Most of the world’s nations are gathering in Egypt this week for the annual international climate change conference COP27 (Council of the Parties) to negotiate the steps each nation must take to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow the planet’s rapid warming. Former Vice President Al Gore spoke passionately about the opportunity African nations have to develop solar and wind technology and become global leaders in creating green economies. He also spoke about the devastating experience of flooding in both island nations from sea level rise and extreme flooding in Pakistan, stating that the world is embracing a culture of death, using coal and oil made from dead organic matter to reduce toxic emissions generate the world uninhabitable.
The countries that historically produced the most harmful emissions, including the US and Europe, have a moral responsibility to reduce our use of fossil fuels and pass on environmentally friendly technologies to developing countries. The US Congress passed over $1 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act to accelerate our transition to green energy technology. This is part of what President Joe Biden has called for.
Maine is ahead of other states when it comes to adapting green solar and wind-generated electricity. In recent years, the profitability of community solar farms, favorable state laws, and Maine’s affordable and large undeveloped land base have resulted in a large number of solar power plants being built in southern and central Maine. (I’ll write about homeowners’ ability to subscribe to one of these cheaper electric options in another article.) Maine was also an early adapter for large wind farms with the Mars Hill wind machines in 2007. The University of Maine continues to develop research to develop floating offshore wind farms, building on the European adoption of this technology. Ocean Power Renewables has also conducted research into generating electricity from Maine’s ocean tides. To date, their successful products for small, remote power generation are purchased in Alaska and outside of Maine.
What are greenhouse gases and why is Maine Can’t Wait Mainers committing to reduce them by 45% by 2030? The earth has a layer of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere that allows solar radiation to pass through. Imagine a greenhouse where solar energy passes through the transparent wall and stays inside to heat the space and becomes radiant heat. Radiant heat from the earth’s surface cannot easily leave the atmosphere, so it is trapped in the earth’s lower atmosphere and warms it. Burning fossil fuels for heating, electricity and transport produces carbon dioxide as a by-product. Carbon levels in the Earth’s atmosphere have increased from 300 parts per million to 415 parts per million since industrialization in the late 17th century, causing the Earth to warm by an average of 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Much of this increase in heat is built in and will last over 100 years as carbon dioxide lasts 300-1,000 years in the atmosphere. Other gases cause the same effect, including nitrous oxide and HFCs (fluorocarbons), which are reduced and replaced with less harmful refrigerants and propellants. Methane, the product of the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter, has a warming potential up to 80 times that of carbon dioxide. However, methane only lasts 12 years. So reducing our use of fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide is much more effective at lowering greenhouse gases than reducing our methane production from landfills or from beef production.
The nations of the world agreed in the international COP treaty last year to limit their greenhouse gas emissions to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), although they agreed that 2.0 degrees C (3.6 degrees F ) would be better. In the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden pledged $1.1 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to take steps to fulfill the US portion of that pledge. Governments, industry, corporations and individuals must all change our habits to reduce the use of fossil fuels in heating, cooling, transportation and manufacturing to achieve these goals.
Even though gas and heating oil prices have increased and are expected to remain higher than in previous winters, our efforts to use less gas and heating oil will also reduce our CO2 emissions. If you’re curious about how much carbon your family emits, you can calculate either your own or your family’s carbon footprint at Conservation.org, a free carbon calculator from Conservation International. It gives you the emissions you could save every day by eating vegetarian, taking the bus to work, or increasing your car’s gas mileage by 5 miles per gallon. A second free carbon calculator that can be used by households or businesses is from the UK and can be found at carbonfootprint.com.
Don’t miss opportunities to save money by thinking about energy in your daily routines at home, work, travel and shopping. Using only the electricity you need is a good start, as we can now install lights in homes, grocery stores, and public places that only come on when we walk by or use that space. Programmable thermostats are now available that allow you to turn the heat down around the house while you’re away and turn it up before you get home. Closing off doors or ventilation openings to rooms that we don’t use saves on heating costs.
When my biological family lived in Ireland in the late 1960’s, every room had space heating, in a European culture where central heating was not expected. They only heated the rooms when you used them. Bedrooms can be kept 10 degrees cooler than living areas where you spend more time. Old Maine farmhouses had lower-level heat, often from a wood-burning stove, and bedrooms were heated primarily by convection heat coming up the stairs or by radiant heat through the floors. Curtains and blinds can be opened to let the sun in during the cooler seasons and covered with close-fitting blinds or curtains to reduce heat loss during the longer winter nights.
As a country, our largest producer of greenhouse gases comes from transport. Because there are many rural and small-town communities that are not connected by good bus or train services, Maine families needed one or more personal automobiles. Indeed, cars have become lighter and more efficient in response to a range of higher fuel economy standards. There are driving habits I’ve adopted to increase my gas mileage. As you decrease speed, miles per gallon will increase. 65 mph becomes 10%-15% lower than 55 mph due to less drag. It’s tempting to join the frenzy of traffic at high speed given our excellent roads and powerful vehicles. However, driving 10-20 mph slower gives you more time to react in the event of an obstacle on the road or a dangerous driver, and you also have time to contemplate the scenery. Accelerating slowly and not stopping too quickly saves fuel and protects the brakes.
Other people use Hypermiling to get the most miles out of their tank of gas. They will bike or walk for short distances to a shop. You think about the terrain ahead and accelerate and brake as little as possible. They keep their tires inflated to the recommended pressure. If you lower your tire pressure when the spring weather gets warmer and increase it now, you could save 10% on our fuel. When you check your tires for wear to determine if it’s even there, you know your car is still aligned properly, which significantly reduces your tires’ drag. Maintaining your car regularly and changing air filters and spark plugs before they wear out increases efficiency and is better for your car.
Nancy Chandler studied animal behavior and anthropology at Stanford University and then received her master’s degree in biology from UNC Chapel Hill in her home state of North Carolina. She is passionate about teaching energy conservation and hopes to get you thinking about how you can use energy efficiently to both save money and reduce greenhouse gases.
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