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By Bob Williamson on Feb 22, 2009 with no responses

Questioning The Living As Usual Model


'Living as usual' does not mean that we must use electricity when we have no gain from it.

I like to call this ‘Questioning the living as usual model’.

Many times in our busy ‘living as usual lives,’ we take simple things for granted.

I would say, right at this very moment wherever you are, you are consuming power (to drive your computer) creating in the process CO2 emissions. In reality even when we sleep we are doing so, just to run appliances that are necessities – these might be the refrigerator, the deep freeze, our home heating and cooling systems. But there are other appliances that are drawing power; but needn’t. These are what I call left on ‘stand-by power’ even when not in full operation. Some of these may include appliances such as the DVD, computer, modem, TV set top box and even the microwave oven.

To explain it simply; when appliances are not switched off at the wall or power strip, they still consume a small amount of energy, and therefore even when we sleep we are contributing CO2 to greenhouse emissions that we needn’t. Can you see some now? Look around you, they are not being used, but have a light illuminated on the appliance, or maybe a microwave clock telling you the time.

Do we need to leave these plugged in? When switched off at the plug or power strip, it saves money too! A win for your pocket, and a win for the environment.

In my book “ZERO Greenhouse Emissions – The Day the Lights Went Out – Our Future World’ I take the reader through what I call the virtual home tour; here is an excerpt:

This is a simple exercise we should all do at some point.

It provides a clear personal and family perspective of our own environmental impact from the consumption of home electricity. It can serve to help us make informed choices as to the appliances we buy and use. To me it was a revelation showing me how I had lived and how I might now alter my buying and energy consumption habits. It’s relatively easy to find out from your energy supplier how much CO2 they claim is contributed to greenhouse emissions for each kilowatt hour of energy or unit supplied. As we’ll cover later, this will almost certainly not be fully environmentally costed, but it will act as a rough guide.

If an appliance (for example a hair dryer) is rated as 1800 watts, running it for 1 hour will consume that 1800 watts or 1.8 kilowatts (1,000 watts = 1 kilowatt). So if for example, we run it for 15 minutes, it will consume 450 watts and so on. Another example is a 100 watt light bulb, which left on, will take 10 hours to consume 1 kilowatt. The term “a kilowatt hour” is the time it takes to consume 1 kilowatt or 1,000 watts, just the same as 1 kilometer (1,000 meters) would be covered (consumed) when travelling at 1 kilometer per hour.

The coal-fired power station in my area claims that to produce each kilowatt hour of electricity supplied to us, they emit 0.99 kilograms of CO2 as greenhouse gases. By comparison, in Victoria, Australia, where brown coal is burnt to produce electricity, they will put out 1.39 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt hour supplied. So it will undoubtedly be different for everyone, depending on where you are. The U.S. Energy Information Agency’s 1999 report on CO2 emissions for energy generation from coal quotes a specific emission rate of 950 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. By comparison, where natural gas is used the emission rate falls to 600 grams per kilowatt hour. We’ll delve a little deeper into the broader environmental impacts of coal a little later.

Marked somewhere on just about every electrical appliance in your home, you’ll find details of how many watts are consumed to run it. You might say that using a traditional knife instead of an electric carving knife at 110 watts seems like a small saving, but as they say, “If you take care of the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves.” It all adds up. Does the old-fashioned manual carving knife have a friendlier environmental footprint (less damaging) than the electrical version?

Putting your own list together can be a great fun way to get the kids involved, a bit like a carbon reduction treasure hunt. Going from room to room, list all electrical appliances and their energy ratings. Make a note of the appliances that even when not in full operation– (what we in Australia call ‘standby mode’), are still drawing some electrical current. These might include appliances such as the computer and modem, the television, the cable company set top box or your DVD/VCR, that although not operating, if left plugged into the wall socket or power strip and switched to the on position, will still be consuming some ‘standby’ electricity.

Once the list is complete, doing the math is another way for the whole family to understand and change daily actions in the home to reduce your personal and family contribution to greenhouse gases. It can also help with deciding which appliance to buy or not to buy. Not buying ones you could live without will naturally save you money on the purchase. If new appliances are “must haves,” at least by selecting ones that have the lowest environmental energy consumption impact, your money and the environment will be less affected. By deciding to reduce the use of electrical appliances you already have when a manual method is available, you’ll soon see how your electricity bills will also come down.

So by doing the simple maths the whole family can question the ‘living as usual model’ and we will all have a reduced impact on our personal environmental footprint.