If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Dr. John Wright on ways to save energy and reduce one’s carbon footprint at home


solar hot water heater with grey-water recovery system (istockphoto.com)

Solar hot water heater with grey-water recovery system (istockphoto.com)

Dr. John Wright from
the Australian Common-wealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) talks about the CSIRO Home Energy Saving Handbook. Published by Pan McMillan in 2009, the Handbook is designed to educate people how to save energy and money while reducing their carbon footprint. Dr. Wright and the Handbook’s two other authors are leading experts on climate change and sustainable living, and everyone will find valuable advice and ideas in this interview that they can apply to their own households.

At the start of the episode, Dr. Wright reveals how a young boy’s curiosity was the impetus for writing the Handbook, which is intended to give the public tools to feel more powerful in the face of global warming. Dr. Caldicott says the ideas presented in this Australian book are totally relevant to the U.S. and other industrialized nations. The Handbook can be ordered from Australia and shipped anywhere in the world. Dr. Wright says the Handbook’s 11 chapters cover basic facts about global warming, carbon footprints, and how householders can save energy.

Dr. John Wright

Dr. John Wright

One of the key themes in the Handbook is the carbon footprint of food – packaging, travel, refrigeration, etc.
Dr. Caldicott says that food now travels an average of 1,500 miles before it reaches the store. In talking about food miles, Dr. Wright mentions several studies done in England about the carbon footprint of food. See the report Our health, our environment: The Ecological Footprint of what we eat. Read the article Local food ‘greener than organic’ according to a report published in the journal Food Policy. Some argue that in certain cases, production or storage of local food may create more greenhouse gases than food imported from afar. See The “Food miles” lie: buying local could be no greener than importing. But Dr. Caldicott says that the luxury of being able to buy “any food in any season,” particularly in the United States, must be forsaken in order to reduce fossil fuel emissions and save the earth.

The Handbook also talks about how much electricity is used by computers and other appliances, the gasoline mileage consumed by automobiles, the role of the media in educating the public about global warming, and the waste and energy used represented by product packaging. Dr. Caldicott has long called for an “unpackaging revolution.” She notes that billions of plastic shopping bags discarded annually in Australia (and beyond). She mentions a gas, nitrogen trifluoride, used to produce flat-screen televisions which she says is much more potent than CO2 in causing global warming. See the articles The Greenhouse Gas That Nobody Knew and Nitrogen Trifluoride: Potent Greenhouse Gas More Common in Atmosphere Than Estimated and the relevant study Nitrogen trifluoride in the global atmosphere.

Dr. Wright and Dr. Caldicott discuss various household energy-saving tips and techniques, from cutting the power on microwave oven clocks and shutting off computers when not in use, to turning off all unnecessary lighting at home. Microwave ovens can make food toxic to the human body, according to Swiss studies. Dr. Caldicott rails against the notion of leaving numerous lights on throughout a home, even when people are sleeping. Nighttime light pollution from excess lighting of office buildings, stores, parking lots and illuminated advertising signs is now a major environmental issue. Light pollution harms human, animal and plant life and it also contributes to global warming. Read the National Geographic cover story on light pollution and visit the website of the International Dark Sky Association.

Dr. Wright mentions the efficiency of central heat pump systems which can control and restrict the use of heating and air conditioning in a home to only those rooms where it is needed. Double-glazed or double-paned windows are another energy-saving device described in the Handbook. Dr. Caldicott says that people can coat windows with a plastic film to add insulation if double-paned windows are not affordable.

Solar energy and home-grown food:  greenhouse in front of solar panels (istockphoto.com)

Solar energy and home-grown food: greenhouse in front of solar panels (istockphoto.com)

The interview next looks at the present status of both solar and wind power.
Dr. Caldicott notes that oil companies like ExxonMobil have funded think tanks to create the false mindset that renewable energy is far from being feasible, and will never produce enough base energy, and therefore the world must use nuclear and coal. Read Despite Pledge, Exxon-Mobil Still Funding Climate Change Deniers. Dr. Wright says that solar energy is the ideal way to heat water, given how energy-intensive that process is. He mentions other developments in solar energy. Read the recent National Geographic article Plugging Into the Sun and see Chinese solar plant expected to be the biggest. For apartment and condominium dwellers, installing rooftop solar panels may not be feasible, but there are solar panels that can be installed in windows. See Solar Power for Apartment Dwellers. Dr. Caldicott says that all parking lots should be covered with solar panels to recharge plug-in solar electric cars, thus using only renewable, non-polluting energy. The feasibility of this scheme, and how renewable energy can now meet all of the world’s needs, is covered in depth in Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Blueprint for U.S. Energy Policy by engineer Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., based on a study commissioned by Dr. Caldicott.

Dr. Wright says wind power can provide power in areas where solar is not as effective, and vice-versa. He says a “smart grid” can make adjustments to use whatever green energy source is most available. Read about Australia’s smart grid in Govt nears decision on smart grid builder and about U.S. smart-grid plans in The Smart Grid Is Not Just for Geeks Anymore.

For more information, see three other books offering energy-saving and green living advice: The Earth-Friendly Home: Save Energy, Reduce Consumption, Shrink Your Carbon Footprint and How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and When Changing a Lightbulb Just Isn’t Enough: 150 Ways to Slash Your Household Bills & Save Energy, Too. And read the article Reduce your Carbon Foot Print: Here are ways you can reduce your Carbon Foot Print; A Gaia How-to Guide.

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