'We must all stop washing to save the planet'
Peel your socks off the wall for Gaia, chaps
Analysis A "world-renowned expert on carbon emissions" has stated that Western consumers must avoid five "eco crimes" committed every day in order to save the world. Dr Dave Reay's main assertion, in fact, is that we should stop washing so much - but the national press has chosen rather to highlight his assertion that drinking instant coffee is better for the environment than filter.
Dr Reay, whose PhD and early training were in marine biology, is nowadays Edinburgh university's first ever Senior Lecturer in Carbon Management. He seems as much a campaigner as a researcher, devoting much time to running his greenhouse-gas website and writing books aimed at the lay audience - Climate Change Begins at Home and Your Planet Needs You! A Kid's Guide to Going Green.
Apart from all that, Dr Reay last week put out his top five eco-crimes list, in the form of a piece for New Scientist. He is at least, unlike many pop-eco analysts*, aware what a kilowatt-hour is and able to do back-of-the-envelope calculations. Even better, he has realised the inconvenient truth that it is not easily dispensable things which account for most of Western civilisation's energy use.
"For the largest cuts, simply washing less frequently is the way to go," says the doc, and of course he's right. Personal hygiene and laundry are massive domestic energy hogs. Even Reay isn't quite willing to advocate the end of daily baths or showers, but he probably rightly thinks that around half of the population believes it is made to wash its clothes too often at the insistence of the other half, and so focuses on laundry.
Advertisers [have] convinced us that our shirts must always be "whiter than white", our sheets should forever smell of spring flowers, and that to be dressed in freshly laundered clothes at all times is a badge of success. We live in a "wear once and wash" culture.
It is easy to see how these emissions stack up. A full load in a washing machine uses around 1.2 kilowatt-hours of electricity per cycle and tumble drying clocks up a further 3.5 kilowatt-hours, resulting in over 2 kilograms of CO2 emissions per wash. With four or five loads per household per week, the total annual emissions from each home can easily pass the half-tonne mark. That's a significant proportion of the 10-tonne annual emissions of the average European.
Reay is using a figure of 500g CO2/kilowatt-hour there, which is actually more than a bit on the high side these days, as the British wind-energy lobby were recently compelled to admit by the Advertising Standards Authority. So you can actually factor all these CO2 figures down by 15 per cent, which is disappointing in the case of a Senior Lecturer in Carbon Management - but pass on.
Reay's central point, that washing is a major home energy user for wealthy westerners, is quite correct. Stinky socks and pants are ecologically very sound - ideally trusty old holey ones, too; Reay also fingers the tendency to replace clothes before they're worn out as an eco-crime.
Next person to tell me to reduce my carbon footprint gets kicked in the spleen.
If you seriously believe people washing their shirts and driving about accounts to more CO2 than people waging fucking WARS against each other then you really need your fucking head seeing to. Or removed, which ever is more carbon efficient.
' is it really a surprise that we're heading towards another one (which is due anyway).'
No it bloody isn't!
Can you please find a geological textbook that says the next glacial maximum is due? The best claim you can make is that in the early 1970s a *minority* of scientists studying the climate proposed that the Earth was likely to head into a period of general cooling which might end up as an ice age (we'll skip the technicality that we're actually still in an ice age).
The work began with Stephen Schneider at NASA Goddard Flight Center and got into the New York Times. Around the same time, a report by the National Academy of Sciences also suggested a 'finite possibility' that the Earth's climate would begin cooling within the next century. The stories got traction for a number of reasons:
Research had been going on into Milankovich Cycles - regular changes in the tilt of the Earth's axis on a geological timescale which appear to be *partially* related to glaciations. Running the Cycles forward showed that the Earth was heading towards a part of the cycle which would produce greater amounts of cooling.
The then state of knowledge of glaciations was very poor - we had not done any deep drilling of ice cores. There was a general assumption that the warmer interglacials, such as the current Holocene, lasted no more than 10,000 years; and that the previous interglacial had lasted less than 5,000 years. The Holocene interglacial had been going for about 10,000 years, so it was reasonable to assume the ice sheets were most likely to begin expanding again in the geological near future.
There had been a very mild cooling from the 1940s onward which was believed to have been driven by rapid industrialisation producing smoke, soot and dust and by the cultivation of previously virgin land producing even more dust.
Schneider performed a simulation contrasting the cooling effect of these aerosols against the known warming effect of increased CO2 from fossil fuels. He made a prediction of the future climate if the known trends continued into the future. His 1971 paper suggested the cooling effect was dominant and would tip the Earth towards another glacial.
Schneider quickly realised his numbers for future cooling were not realistic (he had used local concentrations of pollutants on a global scale - there were too many of them), when he dialled the aerosols back to more realistic values in his second simulation, it was clear that the warming effect was dominant.
Since then we've learned a lot. Milankovich Cycles are a good, but not total explanation of glaciations. We now know interglacials last up to about 100,000 years and we're pretty sure (again from the ice evidence) that much of the cooling in the middle part of the 20th Century was caused by an upspike in volcanic activity.
Schneider's paper came in a poorly established field without a large amount of supporting work. It was a good piece of work and he deserves credit for re-running his work with better figures. But he was not the only person researching future climates. Between 1965 and 1979, 44 scientific papers were published that predicted a warming world - and some were pointing to CO2 as the driving force, 20 thought there would be no overall change; just 7 predicted cooling.
There's a review of those papers here:
Can we now bury that myth alongside the person who suggested I should take up drinking instant coffee?
Everyone is wasting so much energy in attempting to prevent the inevitable, as opposed to planning for what to do when the inevitable comes. Human population shall continue to increase and demands for energy shall continue to rise the world over.
For better or worse it's inevtiable, people can make all the promises in the world, but in the end the practicalities of life will win out. We need more power, as a world, we'll always need more power, even as thing become more efficent we will want more things, as will those who don't have anything yet. There are essentially 3 continents that have almost nothing (wealth/captial wise), and they want things. Don't think that in 20 years time their population will still accept being poor and downtrodden.
Our energies need to plowed into improved power, and preperation for when climate changes. Humans can survive in space and underwater with power, we are perfectly capable of surving climate change of any sort as long as we are prepared, and as long as we have power.