Spitting it out for good

I have flushed it right out of my life
I suddenly realized that, on a daily basis, I had been putting into my pretty little mouth stuff that nowadays I wouldn’t even use to clean my toilet bowl.

THE trouble with alternatives is that they are often unpalatable. I mean, who in their right mind would choose processed cheese over the real thing, or Smash instead of real mashed potato, not to mention Pringles as a substitute for Kettle real potato chips.

But sometimes, albeit rarely, the alternative can be better than the original, as I discovered when I started making my own mouthwash and flushed Listerine out of my life.

Now, don’t ask me why I ever needed mouthwash in the first place. All I’m prepared to tell you is that my girlfriend at the time had a strong aversion to the smell of cigarette smoke.

But I continued to buy this wretched product even after I had stopped smoking (and been ditched by the girl!) Why?

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Taking the bloom off Valentine’s Day

Taking the bloom off Valentine's
Growing flowers for Valentine’s Day, weddings,  funerals and so many other occasions, is damaging the soil, the air, and the water supply.  [Photo by Pieter van Marion].
THERE was a day when when a bunch of flowers, preferably roses, was a must on Valentine’s Day. But that was when CO₂ levels in the atmosphere were within acceptable limits. Those days are gone, and won’t be coming back for centuries, if ever.

To be honest, even back in the day, I always thought there was something kind of wasteful and extravagant about cut flowers. Here today, wilted tomorrow, and then, sorrowfully, into the bin and off to the landfill in the back of a gas-guzzling garbage truck.

Potted plants made a lot more sense. At least  potted plants lasted a couple of weeks or so, and in many cases could be replanted.

But this blog is not about monetary waste, it’s about carbon footprint and costs to the planet, a planet that I love. And this year, I have pledged never again to buy a cut flower, not on Valentine’s Day, not for a wedding, not for a funeral or birthday or any other special occasion where unthinking marketeers tell me to “Say it with Flowers”.

How does cutting back on cut flowers affect my carbon footprint?

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Steaming hot Iceland

Iceland’s ‘walking’ pylons
I want us to follow Iceland’s ‘walking’ pylons. We don’t have to wait until 2030 for clean electricity; it’s here, right now. Let’s go for it whilst there’s still time.                  [Photo by the FreeDictionary]
USING CarbonFootprint.Com to calculate my footprint made me realize that eating in or eating out, buying second-hand clothing instead of new, or buying food that isn’t packaged (or has very little packaging), makes a real difference to my impact on the environment. No other carbon calculator that I know of takes these factors into account.

The other thing I really like about this tool is that the first thing it asks is which country I live in. This is very relevant, particularly when it comes to calculating my impact from electricity usage.

If you live in a country like Iceland, where they generate 100% of their electricity with renewables (75% from large hydro, and 25% from geothermal) your carbon footprint from electricity consumption is zero.

By contrast, if you live in a country like Poland or China, where a high percentage of electricity is generated from burning coal, your carbon footprint from your usage of electricity will probably be huge.

What can you do about it?

We’re cooking ourselves


WHY worry? Somebody asked me this morning why I’m so concerned about climate change. I surprised them by saying I’m not worried about climate change, I’m worried about global warming. And it’s with good reason.

The year 2015 was the hottest since records began, and that makes it the hottest year, not only since records began, but since the last inter-glacial period 11,300 years ago. And some scientists say you have to go back even further, to the Paleocene Thermal Maximum, 56 million years ago, to find temperatures that equal what we are in the process of creating.

So, yes, we have had hot periods and we’ve had cold periods and, according to NASA, these changes are attributable to tiny variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives. And, there’s nothing we can do about it, right?

Altruism by fax

Delivery vans emit CO₂ and carcinogens


SOMETIMES, the choices I make seem huge. For example,  choosing whether to give my carbon emissions a boost by flying back to Boston for my next courses, or do them online without flying anywhere –– it’s a tough one. I like Boston.

Fortunately, most decisions I have to make are really rather small, but they add up to make a significant part of my carbon footprint over time.

Today is an example. The bank in Singapore wants me to fill in a form applying for a new security device. They know I don’t have a fax machine and that it costs me $US3 per page to fax them from the local print shop. So they offer to collect the form by courier. It’s up to me.

How can this choice affect my carbon footprint?

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THAI: Smooth as silk or a sow’s ear?

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 7.16.29 PM

WE ARE only 18 days into 2016 and already I find that I’m doing exactly what I intended not to do, by which I mean, flying. I don’t have a choice. I have to be in Bangkok for a meeting on Wednesday, and the train just isn’t going to cut it for me on this occasion.

As always I checked to see if Thai Airways (THAI) had managed to re-attach their voluntary carbon offset tool to their flight booking and payment engine so that you can pay for your flight and your offset in one transaction.

Alas, that is still not possible. You have to make a second transaction. This wouldn’t be too bad if the sum involved was substantial. When I flew to Australia in 20008 the price of carbon was high, and the offset payment was nearly US$100 for the return flight.

I didn’t mind making a separate payment for that, but according to the THAI calculator, the total amount payable for the offset on a Chiang Mai-Bangkok return flight is a paltry US$0.74. Yes, 74 cents! This just doesn’t make sense.

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Waste not, pollute not

my waste 0.208kg jan1-16
This is what I sent to the landfill after the first two weeks of 2016, total weight 0.208kg. I keep packaging flat because it takes up less space in my room, in the truck, and in the landfill

LAST year I sent 5.1 kilograms to the local landfill which is 100 kilometers away. That’s right, 5.1kg (not 51) and 100km (not 10.0). The numbers may surprise you.

First of all I should acknowledge that what I send to the landfill is only a part of my waste stream. It doesn’t include recycling paper, cardboard, glass, metal things and recyclable plastics. Nor does it include ‘wet’ waste (food scraps).

So, my figure of 5.1 kg for the 12 months of 2015 is dry waste only, by which I mean empty cartons, cling wrap, used face masks, food packaging, razor blades, toothpaste tubes and so forth.

What does this have to do with my carbon footprint?

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Chocolate be gone

eating forests

I HAVE decided to stop eating chocolate. Those who know me will be astounded; and to be honest, I’m surprising myself. For the past few years I have ended every meal (except breakfast) with a piece of chocolate. I don’t think I could give it up without a substitute, and the substitute right now is the wonderful, delicious, creamy, cashew nut, from southern Thailand.

But why give up chocolate?

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Tofu was the first to die

Veggie Salted Fish
It tastes slightly better than it looks!

ONE of the first items to ‘go off’ when I pulled the plug on my refrigerator on New Year’s day was the tofu. I couldn’t complain. The storage instructions made it clear that, although the expiry date wasn’t until the end of January, refrigeration was necessary. Even so,  I was surprised that it became unusable after only two days at room temperature.

Tofu is a key part of my diet; so I needed to find one that would last, or turn to an alternative source of protein pretty quickly. I found a product from the ‘Nutrition House’ company of Bangkok (http://www.spa-foods.com/about-us.htm). They sell tofu products under the J.V brand.

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Going cold turkey on my fridge

my footprint is too big

CRIPES, it’s a new year! I’ve got to do something about my carbon footprint. Depending on which calculator I use, it’s been between three tonnes and seven tonnes CO₂ for a couple of years now, and that’s not good enough.

So I’ve decided to try and take refrigeration out of the picture. That would be difficult enough even if I was living in the cold climes of the Northern hemisphere, but it’s not so easy if you’re living in Thailand where the temperature never drops below boiling!

At the moment my fridge is full of my usual stuff – tofu, vegetables, pots of custard, cooked chickpeas, water, fruit, garlic etc. – and I’m worried that much of it will spoil if I just switch the power off and start living without refrigeration.

But I’m going to give it a shot, starting tomorrow!