What you can do

We’ve had a week of debate about climate change and absolute agreement that “something must be done”. So what can be done? Well, here’s my list, off the top of my head, based on what I know from the debate and from being involved in this for a long time, and for a job:

Firstly, if you believe that something needs to be done, then tell politicians that you want something done and vote for politicians that will. A carbon tax would be a very useful thing, for many reasons, but we’ve dropped plans for it because the government doesn’t have the votes for it. This is a democracy, and that’s how it works.

Secondly, how do we change people’s behaviour? We can argue that the future is so frightening that we need to start fixing the problem right now. Basically, it’s a problem we must solve. Or we can argue that there’s plenty of win-win actions to take right now, to get change going and convince people that it’s a problem we can solve.

Right here and now, I’m plumping for the later. I don’t care if you don’t think something should be done, or you don’t care or you’ve got the social conscience of a dog caught short on a croquet lawn. All I care about is changing people’s behaviour, not their beliefs. Behaviour causes emissions; beliefs don’t. So then here’s a list of things that you can do, right now, to make a difference to yourself. Even if you think, “bollocks to the planet, load of tree-hugging hippy crap”, you’ll still benefit from doing these things.


So, in rough order of what matters the most, six areas and things you can do, trivial and not so trivial:

  1. How far you travel
  2. How you travel
  3. How you heat or cool your house
  4. What you eat
  5. What you buy
  6. How you spent your time

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1) How far you travel
Action Benefit
The further you travel, the more the emissions, no matter how you get there. So find ways to have fun/make money close to home. And yes, I know half the people reading this are flying to Burning Man, so I recommend going less often, staying away for longer, having more fun out of each trip, thus less travel for a given amount of fun. Saves you money on travel costs, saves you time travelling
2) How you travel
Action Benefit
Smaller cars – Smaller, less weight, less fuel. Chose your car to match most of your travelling, not the once a year moving a sofa. Be ready to hire something big for those odd trips. Saves you money, easier to park, and when climate change kicks in/oil prices go up, your car will still have second-hand value.
More efficient cars – Modern engines, hybrids, lighter cars, less fuel per mile. Saves you money in the long run, in reliability and less fuel cost per mile. When climate change kicks in/oil prices go up, your car will still have second-hand value. Open-minded and socially liberal people will be impressed by your caring, sharing nature and want to sleep with you.
More walking and biking – As low-emissions as it gets Saves you money, makes you live longer, you will look good naked. Hot people will want to sleep with you.
3) How you heat your house
Action Benefit
Fit curtains, insulation, double glazing Healthier, drier houses, easier to get out of bed in the morning when its not bloody freezing out there. Washed clothes will dry out faster, towels won’t smell. People will want to sleep with you, in your house. Hence no walk of shame. For you in Auckland, insulation keeps the heat out and the cold in.
Use the sun – Put your house in the right place, facing north, capturing sunshine. Free energy, no heating bills, saves you money. People will come around to your house to sunbathe wearing very little.
4) What you eat
Action Benefit
Eat less meat – Amount of oil to produce a kilo of beef versus a kilo of wheat? About eight times as much You’ll be healthier, smell better and open-minded and healthy people will want to sleep with you.
Buy local food – NZ makes fantastic food, wine and beer. Get on with it. Local food tastes better for a given price. Why pay x% of the price of a bottle of wine on shipping it from France, when if the bottle came from the Wairarapa, each and every one of those dollars could have gone into making it taste better.
5) What you buy
Action Benefit
Buy things that last. If it’s something that uses no energy in its life, like furniture, if it lasts forever then its average emissions per year become zero. Its always cheaper to buy good stuff, in the long run. Crap bike parts I can thrash in six months; good kit costs twice as much, lasts decades. And less hassle coz stuff rarely breaks/needs attention/let’s you down.
Laptops not PCs, LCDs not CRTs – When you buy tech in fast-moving areas like computers, its going to become obsolescent before it breaks. So buy the stuff that uses less electricity. Benefits specific to tech, but laptops can be used in bed, and can make pizza appear with ease
Compact fluorescent lightbulbs, hot water tank insulation Saves you money, saves you money, saves you money. Imagine a bank account that doubles your money in two years. That’s how good an investment.
6) How you spend your time
Action Benefit
Have more fun with less stuff – Have fun with your friends. Taken to the limit, I suggest that the best thing that you can do, involving no consumption or fuel use, is to have sex. Have sex with people near you, do so with contraception, and have sex that’s going to make you happy and healthy. Benefits self-evident

That’s my quick suggestions. Comments appreciated.

15 thoughts on “What you can do

    1. Yes, sort of. A bus full of people obviously uses far less energy per person than a car. But for public transport systems to be usefull, there have to be regular buses throughout the day, so many buses have only a small number of people on them.

      The energy to move the buses and trains also has an effect. In Wellington, where we’ve got electric buses and trains, we’re the envy of the world, and as most of our electricity comes from hydro, then its very environmentally friendly.

      If you’re on a diesel-powered bus or train, then its not so good, but still probably better environmentally than driving.

      And as you point out, public transport => other benefits. One of our professors gets the train down from Palmie whenever he’s in town. He puts it this way: he’s paying $14 for two and a half hours free from interruptions where he can get some work done without people constantly knocking on his door. He likes.

  1. Laptops are a terrible idea.

    The batteries are bad enough. Given, as you say, technology moves, and the upgrade process for a laptop is “throw it out and buy a new one”, they look even worse.

    I’m still using 5 – 10 year old cases to run newer motherboard/CPU combos, so I’m not discarding bits like PSUs, and I can upgrade the components (graphics cards et al) trivially.

    If you want the power-saving benefits of laptops, you can adapt laptop CPUs and 2.5″ hard drives to standard motherboards, and use a passive-cooled graphics card. You’ll still end up with something cheaper and with a longer life and better performance than most laptops.

      1. Re: Laptops are a terrible idea.

        Yeah, the laptops vs PCs thing is a difficult one. In summary:

        PC +ves: can be upgraded, and individual parts can be replaced, so will last longer
        PC -ves: uses more electricity to run

        laptop +ves: uses less electricity to run
        laptop -ves: can’t be upgraded so might be replaced more frequently

        (The batteries thing is a red herring now, NiCad batteries were horribly toxic and hard to recycle, everyone now uses lithium batteries which are relatively easy to recycle.)

        So really its a choice between one PC for many years, or several laptops over those years. Then the question is: does the extra electricity used by one PC outweight the extra energy used in making several laptops. In all honesty, I’m not sure. But then again, my last laptop lasted as long as a PC would, namely six years, so for me, I’m better off with a laptop.

        (And yes, you could put laptop components in a PC, and I’m glad if people do, but the majority of people aren’t up for that much hassle.)

  2. We’re about to launch a campaign at work to raise awareness of the link between power use, particularly standby power use, and greenhouse gases. They did some research that showed people knew about greenhouse/climate change to a certain extent, but they didn’t connect using more energy with this. So it’ll be interesting.

    Initially the campaign will be awareness raising with basic ways people can change (eg turn the tv off isntead of leaving it in standby) and it will then eventually move into much more ‘this is how you should change’ focus.

      1. Weird must have been a rogue tag – anyway at my work we’re launching a campaign to raise awareness of the link between using lots of energy and increased greenhouse emissions. They did some research that showed people were aware of greenhouse as an issue, but not that excessive energy use made it worse.

        So the campaign will be focused initially on raising awareness of the link and basic ways to make a difference (eg turning the tv off instead of just standby) and will eventually move into larger changes in behaviour..

  3. I like that list.

    I was looking down it checking things off- my sense of smugness is now IMMENSE.

    The only one I didn’t get was the laptop vs pc- but I figure this pc is going to last me oh a really long time with no upgrades so it works out ok. But then in 1998 I was still using an XT [aka a 12 year old pc] and only stopped because the KEYBOARD broke and I couldn’t find a replacement.

    1. Immense smugness = sexy

      But seriously, you are doing all the right things and having fun without wearing a hairshirt. Hence an example to the rest of us. Go you!

        1. Re: walking is your friend!

          One of the conference speakers put it in economic terms:
          “If we used our productivity growth to support increased leisure rather than increased consumption, then our emissions would be on a maintainable path”

          And what he meant was, cheapness and laziness are good things. You can happily live a 1980s style life in NZ by working part-time, and a 1950s style life by not working at all. If you want to keep you with the Jones, then yes, you’ll work as hard as them. But hey, I’ve got food, a bed and friends. Why work hard, just to earn more and spend it on crap that you only want coz other people have it?

          The soundbite for this argument being: “work less, buy less, party more”

          1. exactly!

            that is a great motto.

            [of course if we all adopt it the Gloomy People go ho noes! ho noes! the people aren’t spending! the economy will die! the sky is falling etc etc.

            and i make rude raspberry sounds at them.]

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