The Fight For Our Lives – Gas vs. Water

This video needs to be seen. Yes, it is a little bit dramatic and yes it is also slightly reminiscent of the opening word crawl in Star Wars but, all that aside, the drama is justified. The world and everything on it needs water. Fresh, uncontaminated water. Yet mining companies – with exploration licences in hand – are threatening local, national and international water sources with unsustainable and downright dangerous methods.

Check out what is happening as we speak in Australia…

What is Coal Seam Gas?

Coal Seam Gas (CSG) is methane that is trapped in coal seams. It is trapped by water (in pores and cleats) and are found in coal deposits that are too deep to mine.

Image originally from Action On Coal and Gas

Why is mining it a problem?

Groundwater

For me this is the scariest risk. In a country where drought is one of our major concerns the thought of ‘fracking’ is just insane. To extract the CSG water must be removed which can then affect the water levels in aquifers and alluvial systems. Mining companies cause micro-seismic (tiny earthquakes) to create pathways for the gas to move through. This is called Hydraulic Fracturing AKA Fracking. If these fractures hit the wrong places (say a fault or fissure) then hey presto! we have contaminated groundwater.

The First Law of Ecology: Everything Is Connected To Everything Else

-Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle, 1971

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

This entire industry is dirty. Coal Seam Gas is a fossil fuel – a non-renewable resource. Not only does the burning of the gas produce carbon emissions, but there are often methane leaks (which is not stringently monitored by the industry). Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, 72 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a period of 20 years, or 25 times more effective over 100 years.

Calculating how much carbon is absorbed by which forests and farms is a tricky task, especially when politicians do it.
– Donella Meadows

Conservation

A CSG well has a footprint of one hectare – which doesn’t sound all that bad. Except there over 40,000 wells in Australia as well as all the infrastructure and roads created to facilitate them. That leads to the removal of a huge amount of unique and valuable habitats.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”

Mohandas K. Gandhi quoted in EF Schumacher, Small is Beautiful.

Threats to Health

Gas wells release dangerous dust into the atmosphere which have been linked to respitory issues and cancer and affect the nervous and immune systems of humans and animals.  Gases which are release include BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Of these gases – 25% are carcinogenic; 37% affect the endocrine system; 52% affect the nervous system and 40% affect the immune system.

“I do care a great deal about the environment but my real work and my greatest challenge is trying to overcome deceits that end up jeopardising oublic healthy and safety”

– Erin Brockovich

What can you do?

Money talks. When up against a mining company that has more money than god it is a hard fight to win. The Lock The Gate Alliance  is a fantastic not-for-profit organisation which suggests – as the video also does – that people need to make some noise. Their website is a fantastic resource if you want to get involved. It has information about rallies, groups, contact details for letters, petitions and a whole lot more. Take a gander and get inspired.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead (1901-1978) quoted in John M. RIchardson, ed. Making it Happen, 1982

If you’re interested?

If you want to see examples of fracking (and all that comes with it) then I recommend watching the Sundance Festival award winner Gasland by Josh Fox. It left me flabbergasted. Here is the trailer – check out the guy lighting his tap water on fire.. YIKES.

Do You Know What Your Carbon Footprint Is?

If everyone on the planet lived your lifestyle how many worlds would we need?

So many companies are using “green” as an advertising strategy that really useful eco tools and terms are being drowned in the green-wash. One such tool (and term) is your Carbon Footprint. We hear about it daily, but how many people really know their carbon shoe size or even what a carbon footprint is?

DID YOU KNOW…? Australians currently emit more than 550 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. About a fifth of this is generated through every day activities. – 1degree

What is a carbon footprint?

Individuals, countries, products and industries all have carbon footprints. In fact, every single thing that involves human activity has a carbon footprint. Human activities demand natural resources and produce waste and the measure of these impacts on the environment is known as an ‘ecological footprint’ (or carbon footprint). The impact that these activities have on the environment has, in recent times anyway, been measured in terms of climate change.

Here is a really clever and simple way of looking at how little things can have large and environmentally damaging footprints…

Thanks to WWF for providing that amazing little video – doesn’t it put things in perspective?

Something to also consider is that we also have two different types of footprints;

 Primary Footprint:

A measure of our direct emissions of CO2 from burning of fossil fuels such as domestic energy consumption (our household gas, electricity etc) and transport (car, plane, whatever you use to get from A to B)

Secondary Footprint:

A measure of our indirect emissions of CO2 looking at the entire lifecycle of products from their manufacture to their breakdown. It is a simple equation… the more new things buy, the more emissions you cause.

Here is a fantastic graph thanks to Carbon Footprint which breaks down all our basic needs and modern luxuries and codes whether they Primary (Green) or Secondary (Yellow).

Green = Primary Footprint ; Yellow = Secondary Footprint

So what is your Carbon Footprint?

So are you ready to know? There are a million calculators around and they go from being extremely comprehensive (wanting to know how many kWh you use, litres of heating oil) to just getting an approximate summary of your habits and uses (travel distances, modes of transport, dietary choices). Below I have put a link to my favourite calculators – one basic, one thorough, a kiddies calculator and my fave of all.

The end result (represent by worlds) will show you how many planet earths we would need if everyone (all 7 billion of us) lived the lifestyle that you live. A lot of them also give you a detailed synopsis of what you use and where your problem areas are (i.e. travel, home energy, food) like the picture below;

An example of a typical synopsis after calculating your carbon footprint (from WWF ‘Fun Calculator’ link below)

To use these calculators you need to have some idea on the systems that your home uses and general energy consumption – to a varying degree depending on which calculator you use. It takes about ten minutes and will also ask about your diet, household and travel. If you don’t feel confident doing it by yourself then sit down with your partner or family to do it – it also has the added benefit of starting a conversation about sustainability. It is very interesting and really shows the areas that you need to make changes to (and areas that you can pat yourself on the back!).

Tip from Blonde Olive – Having your bills at the ready can make this easier but you can guesstimate without as well.

Basic Calculator

Advanced Calculator

My Favourite Calculator (This calculator is fantastic as it gives you options on whether your answer is detailed or vague. You also get a cute little avatar that walks around a little street which eventually – through your answers – builds itself into a virtual representation of your eco-habits – check out the picture below)

My little olive avatar roaming around Emville!

And there is even a calculator for school kiddies! (It is American so you may need to pick a random school but it is recommended on a load of Australian sites, including state governments)

Reduce your footprint…

If you are not happy with how many earths you are eating up with your habits then commit to making a difference. When I first calculated mine a couple of years ago it came as quite a shock. I was eco conscious but it was very clear that even with my good habits the world was going to fly way beyond its carrying capacity. The great thing was I could see exactly where I was going wrong and change it. For example, my husband and I were not using enough public transport and we lived too far away from work, uni, friends and family. Solution? We moved closer and we carpool to work everyday (halfway at least and then I walk the rest). As well as some other lifestyle tweaks we have more than halved our households footprint!

If you are stuck for ideas check out my list of Eco Resolutions or my post about how to save water around the house. You could even reduce the impact that your diet has on the planet. Carbon Footprint also made a really helpful list of quick tips.

Personally my favorite way to cut emissions is one of the most logical too – cut out pointless single-use items such as plastic bags, bottles or cutlery. Actually, get rid of plastics altogether. If you want my 5 Steps to Cut Out Plastic then click here.

My favourite of their suggested solutions are listed below;

Tackle your Primary Footprint

  • Turn it off when not in use (lights, television, DVD player, Hi Fi, computer etc) Click here to find out which electrical items in your household are contribute the most to your Carbon Footprint
  • Turn down the water heating setting (just 2 degrees will make a significant saving)
  • Fill your dish washer and washing machine with a full load – this will save you water, electricity, and washing powder
  • Fill the kettle with only as much water as you need
  • Do your weekly shopping in a single trip
  • Hang out the washing to dry rather than tumble drying it
  • Use energy saving light bulbs
  • Use the bus or a train rather than your car
  • For short journeys either walk or cycle
  • Try to reduce the number of flights you take

Reduce your Secondary Footprint

(this is the easiest one because it all depends on your buying habits, your choices!)

  • Don’t buy bottled water refill from the tap. If you are concerned about the quality – buy a water filter. Why not give Plastic Free July a go (see the information here).
  • Buy local fruit and vegetables, or even try growing your own
  • Buy foods that are in season locally
  • Reduce your consumption of meat
  • Buy organic produce
  • Don’t buy over packaged products
  • Recycle as much as possible
  • For the full list please click here.

Good luck and let me know how you go!