Monday, July 26, 2010

Adapting to Climate Change

The climate is warming and, even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases entirely, today, what we've already poured into the atmosphere will bring us further warming throughout the century.   Our biosphere is heating up.  It's happening and there's a lot more than simple thermostatic evidence to show it.  The declining ice fields, the increase in severe weather events (droughts/floods/cyclonic storms), species migration, on and on they go and they all point in the same direction - our world is heating up.

In some places it's warmed up enough to justify adaptive measures.   Where I live, adaptation is easy, relatively inexpensive and actually quite enjoyable.   On this island, we have the warmest weather in Canada.   We don't get nearly as hot as the Prairies or central Canada in the summer but we more than make up for that with relatively warm winters.   Thank you oh great Pacific current.

A couple of years ago I started identifying options for adaptation in my home.  It's a relatively small but modern bungalow, a wonderfully comfortable little place just a block back from the ocean (close enough to plainly hear the sea lions barking on the beach at night).  

July, August and sometimes September can get quite hot, certainly in the high 20's with a few days in the low 30's.   While the days can be hot, nature quite often rewards us with evening offshore breezes that sweep the place with cool air pouring off the local mountains.   There it is - free air conditioning. 

To take advantage of nature's air-conditioning I replaced all the old, contractor-grade (cheap) windows with high-efficiency, casement windows.   Casements open out like doors.   Wide open is genuinely wide open.   Shut tight during the day with the blinds down, the house never gets excessively hot.   Then when the evening breezes arrive, all those windows open up and I have delightful, cooling breezes pouring through the rooms and hallways, flushing all the built up heat outside.   Even on the hottest day you sleep under a duvet at night.   With these windows working their magic this year I haven't needed an electric fan much less an air-conditioner.

But we're only a few months away from the onset of our other season, the rainy season that can run from November to June.  It might not get "cold" as you understand the term but we often do get two or three days of snow in a year and the rest of the time it's plenty coolish and wet.  This year I've decided to get away from fossil fuel heat.   From this year onward I will heat my house with a locally abundant, non-fossil fuel - Douglas Fir.

Gone is the awful gas fireplace.   In its stead now stands a high-efficiency, wood-stove type fireplace.  It's a closed-door unit that, unlike an open fireplace, allows the fire to be tightly controlled.  It has a thermostat that operates the fresh air intake mechanism to maximize the duration of the burn and the heat produced.

Particulate emissions are extremely low and greenhouse gas emissions are claimed to be lower than for a gas fireplace.   The important difference is that the emissions come from the surface carbon cycle.  It's renewable energy.  New trees will grow to replace the wood I burn and to create new carbon sinks.   That's in contrast to digging up safely buried prehistoric carbon and adding that to the atmosphere.   Best of all, the wood I burn is scavenged by one of several local businesses licensed by the lumber companies to clean up leftover wood from logging operations that would otherwise be piled up and burned on some mountainside to make way for reforestation.   Even Monbiot endorses wood heat provided the firewood source is local.

There is more than can be done.    A few years back  I put a red maple in the backyard to break up the late afternoon sun that heats the back of the house.   It's already having a noticeable effect and the added colour as the leaves change is a delightful bonus.   In a few years, if conditions warrant, I may install awnings on those windows most affected by the mid-day and afternoon sun.

I'm hoping that, within the next several years, solar hot water and solar electricity will become economically viable.   This little house is ideally situated for those technologies.   Even wind power generation isn't out of the question.

It's ironic that adapting to climate change can be as simple as falling back on old technology, windows instead of air conditioners, and positively ancient energy - wood.   New technology is coming, eventually, despite the indifference of the Fossil Fuelers who run our government.   Climate change, global warming, is here to stay but there are a great many things we can do to cushion, even offset the impacts.


Anonymous said...

I have a pit in the earth where I make my own charcoal from the wood I collect to burn. It's an even further cleaner burn. Cheers

Anyong said...

Hit the wrong identity for the above. Anyong

The Mound of Sound said...

The charcoal idea is interesting but doesn't making charcoal require a fire to heat a kiln to get it hot enough to "burn" the wood in the absence of oxygen, transforming it into charcoal?

I expect you might get a "cleaner burn" in the context of your chimney. This is my first experience with one of these sealed fireplaces (similar to a free standing wood stove) and I am impressed at the completeness of combustion. Not at all like the traditional, open fireplaces I've had before. They, of course, drew warm, inside air up the chimney along with much of the heat from the fire. The new unit draws from an outside vent and scavenges much more usable heat from the fire itself.