Friday, August 1, 2008

Rethinking My Use Of Energy

There was a time when I drove at least 60 miles/day to do "what had to be done". In the last several years, I have seriously reduced that to perhaps half. Now, I drive perhaps one to two days/per week.

In animal rescue, veterinary calls are not in that calculation as often, unfortunately, they come as a big surprise. Given the ground conditions this year, however, we are constantly at capacity and animals are staying much longer, thus new rescues which normally need more frequent veterinary attention are fewer.

My Strategy

What I Drive, And Why

First, I must say I do drive an SUV because I must. Last fall, in the terrible fires that forced me from my home for 14 days, I evacuated with 21 animals, which included two rescue birds, the remainder being rescue dogs and cats. I absolutely must be able to get everything out on my own given where I live.

I drive a Toyota 2WD 4-Runner V8. I get 20 miles to the gallon in this beast, more than I got from my 4 cylinder Toyota truck with a camper shell thanks to better engineering. Today, as it stands, I have 25 animals here. I CAN get everyone into the SUV, with food, bowls and paperwork, but it's tight. Very tight. Non living things end up tied to the top of the SUV or they stay behind.

Cats MUST be crated when evacuating. Crates take a lot of room, so groups of cats are crated together in very large crates, and separately in small crates, as necessary. Unless injured or severely ill, dogs do not need to be crated, so they are easier to "pack" but require last minute careful loading and in a specific order. My snotty rescue chihuahua has to go in last or fur flies.

I would prefer a larger vehicle, quite honestly. I wish I could afford a school bus! I am waiting, however, for better hybrid or alternative technologies to go that route. I am also considering a second vehicle, a used van with everything interior removed except the front two seats which would free me to get a smaller, higher-mileage vehicle for normal travel. Has to big enough for a very large dog crate, however.

Change In Driving Habits and Behavior

Higher gas prices were initially the cause of my rethinking of travel frequency though I had already begun to seriously cut back because of the global warming issue.

In doing this, I began an assessment of absolutes (work, attending church, taking care of my elderly mom) and began to think about how to do more in one trip. Could I, for instance, drop dogs off at the vet, then travel to my mom's, do both our shopping and errands there, then pick up dogs at the vet on my return home? Answer: Most of the time, though that had to be done on Fridays so I could fit everything in time-wise. Friday traffic here is hell on wheels, quite literally, so I would need to get up very early, do the chores, then head out. I could be to the vet at 8. As long as I could return to the vet no later than 3:30, I could avoid the stop-and-go traffic (very polluting and wasteful), and make everything work out.

On Sundays, I might be able to carpool to church, especially September through June when the choir is in session. That will vary depending upon who is in town and their after-church plans, or the needs of my mom which might require me to go there after church. By carpooling to church-related classes this fall through next spring, I can reduce my driving to those classes by 50%.

Everything else, I do from home. I am considering a return to the 40-hour work week, and should I decide in the affirmative, I will have to seriously revisit my plan of attack as virtually no one up here is able to car pool due to the small community size and there is a complete lack of any kind of mass transit. But I will cross that bridge when I come to it. So, I have reduced my driving to approximately the equivalent of 5/14 of what it was. Not bad.

On The Domestic Side

My desire to leave a smaller carbon footprint also extended to my home, this year. While I long ago (15 years or so) changed over all light bulbs to compact florescent bulbs (resulting in a WHOPPING decrease in my all-electric home), I recently changed my outdoor safety lighting on the "steps from hell" from the compact bulbs to a wee, well placed little strand of white Christmas lights on a timer. They are on two hours/day, one day/week. Another plus. I also turn literally every light out in the house except in the room I am in.

I used no heat this past winter, except for a VERY cold two weeks and then only in one room, instead wearing heavier clothes in the house and shoes (the bane of my existence). I am using no air conditioning this summer, just a fan. I no longer leave my computer on when not in use, I turn the screen off when I intend to be absent from it for more than five minutes, and use the computer for playing music instead of the stereo (which is a big, big give-up for me given I am a tube amplifier lover). I have been using rechargeable batteries for at least a dozen years, and for emergencies I have a hand-crank flashlight that will also charge my cell phone.

When I use the oven, I cook for several days all at once then refrigerate or freeze the results. It took a while to learn to cook like this, but I am doing a lot better. I dry almost everything on the clothes line, except in rainy weather. I do need to replace my less efficient refrigerator and dryer with newer more efficient models. In an all electric home, there is little one can do about hot water heating short of solar support which I will do in time as my budget allows along with general electrical support. But because I have California oaks all over, this is difficult, and the trees will not be going anywhere in my lifetime! Wind is not feasible here.

So, what did this all do to my electric bill? It reduced it by two-thirds, a direct reflection of saving approximately 2/3 of my previously used energy. Not bad. Needs to be better. I'd like to shoot for 1/4 of previous use, then chip away from there.

What have you done to lessen your carbon footprint?