I live on a small farm, a mile from the Atlantic ocean. We have a house and 4-5 acres of land. Our hens, dogs, lambs, and horses represent those individuals no-one wanted or took care of – now they have a retirement home. Our house is energy proofed and well insulated – the indoor air quality is excellent. The heating and cooling are geothermal, and we have added solar panels to produce electricity. A good share of our vegetables come from our garden, and the whole family follows a mostly vegetarian diet. I love our lifestyle!
What you just read is my dream for the future. We are not there yet, not with the circumstances nor with the sustainability details. Reality is different, and it is not only up to us how sustainably we can live.
The challenging realities
In real life – before my dream will become true – we do live in New England. For the past six years, we have leased condos and houses because buying would be too risky for us at the moment. Additionally, the prices are quite impressive. We have been living in this relatively small house for three years now. It is small if compared to an average in this area. Often the smaller the house, the more environmentally friendly it is – points for that. And don’t get me wrong, we have been lucky with this rental. The landlord is responsive, and the building is pretty healthy. You know – no mold, no damages from leaks or humidity. But there is a problem, which is very common here. As an average, these houses are old – and by that, I mean +200-100 years old. Insulation is usually questionable as well as soundproofing (the reason we gave up condos and multi-families). Often, the heating is powered by gas or oil. Air conditioners run in summers, of course. Also, dehumidifiers are needed to avoid mold growth – and spider invasions. And then, in the winter, we need humidifiers so that our noses don’t begin to bleed of dryness. All these additional machines use so much energy. Poorly insulated buildings let the heat or cool air escape. Sustainability and energy saving are far from optimal here. When the circumstances are such, why bother to play a sustainability game?
Despite the life circumstances, we are not powerless. We need to step back and look at our lives and daily activities, behavior, and choices overall. It is worth paying attention to the costs as well. We can sometimes save money by changing habits, energy providers, and items. We have many opportunities to act green.
Where to buy energy?
Maybe you have gotten bad cards with the appliances the landlord has given to you, or your home is so poorly insulated that half of the heat disappears to the birds. But you still might have an option to choose where to buy your electricity and how it has been produced. Wind, solar, geothermal, or maybe water? If you own your place, you have even more options! How about your own solar panels? Explore, what is available in your living area. I personally love the idea of Geothermal heating and cooling, it is very pure as well as geothermal power production (and these things are different). Read more about those options 1, 2, 3.
Why energy matters?
Electricity is only a part of the total energy we use – other parts are transportation and heat. Electricity production is going greener in the world, but the total energy production is far from that. All the energy production options have their downsides. But the one that is increasing global warming and slowly pushes us towards extinction is the usage of fossil fuels. In 2020, 84.3% of the total energy and 63.3% of electricity were produced with fossil fuels.
Our World in Data has excellent graphs of this matter. I randomly chose one country from every continent – not Antarctica – to compare to the usage of low carbon fuels and fossil fuels to produce electricity. It is important to notice that the total energy or electricity usage per capita is not necessarily aligned with these numbers. How much we use and waste electricity, also matters.
– If you want to check the situation of your country’s electricity production, click here.
– If you wish to see the data on energy production in your country, click here.
So, what is the take from here? No matter the circumstances, the odds that we get to make a choice are great. Perhaps we can choose the provider of our electricity and how it has been produced. House owners can make decisions about their heating and cooling systems. Should those be powered by fossil fuels or not, and is the electricity green or not. Homeowners also have an opportunity to optimize the condition and insulation of the building.
What if we cannot decide about any of the factors above? We still have the privilege to choose how we use our appliances. How about lights, heating and cooling, and water usage. Would there be room for optimization? There is always an option to work for the Earth and Us.