Monday, 14 April 2008


I wrote this in a few minutes before I went to yoga. For 15 years yoga has taken my full concentration for nearly 2 hours at a time. This morning I couldn't stop thoughts about what I had really only half-written about the carbon footprint thing, coming to the front of my mind. It was a lesson - don't write 1/2 a post just before leaving home for yoga! Now I get home to find it has 2 comments already and I want to say so much more...and so much better. Lesson 2 - don't click' publish' when you should click 'save as draft'.

Original with updates!

I have just been reading Pattie's post, from Foodshed Planet, and she is dismayed and confused about a carbon audit she recently did that placed her way above the average American, which is impossible to believe. So I thought I would talk a little about such measurement systems.

Remember that they are set up either by governments or private companies and therefore often have hidden agendas. When you choose one, think about who provided it and what they may be hoping to show. Sometimes they are popped into magazines to make the magazine sell - do you think they really want you to not buy the magazine because its production and distribution causes green-house gas emissions? They want the readers to feel happy and comfortable so they will keep buying the magazine so they avoid all the really meaningful questions.

Often they say it will only take 5 minutes to do. Then you know you will get very little from it. To be truly comprehensive (ie meaningful) it needs to be long and complex. It takes more than 5 minutes just to fill in a personality profile in a silly magazine!

For example, they always ask about your heating and cooling. I tick : heating is by firewood.For this I get the worst rating. They don't ask : where does the wood come from? (We grow it, cut it down, chop it up and I carry it inside) What do you burn it in? (A very efficient slow-combustion heater but I wish it was a wood oven) What style is your house and is it suitable for this space heating? (Our house is split level and open plan and the heat disperses perfectly from warmest most-used areas closest to the fire to the bedrooms furthest from the fire. We don't heat the lower level except if having a party.) They don't ask you if you work at home or do you use electricity in an office block to reduce your home footprint? Or what temperature do you consider comfortable for inside in winter? They don't take into account the digging up of the coal and transporting it to be processed before it even gets to be electricity! Or the damming of rivers and environmental destruction to make hydro. They ask if you have airconditioning in summer but they fail to ask what kind - evaporative or refrigerated? (Google spell-check doesn't even know the word 'evaporative' - that says a lot!) Or how often you need to turn it on? Or do you rely on freezing cold office space during the heat of summer days? We have such great ventilation we rarely need it on at night - even in that disgusting heat-wave we never needed it on at night.

Then you type in your kilowatt consumption. High again. They don't ask: Do you cook and preserve all your own food from vegetables and fruit grown in your own garden or do you buy processed food and eat out often? (Obviously I do the home-grown thing). All our power is rated A1 Green Power plus we have solar hot water. They ask you if you have energy-efficient appliances but they don't ask you how often you buy new ones? What do you do with the old ones? How many enormous TV's do you have? Did you buy your appliances new or second hand?

Water consumption - same. They don't ask you to add all the water for the food you eat that is grown in China or the other side of Australia, transported, processed etc etc. They don't ask how much stuff you buy - clothes, toys, ornaments, etc etc that use millions of litres of water to produce.(See 'water use issues' post). They ask do you eat meat? They don't ask if you eat feral meat or meat from a friend's paddock or how much you eat at each serve and how often / week?
They ask about your cars but they don't ask did you buy them new or second hand? How many cars have you had in your life? How often do you start them up at all? They don't ask you why you chose the car you did - my Volvo V40 (OK, it's imported, I know) is relatively energy efficient (there weren't hybrid cars then), is fully recyclable and had no toxic fumes from upholstery (unlike nearly all other cars) even when it heats up to 50C when parked in the sun. It has an excellent air-filtering system so I don't have to breathe in the fumes of the car in front. (And, by the way, it has somewhere to balance my square Farmers Union iced coffee carton - most cars only have round cup holders!)

They don't ask about how much carbon you have in your soil. How many people could tell you the amount of carbon held in the soil that grows their food? How many people even know what this means or even if having carbon in your soil is a good or bad thing? I re-use every type of green matter again and again (eg we eat it, the chooks eat the scraps, the worms get some) and then compost it and spread it over my garden and it gets made into more food, over and over again. Oh boy! Where do I stop??

In fact they don't ask any of the questions I want asked. I know that what I am doing is treading almost as lightly as I can and I don't enjoy being told otherwise in useless surveys. These types of audits give people the wrong idea all together about their impact on the planet. These audits work for people who live in apartments,spend all day out at work, eat out all the time, consuming the world every minute of every day. There is so much more I could say but...I have pears from my mother's and my own trees all over the bench, ready to with, along with quinces from Kathy, figs from my tree, seeds just collected, seeds I just have to sow, and a fridge full of my mother's apples to cook, salad to pick and recipes I am dying to make from the wonderful world of blogs.

Pattie, forget the audit. Just .....think and live laterally.


Pattie Baker said...

Kate; I'm forgetting the audit! Thanks! I love that line: think and live laterally. Love it. May even use it as a headline this week!

What I especially love is the conversation going on around the world about things like this--all of us trying to figure it out and learn from each other. Thanks. I guess it's just hard to know when to stress about something and when to let go. I mean, stress isn't always bad if it leads to positive change. . .

Oh, by the way, I used your mountain pepper in quinoa for dinner tonight (just moments ago). Perfect.

Jumbleberry Jam said...

Well said! :-) Thanks for the excellent post.

Pattie Baker said...

Kate; I'm pondering over here--how common in Australia is it to have solar water and to cut your own firewood? I don't know one person personally in the entire United States who has solar anything (except maybe an outdoor light for a walkway) or who cuts their own firewood. I wonder if we are truly living in completely different worlds and what is actually the hard part is imagining each other's reality!

Kate said...

Solar hot water is very common. In fact you can get good government rebates for installing it. Lots of people in the Adelaide hills and away from the city grow and cut their own firewood. We are a bit unusual to do it on 3/4 acre (plus the vacant 1/2 acre next door) but blue gums sprout up here like weeds so we let them grow for a while then cut them down. Don't worry - there are still more new ones all over the hills around me.Check this website for solar hot water info
More and more people are getting solar panels to make thier own electricity too. In fact, it is cheaper for people in the outback to do this than connect to the grid. Whole towns in rural Australia are beginning to set up solar panel farms for their own power.The following website mentions a plan for a solar farm for California too -

Veggie Gnome said...

We seem to live similar lives, Kate. Solar hot water (boy, would I love solar panels for our electricity, too!), wood fire for winter, plus a little gas heater for the office. Rain water for the house and garden. Once a week we do our food shopping. Growing as much as possible ourselves. Preserving, cooking, baking. Be a locavore as much as possible. Recycling, chooks, composting, etc.... It keeps us busy and healthy. :)

Pattie Baker said...

Kate, I gotta' tell you, we are so, so far away from that here. Really. You have to have hope in us and not get mad at us wasteful Americans but the majority of us simply did not grow up that way and are just learning about these things now. Wouldn't it be great if Adelaide and Atlanta could be eco-sister cities? Our mayor is very cool and very into taking a leadership role in sustainability (hence, the Earth Hour thing) and trying to make positive changes here. Should we try to get our mayors together? We have much to learn from you.