean using 1,100 PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR or 90 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH
Solar Renewables are deemed to have a 50% payback – that is, you get twice as many watts.
Hydro and Wind are deemed to have a 4 to 1 payback over other methods – you get 4 times as many.

Us: we’re currently at just over 250 kwh/month, which is half of what we were using last August, mostly due to CFLs. Plans like not using the dryer much and unplugging things have reduced it by about 100 recently. We’re putting gallon things of water in the fridge to help the cold not fall out when we open it, and are doing the usual turning-things-off, but without actually unplugging the fridge, there’s not a lot more left we can do.  We’re going to try to finally instal a clothesline capable of drying all our clothing.  Part of the bill is our neighbors using the dryer (We’re in a two-family apartment thing; they own the machines, the washer’s hooked up on their side and the dryer’s on our side).

3. Heating and Cooking Energy – this is divided into 3 categories, gas, wood and oil. Your household probably uses one of these, and they are not interchangeable. If you use an electric stove or electric heat, this goes under electric usage.
Natural Gas (this is used by the vast majority of US households as heating and cooking fuel). For this purpose, Propane will be calculated as the same as natural gas. Calculations in therms should be available from your gas provider.
US Average Natural Gas usage is 1000 therms PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% reduction would mean a reduction to 100 therms PER HOUSEHOLD PER YEAR

Us: We just have a gas stove, so we’re already at 2 therms per month (which might even be more like 1.5, but the bill measures it in whole numbers).  Almost our entire gas bill is for the manditory charge to have gas at all; it’s kind of silly.

Heating Oil Average US usage is 750 Gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% cut would mean using 75 gallons PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. Biodiesel is calculated as equivalent.

Us: We go through approximately 2 250 gallon tanks of oil per year, almost all of that in the winter. We try to keep the thermostat down, and next winter we’ll get on the landlord’s case to fix the leaky wall in the living room, and possibly get some heavy curtains.
4. Garbage – the average American generates about 4.5 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY.

Us: Next week I’ll weigh the garbage; Friday’s garbage day. I’m pretty sure we’re well below average, though not at the 3 pounds a week that comes to — we produce one smallish garbage bag per week. We recycle everything we can, which is pretty comprehensive in this area. Starting soon, we’ll be able to bring compostables to the CSA farm.

5. Water. The Average American uses 100 Gallons of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons PER PERSON, PER DAY.

Us: I can’t actually look at our water usage, since we don’t get a water bill. I’m guessing that we’re below average, but not much below. Installing the low-flow showerhead will help a lot, and not flushing the toilet is helping. Actually running out of water isn’t an issue in this area, but it still uses resources to clean it.
6. Consumer Goods. The best metric I could find for this is using money. A Professor at Syracuse University calculates that as an average, every consumer dollar we spend puts .5 lbs of carbon into the atmosphere. This isn’t perfect, of course, but it averages out pretty well.
The average American spends 10K PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on consumer goods, not including things like mortgage, health care, debt service, car payments, etc… Obviously, we recommend you minimize those things to the extent you can, but what we’re mostly talking about is things like gifts, toys, music, books, tools, household goods, cosmetics, toiletries, paper goods, etc… A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR
Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual purchase price. Goods that were donated or would be thrown in the landfill are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon cost.

Me: I don’t keep good enough records to tell exactly how much I’m spending, but it’s nowhere near 10,000 dollars. I’ve been getting pretty good lately about buying used and taming my shiny-object reflex. For this, I just need to keep doing what I’m doing, only much more so.

7. Food. This was by far the hardest thing to come up with a simple metric for. Using food miles, or price gives what I believe is a radically inaccurate way of thinking about this. So here’s the best I can do. Food is divided into 3 categories.
#1 is food you grow, or which is produced *LOCALLY AND ORGANICALLY* (or mostly – it doesn’t have to be certified, but should be low input, because chemical fertilizers produce nitrous oxide which is a major greenhouse contributor). A 90% reduction would involve this being AT LEAST 70% of your diet, year round. Ideally, it would be even more.

#2 is is *DRY, BULK* goods, transported from longer distances. That is, *whole, unprocessed* beans, grains, and small light things like tea, coffee, spices (fair trade and sustainably grown *ONLY*), or locally produced animal products partly raised on unprocessed but non-local grains, and locally produced wet products like oils. This should be no more than 25% of your total purchases.

# 3 is Wet goods – conventionally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, juices, oils, milk etc… transported long distances, and processed foods like chips, soda, potatoes. Also regular shampoo, dish soap, etc… And that no one should buy more than 5% of their food in this form. Right now, the above makes up more than 50% of everyone’s diet.

Us: When the CSA shares (and the farmer’s market) start, we’ll be approaching that if we give it some effort. I’ve been being much better lately about getting things in bulk. I think our major sins in that department are crunchy snack foods and some specific imported things (coconut milk!). We’re going to start getting crunchy snacks in bulk (and often organic) at the co-op, and I’m going to get whatever I can local.

I think our major areas to work on are water, electricity, oil, and food. For water, we just need to get that showerhead installed and look into implementing some greywater collection for use in the garden and toilet. Scalding hot showers are one of my major sensual pleasures in life, so I’ve been trying to cut down on the time I spend in the shower. I’m already taking showers only every other day; I used to shower every day. Question: When our showerhead says “1.75 gal/minute”, I assume this means “when turned on full-blast”? Having really full water pressure isn’t a big thing for me; I just like it hot enough to turn me all lobstery. So I’m not entirely sure how to calculate how fast the water is actually coming out of the faucet other than collecting it. For electricity, we need to install that clothesline and get the fridge more sensibly organized so that we hopefully spend less time with the door open aimlessly staring into it. We *could* turn it off if we really tried, but we’re not there yet. For oil, we need to get the wall insulated, possibly buy some heavy curtains, and turn down the thermostat in the winter. I’d be curious to know what the minimum amount of oil is that we’d need to use just to keep the pipes from freezing. Food we’ll be good in for the summer. We’ll learn some preservation techniques so that next year we can have a whole share to ourselves (we’re trying to find someone to split ours with this year), and that’ll really help. We’ll at least have lots of squash and beets from the winter share. Crunchy snack food will now be purchased in bulk, which will at least cut down on packaging even if we can’t get it local, and maybe the next food project to embark upon is crackers or sesame sticks or something like that. If we can do really really well otherwise, I think we’re allowed the luxury of coconut milk curry occasionally. The basil and chilis for it will come out of the front yard.


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