Sustainability is a Global Concern
The typical New Zealand household and lifestyle is not really as 'clean and green' as our wonderful landscape of national parks, farmland and bush might suggest to tourists, or purchasers of exported farm produce! We would like it to be and NZ'ers need to walk the talk.
Internationally, most of us are alert to big sustainability issues such as over-population, human-exacerbated global warming, the imminent peak in cheap oil production (when demand exceeds supply) and persistent pollutants spread globally in air and oceans. We know that our footprint or combined impact on resources and nature 'per person' is similar to the USA, Canada and rich areas of Europe, and is much higher than in developing countries. If all humans lived as we do we would need several planets, but there's only one to share.
You might have seen Franny Armstrong's 'The Age of Stupid' movie in 2009 or Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth', Leonardo diCaprio's 'The 11th Hour', the BBC movie 'Earth' or perhaps 'Home' by Yann Arthus-Bertrand? After seeing any of these alarmingly informative global overviews, you would want to know first what the issues are in NZ and then how you can start to do your bit and to stop being part of the problem in your own life. We can help you here.
On this page, we brief you on some of the top issues for NZ households and provide you with a series of links from the local-government-backed Sustainable Living Programme: 24+ councils are involved. The free download readings (published in Adobe PDF format) tell you more, suggesting why action at home is a really good start. After this, our action page and regional courses will take you onward to the next practical steps.
(for the free Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader software, if you do not yet have it - see link at foot of page)
Bringing the big issues home
We waste energy from fossil fuels
We burn coal, damp wood and fuel oil, rather inefficiently, to heat our badly-insulated living spaces, which creates unhealthy smog for some urban areas in the winter. Older houses are damp and cold, often mouldy - hazardous for the elderly and asthmatics. 85% of the heat from an open fire is lost up the chimney and they are major soot producers too.
We waste renewable hydro-electricity by not wrapping hot water tanks nor insulating the ceilings of heated rooms. We waste power by using inefficient filament light-bulbs instead of compact fluorescents and by leaving equipment such as TVs and microwave cookers on stand-by overnight.
As NZ approaches the limits of acceptable hydro-power generation from big river dams and the Maui gas-field supply runs low, we are turning to clean geothermal, wind-power, tidal or wave power and solar water heating. But we also use other less-desirable fossil fuel energy sources that release carbon to the atmosphere (such as coal at Huntly Power Station), contributing to global warming. Energy efficiency is becoming a crucial public issue in NZ, so the Government programme to subsidise house insulation and perhaps reduce demand, certainly give healthier homes, is one very welcome response.
Read our background information on electricity and energy use at home.
We often miss chances to share our car travel or use buses, and our increasingly over-weight bodies lack the healthy exercise that we could get from walking or cycling, instead of driving, especially on shorter journeys. Cars may seem convenient by habit, but are expensive, hazardous, noisy and polluting, too.
Short NZ sustainability documentary films (made for MfE) on energy at home http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr3sYVV770w
and on travel choices http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nY1sNtZqFQ
We had $2 a litre petrol in 2008, then a fall because of global recession, but now that fuel prices are moving higher ($1.78 at Feb 2010), read our background information on the real costs of car travel and begin making you plans for the future. We are at or near 'Peak Cheap Oil' production, globally, after which prices could rise steeply. Bicycles start to look attractive again.
Decide what you want to measure in your household, with this background information on carbon and sustainability issues, and our guide to using the free carboNZero calculator.
If you measure your impact now, you can more easily track your changes later! You might set a target for reduction: 10% in 2010 perhaps?
We send useful stuff to landfill dumps
Over 40% of typical household rubbish bag or wheelie-bin contents could have been composted, and an additional 30% reclaimed as useful materials - including metals, paper, card, plastic codes 1 & 2. Many households do not recycle as much as they could, and the council-run landfills are growing deeper.
Rubbish doesn't "go away" after it leaves our kerb-sides, it is just expensively relocated by truck! Open tips on farmland are now rare, but the modern engineered landfill sites are very expensive to build and maintain, as they have to contain toxic liquid leachate and the methane gas emissions from decomposition of food and garden materials without oxygen. Methane is a more damaging 'greenhouse gas' than carbon dioxide.
Read our background information on waste issues at home.
Also read background information on shopping impacts and choices.
For a short NZ film made for MfE on fresh food and shopping choices for sustainability, see thislink http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koKv2Dp6WjA
We are under-using town & city gardens. Grow more veges!
We buy prepared foods in packaging material that's often not recyclable; and don't grow much fresh fruit and veges for ourselves. Many young people grow up not knowing how to garden, make compost, to preserve surplus crops or to cook (but it's never too late to start enjoying this). Organic gardening is becoming popular, and features in our evening courses.
Read background information on what makes for more-sustainable gardens to help assess your backyard space.
Our homes are too thirsty and often pollute waterways
Toilet cisterns without a 'dual-flush' waste precious fresh water, as does frequent lawn watering on hot summer days. Clean water, as a precious resource, is a major focus of environmental education effort internationally.
At home, we may spray poisons to kill unwanted insects and lawn weeds, and put bleach down the toilet - when there are safer and cheaper alternatives available. Car washing with detergent in the street and water-blasting of paths and sealed drives sends pollution through the storm-drains into streams. Let's keep urban streams clean and bring back their wildlife.
Read information on issues of using and protecting water at home.
If you have broadband - watch this short 350 video.
Click here to download free Adobe Acrobat reader