Old Refrigerators & Freezers are Top Energy $ Wasters

March 5th, 2010

1997 was the year that Amana won a department of energy prize for developing a refrigerator technology that cut energy usage 50%. Sadly, I bought my new top-of-the line model in 1996. You can learn from my mistake, though. Because they are on 24/7, refrigerators and freezers are a household’s top energy user. If you have a pre-2000 model, take a close look at your paperwork for it’ EnergyStar rating.

Here’s an Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator to help you determine if your annual savings might quickly repay the cost of a new refrigerator.

PG&E & other utilities are starting to offer rebates for old fridges, as well.

Consolidating so you can eliminate an extra fridge or freezer is a good first step. Keeping both your fridge & freezer compartments full, even if just with water jugs keeps them operating more efficiently, is another.

Wako has many more details on her Everyday Sustainable blog, so I won’t repeat.

Water Warming

February 14th, 2010

Water is an essential element of life. Most folks incorrectly link global warming with outside air temperatures. The true problem is occurring in our seas which most of us rarely see, feel or think about. The warming of our oceans, lakes and stream affects the type of fish we can eat, sources of seaweed (seaweed is an ingredient in more foods, beauty products and medicines than you can possibly imagine), and the purity of the water we drink.

I’ll be expanding this post regularly but today’s news is that Target has announced that all their stores will stop selling farmed salmon products.

“Target announced that the reason they are discontinuing the sale of farmed salmon is because of the significant environmental degradation it causes. Aquaculture (farming fish) is often called the future of the seafood industry, but some types of aquaculture – such as conventional open-net salmon farming – can cause tremendous damage to the environment. Parasite infestations, concentrated fish waste, the uncontrolled spread of genetic material, and the unsustainable use of wild fish to feed farmed animals all pose significant threats to the sanctity of our marine ecosystems.

While some types of aquaculture, such as closed-containment systems and many bivalve farms, are relatively environmentally responsible sources of protein, many fish in conventional, open-containment aquafarms suffer from parasitic infections, diseases, and debilitating injuries. Conditions on some of these farms are so horrendous that a large percentage of the fish die before farmers can kill and package them for food.”

Life & Debt

August 14th, 2009

This is the title of a movie which traces how the agricultural industry of Jamaica has been subsumed by NAFTA and the IMF. Local rice and potatoes have been replaced with imports from the US. Workers are paid substandard wages because the factories are on the shore in a special “trade zone” that benefits only the manufacturers and local government officials. Order it on Netflix

To Mother Earth, With Love on St. Valentine’s Day

February 10th, 2009

St. Valentine was a priest in Rome in the 1rst Century CE. “He was caught marrying Christian couples and aiding any Christians who were being persecuted under Emperor Claudius and subsequently imprisoned, then beaten, stoned and beheaded for trying to convert Claudius, himself. One legend says, while awaiting his execution, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. Another legend says, on the eve of his death, he penned a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

Popular customs “associated with Saint Valentine’s Day had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e. half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair. the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lovers’ tokens.”

Forest Ethics suggests that Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to get creative. In the spirit of the holiday, send your loved ones a handmade card out of the very junk mail clogging your mail box.

Making your own valentine is easy. Check out our facts about junk mail page for quick facts to share with your friends, and start cutting up those glossy mailers sitting in your recycle bin. With a pair of scissors and a little glue, you’ll have a valentine in no time.

And don’t forget to tell your valentine to sign the petition at http://www.donotmail.org!

If you have the time, they’d like you send them a picture of your valentine on Facebook, Flickr, or just attach it in an email. (If you send an email, please make sure it’s under 8 mb.)

Towards Sustainable Auto Transportation

January 24th, 2009

Amory Lovins in the 8/26/2007 issue of Newsweek spoke about steps the government can take to slow oil addiction.

He also made is short, sweet and to the point on how the average consumer can promote energy efficiency in personal auto transportation:

1) Get the most energy efficient vehicle (both in terms of energy used to manufacture the car and energy it uses). Drive the vehicle properly to maximize efficiency.

2) Be thoughtful about whether the trip is necessary and how many people are in the car

3) Try to live nearer to where you work, shop, attend school and recreate.

4) Push for fairer competition between all ways to get around. Write or call your legislators at all levels, attend local meetings.

Brain Research: Stash Credit & Debit Cards, Use Cash

January 22nd, 2009

Sharon Begley in Newsweek has wonderful articles on science how they relate to how we live our lives.

The Dec 15, 2008 issue reveals research that points out that we buy less when we pay with cash because the insula in our brain registers the tangible loss of coins and currency but the same thing doesn’t happen with cards – I know the feeling as I confidently buy my latte on my debit card then hesitate to decide what cash tip to leave.

Credit cards numb us to the pain of parting with money and we are also willing to pay more for the same item on credit than with cash. When we are depressed we both overshop and overpay because we think less of ourselves and try to overcompensate by acquiring stuff.

Certain neurons in the ventral caudate do complex reasoning that affect such things as tracking previous sale prices which make it harder to pay full price later on and stock purchase and sale decisions.

To read the entire article see Inside the Shopping Brain

US Consumption the Greatest Currency in the World

December 24th, 2008

Sadly, the world depends on US consumption to raise it’s standards. Our consumption is the world\’s biggest Ponzi scheme. 

Even sadder, our government sets the example and encourages us to do so.

The challenges? 

Meaningful employment for people throughout the world.

Determining how much ‘stuff’ we really need and if we should make or buy it and from where.

Production and transportation of ‘stuff’ should have least impact on environment.

Enough leisure or slow time to actually enjoy our ‘stuff’.

Some things to ponder as we enter 2009.

Resolve to be less “Consumed” in 2009

December 11th, 2008
The holidays bring out the consumer in us even as we try to scale back. In addition to the waste we personally produce, there is a tremendous taxation of our earth in the farming, mining, manufacturing, transportation and sale of most every item we purchase and use.           

Despite my rantings about sustainability, I’ve discovered I have a long, long way to go even though I’ve made much progress. One of the best websites to find a good overall look at your personal & family sustainability footprint is Consumer Consequences . After you input your information you have the ability to compare yourself with others in different categories: house, energy, transportation, food, etc. It helped me identify which areas I should make more efforts in the coming year.

I’ve been reading online the NPR special report “Consumed” that was broadcast November 2007 and highly recommend checking it out:

Its goal is to answer the question, “Is the consumer economy sustainable?” in a serious way. They tackle the question in a comprehensive manner, with a lot of breadth but, if you don’t want to be overwhelmed, just choose one or two that most interest you.

A partial list of the featured topics: ecological footprint, landfills and the waste disposal sector, consumer debt, air pollution, freegans, marketing, junk mail, energy independence, the effect of consumer culture on mental and emotional well-being, carbon tax, food miles, fashion obsolescence, the green economy, e-waste, clean tech, globalization, Bhutan’s happiness index.

Interesting things to ponder as we consider resolutions for 2009.

Bed Linens: Organic choices abound

December 1st, 2008

I’m in search of a sage Cal King organic fitted sheet. Online shopping makes my work relatively simple. Choices have certainly increased since I went looking a few years ago:

Fabrics: Cotton, Bamboo, Wool

Weaves: Sateen, raw, damask, jersey, 200-400 thread counts

Prices: Target to $$$$$ 

Sets are available everywhere, individual pieces are harder to find (Clean Bedroom, Company Store & Dreamsoft were the only I found).

Cotton and labor sourcing are around the world. My choice is the Coyushi brand with small fair trade cotton farms in India, Turkey & Uganda but American milling and production in North Carolina.

If price is an issue, Target has an amazing selection. Quality may have changed from a year ago but my only complaint was that I needed to iron the pillowcases so they didn’t look so rumpled. 

Your “Fair” Share of Taxes

October 27th, 2008

My former occupation was Internal Revenue Agent and I feel that the Election Taxes Calculator comparing your 2009-2012 Federal Income Taxes under Obama v. McCain pretty fairly represents what will occur. In my situation I came out approximately the same under both candidates plans so that will not be a factor for me. How will your US income taxes fare under the candidates? See the end of the spreadsheet for details but those earning under $100K will do substantially better (by hundreds) under Obama’s plan, those earning more than $300K will do substantially better (by thousands) under McCain. Those earning between $100-300K will not see a great deal of difference between the two.

Income taxes is only one piece of the entire tax picture. When you add and subtract all the different kinds of taxes, there is effectively a flat tax for everyone except the very poorest and very richest. The combined tax burdens of Social Security tax, sales tax, property tax, vehicle tax, and gasoline tax actually show a pretty even overall tax burden between the $50,000 – $300,000 income levels.

Do you know that a poor person pays the same gas tax as a rich person – possibly even more because they can’t afford to buy the new energy efficient vehicle which only the more affluent person can afford? (& thus got a tax credit the poorer person didn’t qualify for).

Sales taxes are even more unfair on the less affluent because a larger portion of their income goes to buying necessities which means “stuff’ on which sales tax is paid (4.4% for income of $15K vs 1.4% for income of $400K); the more affluent buy more services, which are mostly untaxed.

Property taxes run about 1% for every level yet the affluent get a larger tax benefit at the Federal & State level because of higher marginal rates.

Up to $100K you see 6.2% of your wages disappear to Social Security taxes yet those over $100K stop paying resulting in an effective FICA tax of 1.5% for those earning $400K and .7% for those earning $5M. The reasoning, ostensibly, is that there is a cap to benefits – why not raise the cap and the $ flowing into the system?

Those who are able to afford stocks and bonds get such benefits as lower dividend and capital gains rates that lower wage earners do not generally have the income to invest in.

By my calculations (assuming a married couple with one child in all instances) effective Income/Rates are:
$15K (4%) Minimum wage, see Minimum Wage Barely Pays Rent
$20K….. 4%,
$30K ….. 12%,
$50K….. 21%,
$75K….. 22%,
$100K…. 17%,
$150K…. 18%,
$200K…. 21%,
$400K…. 21%,
$5M…… 38%