Going Green on a College Budget

Challenge #1: What’s your carbon footprint?

I consider myself a fairly conscientious person when it comes to using basic resources that we all have to share. I don’t leave the lights on when I exit the room, I don’t let water run and run just for a bit of convenience when I’m doing the dishes, and I try to recycle pretty much whatever I can. That being said, when I used the Zoo’s carbon footprint calculator, my carbon foot print is almost exactly that of an average American (9.44 tons a year). Let’s break this down step by step and see where we went wrong.

I’m a college student at the highly reputable (6 Nobel winners) but also hilarious (always in the Top 5 list of party schools) University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). There is a strong bike culture here, so even though we usually have to use some form of automobile to get “downtown,” where all the clubs and restaurants are, 95 percent of the time we are using all of our own energy to get ourselves anywhere. UCSB always takes time to point out how green this method is, but it’s really more of a practical matter, since there are simply so many people who need to get from place to place. I’m still glad it works this way. The real energy that’s spent in transportation comes from using cars to go back home to visit our families or when we get a friend to drive us to Costco (so we can keep living). I low-balled an average of 1,500 miles a year, because we often use alternate and more economic methods like the Greyhound or Amtrak to get back to the nest. There’s little we can do about this, as most of us don’t really go home excessively, and most of the cars we use have great gas mileage. None of us travel by air unless there’s some specific event we need to get to, and I can’t seem to remember anyone traveling recently.

The climate here is also pretty temperate, and we’ve only needed to use the heater a few times. I would guess most of our natural gas bill comes from cooking, since there are four guys on four different schedules, and since we all know how to cook, the flame in the kitchen is always burning. But learning to cook has saved us not only money but also resources, since we buy most of our groceries in bulk—none of those wasteful single- person meals/heavily packaged or processed items tend to make it into our house. Our natural gas bill is only $15, which seems pretty low. There are probably multiple things from our electricity usage that will be easier to curb.

Even though we’ve all tried to do the little things like turn off a light when leaving a room or replacing old light bulbs with more energy-efficient ones, the latter saving both money and the environment, there are still leaks. Three things in particular are probably the biggest energy suckers. Firstly, sometimes a night of debauchery can end without anyone turning off the lights. Any light at all, really. Also, we all use our laptops more than frequently, and these are tremendous energy users. Lastly, our fridge is ancient, and though this is a function of our landlord, I still feel that something could be done.
For the first problem, I’m going to buy a few electricity timers and set them to make sure that the lights are always turned off by 1 or 2 a.m. These are simple devices that can do things like turn on your porch light for you when on holiday or turn off the Christmas tree lights so you won’t burn to death with holiday cheer.

For our laptop problem, there’s not much we can do while using them, but they still use plenty of energy when plugged in and off. My roommates know that I’m blogging about energy conservation and have agreed to make a greater effort to power down their laptops when not in use, as opposed to putting them in sleep mode. Going a step further and unplugging the laptop charger itself saves even more energy. Doing the same when it comes to our phones will make what I hope to be an obvious and verifiable difference.

Lastly, for our fridge problem, I plan on writing a letter or possibly even speaking in person to my landlord about the merits of buying a new fridge for both tenants and the environment. A few simple calculations showed me that an Energy Star fridge would cost over $50 less a year to run, paying for itself in a few years.

For the last two categories, we do a pretty good job recycling aluminum, glass, plastic, and cardboard. Paper never seems to find its way outside into those blue bins, but that could be easily fixed by establishing a small trash can for paper. I would also say we are average consumers, buying almost all of our food in bulk from Costco and recycling the various packaging. Thus, we arrive where we originally started, with a figure of 9.475 metric tons of C0² per year, per person. According to the 2008 “Carbon Footprint-Encyclopedia of Earth,” the global average carbon footprint is 4 tons of C0² per year. As Americans, we are consistently indoctrinated with a consumerist mentality from birth. Waste is a huge byproduct of the society we’ve built for ourselves.

I find it particularly good to do these things from time to time, as it helps you remember the sheer amount of energy humans use by simply being alive. We are always taking something from the planet. I feel good in that I’ve pointed out a few key ways in which my household can curb its effect on the environment. But this is not just an individual problem. It’s rooted in society, it affects society, and it can be changed by society. Change starts at home, because it’s the little things that really matter.

Michael Kranz

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