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Yet another (this time, useful) guide to contaminate less

Like an allegory of the butterfly effect, there is a link between plastic bags and the trash island floating in the Pacific. The biosphere isn’t a theory; our daily actions effect it positively or negatively.

One of the most widespread fallacies about climate change and its consequences: “The citizens of rich countries aren’t to blame and, besides, what can be done. We have enough to worry about with our daily problems.”

No. This article isn’t about the butterfly effect. Or yes.

This report sets out, in 10 points, small changes in everyday life that can help, yes, fight climate change. They also can raise the awareness of governments, individuals and businesses that things can be done, among them: to vote consistently, to organize and be vocal and, why not, to penalize the businesses that do not act respectfully.

For those waiting to sign Kyoto 2 or who believe that climate change does not affect them, there are these 10 pieces of advice, developed below: no to plastic bags; use low consumption light bulbs; adjust the heating; no to standby; buy locally; public transportation; bicycles or walking; make compost for your own garden -even urban-; what to do if a car is necessary; downshifting -or how to relax a bit.

Whoever believes that the world can continue consuming resources at the current pace, they are recommended Mad Max or their own chaos theory, works that can prove them beneficial.

It doesn’t sound very revolutionary, right? Perhaps this reminds you of some pseudo-advertising pamphlet from your electric company or your City Hall, a string of otherworldly babble or the apocalyptic psalm of some confession; something that does not invite you to continue reading.

When you reach, if you reach, the end of this report, perhaps you will have changed your mind.

The 10 pieces of advice:

1. Say no to plastic bags, PET bottles and polystyrene containers

Plastic bags contaminate, and continue to contaminate, the environment. In rich countries, the majority of plastic bags end up in dumps without being treated; in emerging and poor countries, in the street and in nature.

Every year, they kill thousands of land-based animals, birds and, above all, marine animals. There is data to verify it for the past half century.

According to the Sustainable Life Foundation, they take 150 years on average to be broken down. In theory, all materials are biodegradable, although a good part of the containers and the materials we use daily remain as trash.

Thanks to our current “throwaway” culture, few bring their own cloth bags for shopping, due to the “comfort” of plastic bags, in spite of the fact that they tend to cut off the circulation in your fingers when full.

According to the Sustainable Life Foundation (Spain), the durability of common materials used in our products are:

  • 1-14 months: paper, clothes and any kind of cotton and linen. Materials composed of cellulose are not a problem, because “nature easily integrates its components into the earth”. The role of recycling is indispensable and avoids the use of more wood.
  • 10 years: minimum time needed to breakdown tin cans, until they become an iron oxide mix. Plastic (polypropylene) also takes a decade to be broken down into synthetic molecules.
  • 30 years: containers of shellacs and foam, whose historical content of CFC, now prohibited, is responsible for the hole in the ozone layer; Tetra-brik packaging (80% of cellulose, 15% of polyethylene and 5% aluminum).
  • 100 years: steel and plastic (disposable lighters, for example). In a decade, the plastic doesn’t even lose its color. Some plastics have very contaminating components that don’t degrade (PVC) and the majority contain mercury. They can contain heavy metals very dangerous for life, including humans, and the nervous system: zinc, chromium, arsenic, lead and cadmium, that begin to be degraded at 50 years, but they will remain harmful for decades.
  • More than 100 years: bottles of PET plastic last more than one century. PET is a material that microorganisms can’t attack. You like to buy those small and attractive bottles of water, with that healthy and pure image? Take a moment to read the advantages of drinking tap water (report: Trendy tap water). The false belief exists, from time to time encouraged by studies, that running water is not safe for human consumption, deferring the necessary cultural shift away from bottled water.
  • Aluminum plating takes more than 200 years to return to the starting point of its life cycle (aluminum oxide, present in the rocks from the crust of the earth).
  • More than 1,000 years: batteries. They also contain harmful substances for life. They should be recycled at special locations, due to their toxicity.
  • Indefinite time: bottles of glass. Nevertheless, glass can be recycled 100%. The objective, in this case, consists of guaranteeing the recycling of glass already created, instead of manufacturing new glass indefinitely.

Every year, between 500,000 million and a trillion plastic bags are used in the world, according to Vincent Cobb, founder of the business reuseablebags.com.

Almost all these disposed-of bags accumulate in the shape of land-based, and marine, trash. They are usually offered free or for a small surcharge to consumers, and their generalized use has caused that, in China, the urban pollution created by plastic bags is called “white contamination”.

The solution to avoid using plastic bags, according to experts and businesses, does not consist of using paper bags, whose use would cause a similar impact. The solution is something we had but we lost: to use reusable bags. Who remembers the wicker bags with comfortable leather handles for going to the market? They are still sold.

  • 11 barrels of petroleum are required to make 1 ton of plastic bags.
  • Only 1% of plastic bags everywhere are recycled.
  • Time to decompose (in function of the type of plastic): from 5 to 1,000 years. Every bag generates half a kilogram of pollution.
  • More than 3% of the world’s plastic bags are presently floating in the sea.
  • Thousands of tortoises and whales have died by the blockage in its stomach from plastic bags. It is documented.

The plastic bags rejected damage, above all, the marine life. According to the ecological organization Planet Ark, cited by The San Francisco Chronicle, around 100,000 whales, seals, tortoises and other marine animals die every year worldwide due to floating plastic bags.

The California newspaper reports that an extraordinary island of floating trash, created mostly with plastic bags (80% is plastic), floats in the Pacific Ocean, weighing 3.5 million tons and drifting between San Francisco and Hawaii.

It is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a spot that is growing unstoppably (its size has grown tenfold every decade since 1950, according to Chris Parry, of the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco who has studied the phenomenon for a decade) and remains in a zone of currents that circulate maintaining the water stationary.

This gigantic swirl in the Pacific North, or the North Pacific Gyre, was, in 2007, twice the size of Texas (or twice the size of France or the Iberian Peninsula).

This floating continent of trash bags is especially harmful for, at least, 267 marine species, that have died from the consumption of this waste, according to a field report from Greenpeace.

After writing his report on this mass of continental plastic, Justin Berton, journalist for The San Francisco Chronicle, includes a section that shows the impact that the knowledge of this problem has on any reporter: how to help. “You can help to limit the ever-growing patch of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean.” Subsequently, Berton lists ways to help:

  • Limit the use of plastic when possible. Plastic is not easily degraded and can kill marine life.
  • Use reusable bags when shopping. Disposable bags can end up at sea.
  • When visiting the beach, collect your trash and take it with you.
  • Make sure you dispose of trash in a closed container.

Besides PET bags and bottles, expanded polystyrene (EPS) is another plastic commonly found in products: disposable cups and plates, DVD discs, the packaging and plastic of electrical appliances and computers use this resin.

3.2 grams of fossil fuels are needed (the majority of plastic is made from by-products of petroleum) to make just one disposable cup. Multinational businesses use plastic cups and plates in their establishments. Coffee tastes great in a porcelain cup, and it doesn’t contribute to perpetuate this cycle.

Among the measures that can help reduce the consumption of polystyrene products are recycling centers for this material. Also the packaging of a computer or electronic apparatus can be left in the store.

Other products with a high plastic content, like childlike diapers, have commercial reusable alternatives. There are washable diapers (video: we have tested Fuzzy Bunz pocket diapers in Seattle, United States); or cloth diapers with a disposable interior that breaks down instantly, like gDiapers, that fit within the ideology of cradle to cradle, or products that return to the environment after use).

An intellectual trend and industrial question for decades is the lack of planning for a consumption model that evolved out of the industrial revolution and has not changed in its essence: the materials with which we produce the goods of our daily life are not easily biodegradable and they take time in disappearing from our environment- from several months to the thousand years that it takes for a battery finally break down. Plastic is one of the most lasting and potentially environmentally-harmful of our daily materials.

One of the most interesting ideas is that expressed by the architect William McDonough and the chemist Michael Braungart in their book Cradle to Cradle.

Their theory, supported by several businesses, fights for products that return to the land as nutrients after use, or that are used in their totality without generating waste in the process.

Their book is an example of the “cradle to the cradle” philosophy: the paper used “is not a tree”, but a water-resistant and biodegradable plastic resin reused by the Durabooks company. It can be put, literally, under the shower and to continue to be read.

Another of the trends attempting to confront the problem of plastic waste is the so-called green chemical, that allows for the production of plastic products without petroleum, that do not generate waste and are non-toxic. The business opportunities in this field are, according to the experts, colossal. Investors such as Vinod Koshla, known by to have invested wisely in businesses like Sun Microsystems and Google, are betting on ecological chemistry.

2. Use low consuming light bulbs

As with the internal combustion engine of cars, the incandescent light -the everyday light bulb- is still a dominant industrial model despite its obsolescence: they squander 85% of the energy consumed in the form of heat.

A conventional light bulb has a useful life of 1,000 hours, or a year on average, while those of low consumption last 15 times longer. If only a million homes changed an average of four conventional light bulbs for models of low consumption, it would prevent 900,000 tons of CO2 from being emitted annually. A simple change of habit and with a big impact.

Using low consumption light bulbs approved by norms like Energy Star from the EPA (the US Environmental Protection Agency) or the labeling regulations of the European Union for electrical appliances, air conditioning and lighting, are not a big mystery.

It consists of detecting incandescent light bulbs (the 19th century invention, inexplicably present, recognizable by its metallic filament) that we still use at home and replacing them with others of low consumption or CFL (compact fluorescent light bulbs) of 15 watts, equivalent to a traditional light bulb of 75.

The traditional fluorescent also belongs to this family and consumes less than traditional light bulbs.

The price is higher, although payback is fast: they consume 80% less and last 8 times longer. Each low consumption light bulb avoids, besides, the emission of half a ton of carbon dioxide in its lifetime (between 8,000 and 10,000 hours).

A more difficult change to implement, implying a change of habits, consists of using artificial lighting as a scarce luxury:

  • Taking advantage of daylight (and planning work, leisure or rest spaces accordingly).
  • Turning off the lights upon leaving rooms.
  • Using lamps to read or study to eliminate the use of indirect lights.

Low consumption lighting continues to be more expensive and difficult to manufacture and to use mercury (up to 5 milligrams per light bulb). Due to the toxicity of this substance, its collected at the end of its useful life should be planned better.

Businesses like General Electric (GE) have assured that soon they will reduce dramatically the use of mercury. The presence of mercury in a product with expectations of spectacular growth worldwide worries scientists.

In the United States, 150 million light bulbs were sold in 2006, a figure that was surpassed in 2007. The Swedish furniture chain IKEA has CFL light bulb recycling programs in its 234 stores worldwide, the only global initiative of this type, according to Reuters.

The convenience of replacing outdated incandescent light bulbs with low consumption models, as much to save energy as to fight climate change, opens a new market to businesses that invest low consumption lighting without resorting to toxic products.

Organic lighting (report: Fiberstars, or how to use fiber optic lights) use organic light emitting diodes (OLED) as a light source. OLED plastics are easily recycled and their useful life is very prolonged.

The Ewing, GE, Fiberstars and Osram Opto Semiconductors are working on this new technology which could be used even in “transparent windows” : the glass of a window would be dedicated to capture light during the day and, thanks to the solar energy collected, they would be able to illuminate during the night. Windows would become lamps.

California wants to prohibit the use of incandescent light bulbs beginning in 2012, and similar measures in other places are being taken.

3. Adjust the heat

According to the Institute for Diversification and the Savings of the Energy (IDAE), 66% of domestic energy expense is destined for heating and hot water. The remaining 34% is invested in electric (16%), kitchen (10%), lighting (7%) and air conditioning (1%).

According to the IDAE, in winter, “a temperature between 19 and 21 degrees [66-70°F] is sufficient. At night, in the bedrooms, a temperature from 15 to 17 [59-63°F] degrees is sufficient to be comfortable.”

Adding clothing instead of turning up the heat can seem, as with changing traditional light bulbs for low consumption models, obvious. In normal circumstances, “it is sufficient to turn on the heat in the morning”. At night, except in very cold zones, the heating should be off, “since there is accumulated heat in the home.”

In winter, to be sufficiently-clothed at home, allows for dropping the heat to 20 degrees centigrade. Each additional degree represents a 7% rise in energy consumption and the extra annual emission of more than 200 kilograms of CO2.

The bioclimatic home is seen by specialists as a continuation of traditional architecture: the correct orientation, the use of natural insulation -so common in the past-, philosophies about natural efficiency like permaculture, more efficient air conditioning and heating systems, good insulation, and passive systems of collecting energy and rain water.

Each house has its own idiosyncrasies, as explained by Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper:

  • A house that is not oriented to the south, must be insulated to the maximum.
  • Let the sun enter the home in winter and try to keep it out in summer. If the house is well insulated, windows can be opened during the night and, first thing in the morning, closed completely. The air will be fresher and less air conditioning will be required.
  • Adjust the exterior windows. According to the IDAE, “small improvements in the insulation can involve economic and energy savings of up to 30% in heating and air conditioning”. Between 25% and 30% of heating needs are due to heat losses through doors and windows.
  • Install shades, blinds and curtains to avoid the sun reaching inside the house in summer.

Antonio Ramos, of the Association for Bioclimatic Architecture, believes that one doesn’t need to build new to save energy.

A home with a sustainable culture:

  • Can save 70% on the energy usage of traditional buildings.
  • With new construction, its price can be between 5% and 15% over that of conventional homes. Californian Mark Feichtmeir, who built a bioclimatic house based on permaculture (report: Permaculture: beyond the garden), believes that this increase is situated between 5% and 10%, in his experience.
  • Traditional materials are used, like wood- such as bamboo- and stone. Ceramics and ecological concrete are materials recommended by the experts.

If possible, the IDAE recommends that multi-family units opt for collective central heating, with measurement and regulation individualized for each dwelling. They are more affordable and efficient and less contaminating systems than individual units.

4. Avoid standby with electrical appliances

The rational use of electricity ultimately inspires advertisements as ingenious as this, created in South Africa.

At home, due to the proliferation of electrical appliances, electronics and computers, the use of power strips allowing apparatuses to be disconnected simultaneously and easily, is the most effective way to reduce the electric bill and to avoid the waste of “phantom power”.

  • It is estimated that only 5% of the electricity spent by cellular phone chargers is actually used in charging a phone. The remainder of the energy is lost, while the charger remains plugged in.
  • In just the United States, televisions and video players consume one billion dollars in wasted electricity every year.
  • The expense of “phantom power” (energy wasted by electronic appliances that remain connected without being used) in rich countries generates 75 million tons of CO2 emissions annually.

Many electrical appliances continue consuming energy while turned off. They remain in standby mode, so that it is possible to reach them by remote control.

Other electronic apparatuses function with direct current and use a transformer that always remains on (computers, stereo systems, videogame controllers, etc.)

With electrical appliances, energy labeling reports on energy consumption and other prominent data: noise, efficiency of washing and drying, normal life cycle and other variables.

There are 7 categories of energy efficiency, from the letter A to G:

  • A: < 55% of consumption, low energy consuming (A), very efficient (A+) and ultra-efficient (A++).
  • B: 55-75%, low energy consuming.
  • C: 75%-90%, low energy consuming.
  • D: 90-100%, average energy consuming.
  • E: 100%-110%, average energy consuming.
  • F: 110%-125%, high energy consuming.
  • G: > 125%, why are they still sold?

The energy labels are obligatory for electrical appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, electric ovens, air conditioners and domestic lamps. In the European Union, this labeling is obligatory.

For refrigerators and freezers, there are two new classes of efficiency even more exacting than class A:

  • A + : equivalent consumption to 42% of that required by the average.
  • A + + : only consume 30% of the average.

Despite the obligatory nature of energy labeling, with the majority of electronic and data processing devices it is practically impossible to calculate clearly the energy spent by each device.

There are businesses that are trying to change this. The British firm DIY Kyoto, for example, has designed the Wattson, a small device that is connected to the power source and reports on the energy use of any apparatus.

5. Buy local

If when hungry, we had to travel thousands of miles (the average distance that food travels before reaching the plate; report: Counting miles per bite) to eat, perhaps the current approach of worldwide food distribution would be reexamined.

For every food item bought, think about this:

  • The travel journey of the food and the embodied energy consumed: even the basic ingredients of the shopping basket -meats, fish, spices, eggs, milk, fruit, cereals- consume increasingly more energy contributing to more CO2 emissions before arriving on the plate. From country or place of production to the logistics center, from here to the seller, from the seller home.
  • Environmental price derived from by-products of its production, including the use of fertilizers, antibiotics, pesticides.
  • Use of industrial wrappings: aluminum, plastic, paper.

Knowing what one eats (report: Food II: footprint of smoothies) is not as simple as one would assume.

Growing consumer consciousness has resulted in more availability of local food in markets, specialized stores, cooperatives, and even conventional supermarkets (report: Buy local: it’s your personal farmer).

David de Rothschild touts the advantages of local food in his Global Warming Survival Handbook. Here are the main reasons to reduce food miles:

  • Buying local products offers a competitive opportunity to rural economies, also in rich countries.
  • The agriculture of mass production relies on fossil fuels, erodes the land, uses only a handful of varieties and contaminates rivers.
  • With mass-produced food, the focus is on performance, uniformity and compatibility with mechanized crops.
  • Food originating in remote places loses vitamins and gains contaminants.
  • The expansion and interdependency of the food and agriculture market puts the food at risk of plagues, diseases and biological attacks.
  • Local food is more immune to salmonella, the action of E. coli and other bacteria.
  • It tastes better.

Not all food costs the same to produce. The production of red meat is one of the agribusiness activities that most contributes to the contaminating greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the most effective actions that an individual can do to reduce his ecological footprint (besides avoiding flying in an airplane): stop eating large quantities of red meat.

A question: What produces more greenhouse gases on a global scale, motorized transport or livestock?

Answer: livestock, responsible for 18% of total human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

6. Plant your own food and compost without leaving the apartment (or mini-apartment with roof)

A gratifying and affordable way to eat not only organic and local food, but to produce it yourself: take advantage of a sunny corner of the balcony or the terrace to plant seasonal vegetables, fruits or herbs.

An urban orchard (report on urban farming: Why we all will be gardeners), requires very little attention: hours of sun, water, fertilizer (organic) and regular care. In exchange, it offers relaxation, family time and, as a reward, local, affordable organic, and fresh vegetables.

Kirsten Dirksen explains in a video how easy it is to dedicate a flowerpot on the balcony to plant, for example, spinach (and, in another video, accompanied by SuChin Pak, how in five minutes they can pick a good salad with the crop planted 4 weeks previously, and with no trip to the store.

Urban orchards reduce the dependence of consumers on fresh food with a higher environmental footprint (pesticide use, transportation from their place of production, air conditioning, etc) and reduce the expense. They are, also, a new excuse to strengthen family ties, to relax or to try to eat quality food.

Several businesses market small planters for planting vegetables on the balcony.

In cities like Eugene, Oregon (U.S.), some residents are convincing their fellow neighbors to stop planting lawn around their houses. In a temperate and rainy climate like the Pacific Northwest, a bit of good soil is all that is necessary to plant vegetables, and fruit trees.

Heather Flores, of the movement Food Not Lawns, explains in a video how lawns are being replaced by food-bearing vegetation.

It is possible, as well, to use the leftovers from the garden, the kitchen and paper from the office to create high quality compost. Converting organic trash into fertilizer for the urban orchard doesn’t require too much effort.

All that is needed is a closed plastic container with holes and about a thousand composting worms that can be bought online (video: Worm Composting 101). It is also possible to use just a plastic garbage bag (as we show in another video).

For advice, there are plenty of Internet resources detailing how to convert our waste into quality compost. It is also becoming more common to find neighbors- in all types of communities- with often years of composting experience.

Seattle, Washington’s Jackie Mansfield has spent 15 years converting her kitchen scraps into garden fertilizer. Mansfield (video), showed us how comforting it is to be able to give a second life to all the paper that had accumulated in her husband’s office over the years: shredded, it makes a good bed for her worms.

7. Use public transportation (when possible)

Public transportation is more efficient, more affordable, contaminates less than the private vehicle and, if working properly and extensive enough, can save time and stress to its users.

While riding public transportation, it is possible to read, study or work, options that are ruled out while driving in the middle of a traffic jam.

If a million people used the train daily instead of a car, it would cut the emissions of 1.2 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

According to Trainweb.org, 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of travel produces, per passenger, the following contamination, in function of the type of transportation used:

  • Bus: 260 pounds (118 kilograms) of carbon dioxide.
  • Commuter train and subway: 450 pounds (204 kilograms).
  • Fuel efficient car: 590 pounds (267 kilograms).
  • Airplane: 970 pounds (440 kilograms).
  • Car with many cylinders or all terrain vehicle: 1,570 pounds (712 kilograms).

In trips of average and long distance, the train is the mode of transportation with a smaller ecological impact. Besides being more energy efficient than the car or the airplane, the train is the perfect antidote to urban sprawl, an unstoppable trend in the United States and other developed countries that obligates residents to depend on private transportation and the highway network for daily travel.

According to the IDAE, “the car is the main source of contamination in Spanish cities, of noise pollution and of most of the CO2 emissions and unburned hydrocarbons.”

In the city, 50% of car trips are for less than 3 kilometers, and 10% are less than 500 meters. In these two options, public transportation (on foot, on the subway, in bus; in some cites, by shared bike), is clearly the best option.

Quality public transportation results in less use of private vehicles.

The train contributes to planning urban development around efficient and more compact geographical zones that promote walking or traveling by bicycle, as opposed to the model of extensive suburbs of single family homes connected to the urban economic center exclusively through freeways.

It is a development model that only now is beginning to compete in the United States and Canada, with urban development successes like the compact Portland (Oregon, United States) and Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada). Although there are still examples of urban sprawl messes (Las Vegas, Phoenix).

8. Bike and walk more

Above all, this move makes sense in traditional European cities. Walking through the extensive pedestrian centers of European cities, or walking to work, are one of the healthiest modes of transport.

Not all large cities have well-marked and safe bike paths, used not only by cyclists, but by pedestrians.

In many European cities, the success of public rental bicycles, or bike-sharing programs, has forced town councils to expand the reach and the number of available bicycles for this new individualized public transportation.

Public bike rental programs (report: Smart bikes: bike-sharing redux) allow users to acquire a card with which they can pick up a bicycle at any of the docking stations strategically located throughout the city.

If the user spends less than 30 minutes before returning the bicycle to any station (the majority of trips), the trip is free. For more time, there is a small hourly surcharge (30 cents per half hour for the Bicing program, in Barcelona; or 1 euro an hour for Vélib, in Paris).

The popularity of these bike-sharing programs (video: Bicing: bike-sharing in Barcelona) is encouraging other North American cities and the rest of the world to offer similar services.

9. When you can’t give up the car. Ode to the electric car

If you can’t live without a car, think about efficient options like the Fiat 500, a wise remake of the classic, while we continue dreaming of an electric version.

The desire to drive a comfortable and attractive car shouldn’t compete with efforts to reduce pollution and fuel use. The environmental footprint of our driving depends on multiple factors.

Driving an all-terrain vehicle over 10 years old, predominantly for short trips and in urban traffic is not the same as driving a new compact car emitting less than 120 grams of CO2 per kilometer that is also used simultaneously by several people.

The internal combustion engine of cars is, like the incandescent light bulb, a product of the 19th century that has been subjected to few structural changes. As in the beginning, it still depends on fossil fuels or substitutes capable of imitating the behavior of gasoline, like biodiesel or bioethanol.

Various manufacturers have models with technologies that improve the performance of the combustion engine. Some vehicles for sale in Europe consume less than five liters of fuel every 100 kilometers on average and they comply with the emissions limit set by the EU for 2012, of 120 grams of CO2 per kilometer: Smart CDi, Toyota Prius, Peugeot 107, Fiat Panda Citroën C3, Ford Fiesta, Renault Mégane, BMW 118D, Volvo S40, Skoda Octavia, Ford Focus C-Max, Suzuki Jimny.

No matter how efficient, these still have the same motor. The same fuel. The same philosophy perfected by Henry Ford –Fordism-, that subsequently transformed the United States into a country of freeways and suburbs and without quality public transportation, led to the philosophy of work of Toyotism and, finally, is trying to survive with the coexistence between the old motor and serious proposals for the future: the hybrid car, half combustion engine, half electric car.

The Toyota Prius is the hybrid at its best and it already represents a serious alternative to models of improved gasoline and diesel, on which the European industry continues to rely exclusively. Several small companies, lacking the clear leadership of the automobile giants, are working on surpassing the hybrid model and going beyond the Toyota Prius.

There are high hopes for the totally electric car, although no traditional manufacturer markets a serious model of this type. In faircompanies we pose the question Who revived the electric car?

Also it is worth remembering what happened to GM’s electric bet from the nineties (see Who killed the electric car?).

Now, there is significant social concern over global warming, that a barrel of petroleum will never be cheap again and that the EU will reduce the limit for automobile emissions contaminants even further.

Consider how to waste less with car trips, when its use is necessary (remote zones and regions without quality public transportation). In transit, cutting emissions doesn’t just depend on the type of vehicle:

  • The power and consumption of the car is intimately related to the mode of driving. Aggressiveness contaminates more. Using the car for short journeys inside the city is unjustifiable. Maintaining the car and keeping tire pressure high can have a large effect on gas mileage.
  • Increasing the number of occupants in a car cuts urban traffic. In the United States, several cities have successfully established with the “car-pool” system: most freeways have an HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane exclusive use for the cars with two occupants or more (in certain areas, hybrids are included). Many businesses, like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, operate carpool vans for employees.

10. On the size of things and the traditional concept of success

We should analyze why cuts of steak and off-road vehicles win followers. Although perhaps we’re not prepared to relate the succulent act of eating red meat or driving an SUV through the city to pickup our children, with climate change.

When all is said and done, the erroneous belief exists that bigger cars are safer: as explained by the influential Malcolm Gladwell. Yes, a culture related to global warming exists. Thinking about the similarities between an off-road vehicle and a steak is significant.

  • Downshifting: to be more relaxed. Living with less velocity. The concept of downshifting (that we explain in this report), movements like Slow Food or Cittaslow, constitute examples of a reinterpretation of the concept of success, happiness, relationships with members of a community, a relationship with the world. Carl Honoré justifies the advantages of slowing down in his book In Praise of Slowness.
  • Evaluate the junk that we have at home. Imagine that all the stuff you never thought about using again do not end up in a dump, but can be used by other people.
  • Buy lasting and quality clothes, with better, respectful materials is a better long-term strategy than buying a lot and of little quality every season. Organic cotton can be a respectable start (report: The organic wardrobe).
  • Be converted, little by little, that to be a conscious consumer doesn’t imply any trauma.
  • Be constant and consistent with ideas. Remain informed.
  • Fight stereotypes and prejudices of those who believe that to fight against climate change while improving your personal life is a product of pseudo-hippy ideals that are fashionable and not important. Don’t let casual comments have more weight than the reports from the IPCC, the work of James Lovelock, the BBC documentary Planet Earth, the poems of Walt Whitman, Japanese haikus on nature, the massive extinction documented by authors like Edward O. Wilson, the stories about the lands of the Ampurdán by Josep Pla, or any another source of inspiration to undertake a change (report: Vindicating Lovelock, Brower, Wilson, Thoreau and Whitman).
  • Vote consistently, as explained to faircompanies by Robert F. Kennedy Junior from the famous Democratic family. (Video: “There are five guys deciding what we hear as news“). Above all, if you live in the United States. Unfortunately, this counsel does not serve you well in China. In China, they don’t even try to pretend that the people vote consistently.

It’s possible to have profound, structural change capable of enriching daily life, more than impoverishing or limiting it.