The Honourable Harvest

October 19, 2021

Beautiful guidelines for sustainable living

Have you ever heard of the Honourable Harvest?  I first learned of it Thanksgiving weekend – appropriate timing, given that it’s a value system that combines gratitude, humility and sustainability.

The Honourable Harvest is a set of food harvesting principles rooted in indigenous traditions of reverence for ancestors, concern for descendants (the next seven generations as a minimum) and respect for the fellow life forms that nourish and sustain us.  It’s largely oral and somewhat fluid, but its key principles include:

  • Never take the first. Never take the last.
  • Take only what you need. Leave some for others (including non-humans). Never waste what you have taken.
  • Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
  • Give thanks for what you have been given.
  • Use it respectfully. Share.
  • Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

More perspective and a few more principles can be read here; or you can watch this three-and-a-half minute video. Climate change and other ecological challenges suggest that we humans need to awaken to a new relationship with the world around us.  Implementing the principles of the Honourable Harvest – not just at Thanksgiving, but all year long – would be a great beginning.

When world leaders and climate scientists gather to plan our journey to net-zero emissions

There’s a major conference happening in Glasgow, Scotland October 31 to November 12.  Its name – ‘COP 26’ – may sound bland, but it’s an event of historical significance.

‘COP’ is the United Nations’ annual conference that brings together leaders, officials and climate scientists from around the world to examine the latest climate science and negotiate global emission reduction agreements. ‘26’ means this is the 26th such conference.  Remember the Kyoto Accord?  It arose from COP 3 in 1997.  The Paris Accord arose from COP 21 in 2015.

Why is COP 26 historical?  Recent science and this year’s crazy weather – from droughts to wildfires to floods – suggest that the timeline for preventing climate change from spinning out of control permanently is now very short, thanks to longstanding denial and inaction.  In aviation terms, we’re running out of runway:

  • A 2018 report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded global emissions need to drop by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 – just nine years from now – if global warming is to be limited to 1.5 degrees C
  • The 2015 Paris Accord was a major breakthrough, but:
    • Commitments made by countries fall well short of attaining that 1.5 degree C target
    • Many countries are having challenges meeting even those commitments

So the goals of COP 26 are pretty straightforward: get nations around the world to raise their ambition and set new, more aggressive emission reduction targets that are in line with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, and then develop realistic plans for achieving those targets.  Straightforward, but not simple: international negotiations are incredibly complicated and challenging.

So what can you do?  If ever there was a time to awaken your inner activist and find your voice, it’s now:

  • Reach out to your elected leaders at all levels by mail, phone, email or petition to tell them you support aggressive action.  Contact information for federal leaders can be found here. It’s the nature of politicians to only act when they sense they have the support of their constituents, so they need to hear from us, in numbers and volume.  A simple online petition is here, with wording you can borrow for your own letter to a leader.
  • Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or online media to share your concerns and help nudge climate change further into the mainstream of our thinking; a helpful template can be found here
  • Demonstrate that you’re ready to do your part by thinking of ways you can lower your personal carbon footprint, and then taking action.  A zillion tips (from a familiar source) here.

So let’s do what we can to make COP 26 a historical success.  Future generations are counting on it.

Update on our solar array’s performance

Regular subscribers will remember that we had a solar array installed at our home last December.  (If that’s news to you, read more about the planning and installation here, and about how net metering works here.)

So how is it working out?  In short, pretty good:

  • Over the past seven months, the array has produced about 80 per cent of the power we’ve used in our home and to charge our electric vehicle
  • The best months for solar production were March, June and August; August was the first month the array actually generated more power than we used, with the surplus being sent into the grid as a credit we can use later.
  • The biggest single power load in our household is charging our electric vehicle – but that’s a tradeoff we don’t mind as we no longer need to buy gas.

Below is a chart most New Brunswickers would recognize: it’s the graphic that appears on our power bills each month – and this shows what’s happened to our consumption since the array came on line last December.

Solar power makes sense on so many levels: emission reduction, energy self-sufficiency, local jobs, fewer local dollars sent away to import fossil fuels, payback and more.  So why not make it part of your long-term plan to decarbonize your lifestyle?

Note: be sure to consult a qualified solar installer before you start; and remember that solar rebates are available in many jurisdictions. Here’s an excellent resource to learn more about solar potential in NB and across Canada.

Its time for greater climate ambition

Climate change is like an overdue credit card bill: it’s easy avoid dealing with, but the longer we delay, the harder it gets.  Last month’s report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was blunt: thanks to past procrastination, we need more action than ever, faster than ever.

The good news: we have everything we need to eliminate emissions and prevent the worst impacts of climate change.  From solar panels to batteries, technology isimproving and costs are dropping – and it’s creating momentum:

• Last year, Finland upped its ambitions and now plans to be net-zero by 2035, just 14 years from now

• Last spring, Heineken, PepsiCo and Visa became the latest companies to take the Climate Pledge, committing to reaching Paris Agreement net zero targetsby 2040, 10 years ahead of schedule

• Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to transition to 100% clean energy by 2035, 10 years ahead of its original goal

The bad news: here in Canada, we’re not transitioning fast enough: not enough solar panels; not enough wind turbines; not enough electric vehicles; not enough public transit.  In short, not enough ambition.

So what to do?  Well, it’s election time in Canada – a perfect time for meaningful change.  So why not:

• Compare party platforms to see who’s got the most ambitious climate action plan (note that one major party is proposing to backtrack on Canada’s climate ambitions), and then vote for them 

• Tell any candidate who comes looking for your vote, regardless of party, that you expect greater climate ambition

• Use social media to promote greater climate ambition; you can find a stream of daily sharable messages here

Let’s use this election to up our climate ambitions – the one thing missing in our fight against climate change.

A report and an election

Don’t idle, reduce-reuse-recycle, conserve water, buy less stuff: they’re allimportant small actions.  But two events this month highlight perhaps the two most critical environmental actions you can take this year.

The first event was the release August 9 of the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  It details how human activities –mainly our consumption of coal, oil and natural gas – are raising temperatures, causing more extreme weather events and disrupting our oceans.  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls it “a Code Red for humanity”.  Decades of dithering by our leaders have made the timeline for preventing the worst impacts dauntingly short.

So here’s the first critical action you can take: take a bit of time to be informed about the stark realities of climate change.  Here are:• A short and palatable summary of six key takeaways from the IPCC report• A two-minute IPCC video summarizing the report and its contents (and you can continue to more IPCC videos from that link)• For deep divers: the full IPCC report, including authors, methodology, FAQs and more

Hopefully these links will help you understand the gravity of climate change, and ignite your fire to act.  In the words of former Obama Science Advisor John Holdren, We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be.”

The second event was the calling of a federal election – a chance for us to vote for the leaders we believe will act most decisively on the things that matter most to us.  

There’s no shortage of pressing and valid issues these days: the pandemic, the economy, indigenous reconciliation, affordable housing and more.  But I’d argue –strenuously – that a stable climate is foundational to our hopes, dreams, aspirations – everything.  As astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water.

So here’s the second critical action you can take: make climate change your number one issue when you vote.  Contact your candidates to let them know, and ask them what they plan to do. And take a bit of time to compare party platforms; you can find a nice summary here and another here.

I hope you’ll take these two critical environmental actions – and why not share with your networks?  Because as the Lung Association slogan goes, ‘When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters’

A signal that makes the impossible possible
“Who here thinks you could wash your hands with just one cup of water?” I asked my audience. Not a single hand went up. “Well, I have something in my pocket that I guarantee will enable anyone to wash their hands with a single cup of water.” Now I really had their attention!

So what did I pull out? A $20 bill. “Who here thinks you could wash your hands with just one cup of water if I gave you this?” – and all the hands shot up.

That’s the power of a price signal: if people are given a worthwhile monetary incentive to do something, chances are pretty good they’ll do it, or at least try. If I’d have carried through with my offer, I’m pretty sure I would have shelled out a lot of money that day – because everyone would have quickly figured out that it takes virtually no water to wet your hands sufficiently for soap to work, and a cup of water can rinse a lot of soap if you use it wisely. If I’d have then kept the offer open for a week, I’m guessing human creativity would have kicked in: people would be routinely helping each other to make it easier to achieve what they wanted; there would have been discussion of ideas like soaps that don’t need water, or gadgets to dispense water super-efficiently; and I’d probably have accumulated a debt I’d still be paying off! 

The point: we humans can do amazing things when motivated, and there are few motivators better than a price signal. It works in reverse too: if water cost$20 a cup, everyone in my audience would have come to the same conclusion, except via an unhappier route.

Recent weather extremes around the world underline the need for big action on climate, quickly. That will require big motivation – the kind we can get from big price signals. Once the right thing to do becomes the cheapest thing to do, everyone, regardless of belief system, will do it, because we all buy cheap.

So please be a supporter of price signals – from incentives for home insulation, solar power or electric vehicles; to fees on plastic bags, or gas and diesel; to penalties for toxic polluters and coal-fired power. They’re key to unleashing the motivation – plus the ingenuity, creativity and perseverance – we need to solve climate change.

I know we can do it – and hopefully it won’t take anything near a $20 signal on a cup of water to get us there.

Honestly, we ought to drive less

A few months ago, a fellow member of a Facebook EV owners page posted a message that went something like this: Wow  just added up my receipts and I spent $600 on gas over the past five weeks.  Cant wait for my new Tesla to arrive!

It speaks to an uncomfortable reality about Canadians: we drive an awful lot –globally, third only to Americans and Australians. Combine that with the fact thatwe have the least efficient vehicle fleet in the world (thanks to pickup trucks andSUVs) and it becomes easy to understand why transportation produces more emissions than any sector in Canada except oil and gas.

There’s no doubt getting a more efficient vehicle (like a Tesla) is a good thing.  But it’s only half of the solution.  If we are to be honest about reducing transportationemissions, we also need to think about driving less (which is arguably more important, as even the most efficient EV uses more energy while driving than a gasguzzler that’s parked).

So what to do?  Here are a few suggestions for driving less:

• Very best: work from home whenever you can

• Best: choose public transit over your private vehicle (yes, even your EV) at every opportunity

• Best: walk or bike instead of driving whenever possible; consider an electric bike to help make it a breeze – a nice overview of e-bikes here

• Very good: find a neighbour or neighbours whose commute is similar to yours,and carpool to cut your fuel bill and emissions in half or better; some tips for smooth carpooling here

• Very good: carpool to league sports with teammates (or even opponents, if you’re on friendly terms); to clubs with clubmates; to church with fellow churchgoers; to any gathering with other attendees

• Good: plan your trips well so you can get everything done in one circuit; make an ordered list of your stops to help guide you

• Good: go to the closest source of what you need, even if the price is a few cents more; the fuel (and time) savings will more than make up for it

• Good: when delivering people to sports or other activities, wait for them instead of making two trips; take a book or go for a walk to make the most of the time

And, of course, avoid drive-throughs; park in the first spot you see (versus driving around looking for a spot closer to the entrance) and idle as little as possible.

Driving less can make a huge difference in our emissions – so let’s do it!

Make flying less a permanent habit
If you’re like me, you probably haven’t done much travelling in the past 16 months. But if you’re like me, perhaps you’ve also started receiving a steady stream of emails enticing you back to ‘normal’ travel with reduced fares on flights across Canada and around the world.
Unfortunately, flying is about the least eco-friendly way to travel. Globally, aviation accounts for about 2.5% of global emissions, or more than a country like Germany. It caters to that minority of humans who can afford to fly. And a large share of emissions from aviation happen high in the atmosphere, where they do more damage than emissions on the ground. 
So what to do if you love to fly?

Best: pledge to not fly anymore, as Greta Thunberg has done

Best: use videoconferencing instead of traveling whenever possible

Very good: when possible, travel by train or bus instead of airplane 

Very good: fly as little as possible, only when there is no reasonable alternative

Good: if you must fly, stay at your destination longer to get maximum benefit per tonne of emissions
Good: choose direct flights when possible; stopovers and connections come with a carbon cost

Good: buy Gold Standard carbon offsets to counter the negative impacts of your flight, or use a company like Goodwings to offset the impacts of your entire trip

Good: travel with as little luggage as you can (light suitcase, light clothing, even the smallest containers of personal care products) because when it comes to flying, every ounce counts.

This summer, fall and winter, pledge to fly less, because staying grounded is a good thing for the environment.

Use as little air conditioning as you can

There’s a tragic irony in the massive heatwave gripping western North America: the oppressive temperatures are leading people to use much more air conditioning, which is causing record power consumption, which is resulting in more emissions from power generation, which further drive climate change, which will cause more such heat waves. Alberta, which has the dirtiest power in Canada because of its reliance on coal, set a new summer record for electricity demand two days ago.

So what to do?  Here are some simple ways to reduce your need for air conditioning even as you stay safe and comfortable:

• Open windows at night to take advantage of free cooling, and close them in the morning to keep the day’s heat out.  If necessary, use a fan to draw in that fresh, cool night time air.

• Ensure all windows and doors are tightly closed when your air conditioning is running, to minimize the amount of heat that sneaks in from outside.  

• Keep blinds and shades closed, especially on south and west facing windows when the sun is shining directly on them.  It’s a simple habit that results in huge savings. (If you don’t have blinds or other window coverings, consider installing some; they’ll pay for themselves quickly.)

• If you rely on a window air conditioner, place it in a north or east facing window; it’ll work more efficiently in shade than in direct sun.

• Cool only spaces where you spend time; save by not cooling unused or unoccupied rooms.• Retreat to the basement if it’s an option, to take advantage of free, natural coolness there.

• For big savings, set your thermostat to cool down to tolerable (such as 22-25°C) instead of downright chilly.  (Ever been in a building where some people are wearing sweaters in summer?  It’s an enormous waste of energyand money.)

• Wear light clothes to match the temperature

• Use cotton bedsheets for better, cooler sleeps

• Minimize your use of kettles, toasters, ovens and other appliances that generate heat; they work against your air conditioner, so in effect you pay for that energy twice.  (It makes a case for making your coffee and toast out on the deck…)

• Keep yourself well hydrated with cool drinks, because a cool you can feel pretty comfortable even in warm temperatures

• When it’s time to buy a new air conditioner, make sure you choose an efficient ENERGY STAR certified model

• In vehicles, air conditioning is the second biggest load on the engine, after driving; it can reduce your fuel efficiency by up to 20%.  So use fresh air as much as possible and AC as sparingly as possible; some good guidance here.

Stay cool and comfortable this summer-but please don’t warm the planet in the process!

Make water conservation part of your culture
If you follow the news, you may have heard that Lake Mead, the reservoir above the gigantic Hoover Dam in Nevada, is at its lowest level ever, thanks to record drought and extreme heat. In fact, a serious drought is gripping all of Western US and 85% of Canada’s farmland, already creating concerns about crops. Even here in New Brunswick, record heat and modest rains have us on the cusp of drought, with almost all of the province under a no-open-fire restriction.

Water is one of our most vital resources, so conserving it just makes good sense anytime. You can make water conservation part of your personal culture by asking yourself, every time you use some:

Would I use this much water if I had to pay a dollar a litre for it? (Cheap water rates are one of the reasons why Canadians are among the highest per capita users of water in the world.)
Would I use this much if I had to walk a mile to get it? (People – especially women – in less fortunate parts of the world do.)
If my total water allocation for this week were 100 litres, is this one of the ways I would use it? 

Worth pondering! And in the meantime, here are some simple ways to conserve water:

Avoid watering your lawn (it just makes it grow faster anyway so you have to mow it more often – which takes time and fuel)
Wash your vehicle with a pail instead of a hose
Take shorter and less frequent showers
Find and fix water leaks in your home (toilets are notorious for quietly leaking huge amounts of water; you can check if yours is leaking by putting a little food coloring into the tank and seeing if it seeps into the bowl)
If you haven’t already, install a low flow shower head; install a low-flow toilet; get a high-efficiency front loading clothes washer
Use a rain barrel to collect rainwater for use in your garden.

Hopefully we won’t be praying for rain in our part of the world anytime soon. But, even so, let’s use what we have as wisely and efficiently as possible.