Pass the Olives

Jumbled Opinions on Living, Democracy, and Making Things

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint to 1.5°

To reduce your carbon footprint:

You can’t nip around the edges, give up your straw but keep your take-out disposable cup. We have to change the culture, the way we drink our coffee or eat our meals. We can’t just buy more efficient cars or even electric cars, but have to embrace a culture of shared sidewalks, public transit or bicycles. … If you divvy up the carbon budget by population, we pretty much have to reduce our per capita emissions of carbon dioxide to 2.5 tonnes per person. Nobody is going to do that through efficiency gains alone; we have to change the way we live.

Lloyd Alter, Treehugger, January 2020

who has been an architect, developer, inventor and prefab promoter teaches sustainable design at Ryerson University School of Interior Design in Toronto. While developing small residential units and prefabs, Lloyd became convinced that “we just use too much of everything—too much space, too much land, too much food, too much fuel, too much money, and that the key to sustainability is to simply use less. And, the key to happily using less is to design things better.”

Better Design Is Key

The field of interior design has gone past furniture and fabrics to examining alternatives that will be more environmentally positive. This year Lloyd is going to use measurements to challenge himself and others how to drastically reduce their carbon footprint. Lloyd uses a quote from Elizabeth Warren as an illustration of what he means:

Oh, come on, give me a break. This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants us to talk about…. They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your light bulbs, around your straws, and around your cheeseburgers. When 70% of the pollution, of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air, comes from three industries.

Reduce Production in Construction, Electricity, and Oil

Those three industries are the building industry, the electric power industry, and the oil industry. In order to dramatically change our carbon footprint, we need to design our buildings differently, change food distribution, and buy less.

It is a distraction and a soothing balm to focus on straws, countertops, and recycling. We need to focus our efforts on changing lifestyles: meat and dairy consumption, fossil-fuel-based energy, car use, and air travel. These three industries produce approximately 75% of the carbon. Changes in nutrition, housing, and mobility will have the largest impact.

Cohousing Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

All these industries are affected by changes in lifestyle made possible by cohousing. The concentrated living units make transportation less necessary. Shared meals are more economical. Sharing and trading equipment and tools reduce consumption.

These goals were designed into cohousing. They were part of the initial design. Quality infrastructure for long life, non-toxic materials, a sharing culture. But now it is time to go farther—to reduce the carbon footprint more consciously to levels that have an impact on the environment. But Lloyd is suggesting a program that each of us can practice today while designing a cohousing community that reduces carbon emissions.

To reduce carbon emissions, the next generation of cohousing will have to use less building materials, less electricity, and go farther in changes in food production and consumption.

This Is Within Our Personal Control

Lloyd is planning a year-long attempt to lower his own carbon footprint to 1.5° by carefully recording the changes he is able to make. He is emulating British activist Rosalind Readhead‘s attempt to live a one-ton lifestyle, She tracks every single gram of carbon she is responsible for including the number of times she uses her phone. She records her progress in her journal.

Lloyd is not ready to go that far but proposes a goal he thinks is more doable.

This year we are going to try and live a 1.5 degree lifestyle, limiting our carbon footprint to 2.5 tonnes. This is hard for North Americans; the average in the US is 16.2 metric tonnes, and in Canada, 15.1.

Lloyd and his students are building spreadsheets that will be available to the public on the Treehugger website when they are completed. And for the next year, he will be reporting his progress weekly.

If you decide to try this, please report your progress on the email discussion list. To subscribe.

*I’ve not yet figured out how to compare degrees to tons, but it seems that all the calculations are questioned by someone. The figures in tons are given as relative comparisons.

Primary reference: “Could you live the 1.5° lifestyle?” by Lloyd Alter in Treehugger, January 2020.

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