Energy Diet

1) Getting from A to B with less carbon emissions…

Over the last week, I am happy to report that I was able to achieve my transportation-related goals, having relied mostly on carpooling and on replacing with bus trips two routes I would have usually have done by car (the exception was one day of a national general strike that took place here in Portugal, and which effectively shut down all public transportation — including all airports — and which forced me to give up on a bus trip, and call for a cab).

Sometimes finding major mistakes in carbon production can be remarkably easy if one only stops to think about one’s habits. Up until about a year ago, I used to drive my car to the gym, which now sounds to me like something absolutely preposterous: not only was I unnecessarily polluting, but I was missing out on a perfect additional exercise opportunity. The brisk walk to the gym and the brisk walk back are now an integral part of my exercise routine – a great warm-up and a great cool-down, and a chance to listen to some fantastic music on my iPod.

2) Insulation
I had decided that I was going to be considering the quality of our apartment’s insulation over the course of the last week. While I did consider it, I didn’t actually come to a lot of conclusions as our local winter daytime temperatures have turned reasonably pleasant over the last handful of days (15-20º C, which is about 60-70º F), well within the comfort zone for the apartment, which is really sunny and conserves a lot of heat during the day.

I have switched on the electrical mattress pad for about 20 minutes on most evenings, when the temperatures have dipped to about 10 ºC (about 50 ºF). I realize that this is not ideal, but I have been having a hard time deciding on which is the least harmful night-time heating alternative — I also have a water-less “hot water bottle” (one of those cherry pit bags), but to heat it I must use the microwave oven, which also consumes energy; on the other hand, a traditional hot-water bottle not only uses up water, but also gas on the stove to heat the water.

It all feels like a lose-lose situation.

In the meantime, I am sleeping on flannel sheets, a woolen blanket, and eiderdown, and a bedspread, and hoping that that’ll keep me warm.

3) H20…
Another goal I had set for this week was to look into our water consumption.

I have realized that my main errors lie in not paying enough attention in the shower: while I might have thought that I was turning off the water whenever it was not needed, when (over the last week) I have done the effort of really consciously focusing on my water use, I noticed that there are a few opportunities to turn off the shower-head that I had been neglecting – such as when applying my facial cleanser, something which doesn’t take more than 15 seconds.

However, if one looks at an average shower-head with a flow of 15 liters per minute, two 15-second moments in a shower amount to 7.5 liters (about 2 US gallons) wasted. And if you look at a whole week of 2×15 minutes, the volume rises to 52.5 liters (14 US gallons).

By my calculations, over the last week, by keeping the shower-head turned off until strictly necessary, I have probably saved about 150 liters of water. That’s 7650 liters (2000 US gallons) in a year.

The waste of water is unbelievable!

4) The use of water in Portugal
According to the official national data presented in Pordata, the yearly per capita water consumption in Portugal has stabilized at around 55 cubic meters per inhabitant over the second half of the 2000’s (slightly under the 57 cubic meters registered during the 1990’s), after an initial increase up to 63 cubic meters in the first half of the decade.

According to UNESCO-IHE (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – Institute for Water Education)’s “National Water Footprint Accounts,” published in May 2011, Portugal’s “blue water” (surface and ground water), “green water” (rainwater) and “grey water” (water needed to assimilate pollutants) consumption, as well as its agricultural, industrial and domestic water footprints, are more or less on par with the other Southern European countries, well below China (responsible for 16% of the World’s global water footprint), India (13%), the USA (10%) and Brazil (4%), which together account for 43% of the footprint.

Nevertheless, saying that we’re not erring as much as the worst offenders shouldn’t be seen as something positive: There’s still a long way to go before we reach the standards of the Northern European countries.