That's a ton of carbon dioxide
|Household energy usage||Propane||Electricity|
|December 2005||185 gallons||1040 KWH|
|December 2006||28 gallons||729 KWH|
|Change:||85% reduction||30% reduction|
|CO2 reduction:||2011 lbs||417 lbs|
|Approximate C02 cost of corn production & harvest: 440 lbs|
If you add the two CO2 reduction numbers together, and subtract what it took to grow and process the corn, our household was responsible for putting 1,988 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for December 2006 compared to the same month last year.
That's 66 lbs per day, or about the weight of my two 3 1/2-year-old kids combined.
(I'm assuming the CO2 emitted by burning the corn is equivalent to the CO2 absorbed by the corn plants when they were grown. It's actually probably a net gain, since we're only using a fraction of the corn plant's biomass.)
What did we do to achieve these dramatic results? Honestly, not that much. We replaced light bulbs with compact fluorescents, I put some power strips on the computers and TV equipment to eliminate "phantom loads" when not in use, and we switched our home heating from a propane furnace to a corn/pellet stove. As an added bonus, these changes should pay for themselves in just a few years.
As regular readers may realize, I worry more about peak oil than global warming, probably because my brain can only process one potential global crisis at a time. I'm well aware of climate change concerns, which is why I decided to calculate these numbers. I have to admit though, that I have not read extensively on climate change, because, for the most part, the solutions for both of these problems amount to the same thing: Stop making every aspect of our existence dependent on fossil fuels. As an added bonus, these changes should reduce our need to send lots of money to unstable countries who generally seem to hate us and want us all to die.
But it's pretty near impossible to go cold turkey on fossil fuels. There's a reason we use them for everything. They're abundant, cheap, and packed with energy. At least on the surface. The best we can do to get away from them is just keep trying to conserve, learn, adapt, and change.
The right answers are sometimes hard to find. As I mentioned, since last year, we've switched from burning propane for heat to burning corn. We've recently switched from corn to wood pellets, at least temporarily. There were two reasons for this: 1) Rodents. Until we make some better arrangements, the corn is too much of a rodent magnet. We're working on that... and 2) The cost difference evaporated. Corn has more than doubled in price due to a poor harvest nationally, and corn-to-ethanol plants popping up like weeds throughout the midwest. What we bought for $2.12 a bushel in September now sells for $5.32 a bushel. (Corn-to-ethanol is kind of a silly thing to do, in my opinion, but that's a topic for another day.)
It's hard to figure whether corn or pellets make more sense. The corn is locally produced and harvested, but that generally means lots of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc. I don't know where the pellets are shipped in from, but I'm sure it's not local (though it is in the US). They are made from a waste product (hardwood sawdust), but I can't really find any information on the energy required to produce them. And bagged 40 lbs. at a time, the packaging definitely adds up. As I understand it, corn burns a little cleaner, a little hotter, and a little more efficiently than pellets, but produces more ash. Corn can be renewed in a growing season, where a woodlot can require decades to establish. Both corn and pellets require more processing than burning whole firewood, but they both burn more efficiently, and something like 85% cleaner in terms of particulate emissions. They also require more technology and moving parts for burning. I don't know if any of these three options could scale up to heat everybody's homes. In our case, we could theoretically grow enough corn to provide all the heat we need, but we're not in a position to do that at this point. And to top it all off, there's some concern about using a food product as fuel.
What's best? You tell me, because I can't figure it out. All I know is that compared to last year, we've come out ahead in several different ways.