Kayak Adventure's Sustainable Living Practices

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At Kayak Adventure, every day is "Earth Day." Big news for me recently is that scientists can now attribute weather events to climate change with methods similar to those used by epidemiologists. An NPR interview with Heidi Cullen of Climatecentral.org led me to a new favorite source for climate change news. Read their article on February's warmth and learn about the scientists working on the World Weather Attribution team. Last year I met Andrew Revkin of Dot Earth, the NY Times blog (2007-2016). Now a senior reporter for climate and related issues for ProPublica, Revkin spoke about the importance of sharing information to "help balance human affairs with the planet's limits." His favorite websites include:
NOAA Climate Watch
Climate Progress
Watts Up With That?
Dr Jeff Master's WunderBlog

In the spirit of sharing, here are some of Kayak Adventure's "sustainable living" practices:

Energy Supply
Reduce heating fuel use with efficient appliances, new windows and insulation
In 2003 I replaced our old furnace with a fuel-efficient model. This reduced annual heating oil consumption from 1390 gallons to 860 gallons, saving a pile of money, in addition to reducing carbon emissions. In 2004, I added 9" of insulation to the attic, and reduced oil consumption to 715 gallons per year. In 2008-9 we wore extra layers of clothes, drank hot tea or did work/exercise to keep warm, and consumed only 597 gallons. In August 2015 I replaced all of the 75-year-old single pane windows in my home with Harvey Energy-Star certified double-glazed low-argon windows with a U-factor of 0.30 and R-value of 3.33. For the Fall 2015 through Spring 2016 heating season I used 569 gallons of oil and didn't have to wear extra layers of clothes to keep warm! This spring I replaced an old wood panel door in the basement with a fully insulated door, did an energy audit that found all the air leaks in the house and sealed them, including the basement rim joist, and replaced all five basement windows. I'm looking forward to seeing how this impacts next season's fuel oil usage.

Seven years ago I replaced a fifteen year old top-loading washing machine with a Whirlpool front-loader that uses an average of 212 kwh/year of electricity (168% better than the Federal standard), and about a third the amount of water. See the EPA's EnergyStar program before buying any new appliance, to make the most earth-friendly decision. I line dry all my laundry, as there is no such thing as an energy-efficient gas or electric dryer.

Turn down the thermostat
On winter nights I set the temperature at 58 degrees and snuggle under a down quilt. In the morning, I turn it up to 64. This feels cozy upstairs. Downstairs I wear a sweater and vest, adding a light wool cap when needed. Warming up with a morning yoga routine, and taking a brisk walk in the afternoon keeps circulation moving. A hot cup of tea is my third line of defense. When tempted to turn it up, I think about the 2030 global climate scenario - what are we leaving our children and grandchildren? topsy-turvy weather, or a liveable planet?

In summer, the mature cherry, oak and ash trees in my yard provide a living air conditioner that make temperatures ten degrees cooler. During a hot spell I open windows only on cool nights, and shut them as soon as the sun comes up. I use pleated one inch thick "cellular" shades on most windows, which act as good insulation, keeping the house cool on all but the hottest days. We'll sleep on the first floor before turning on an air conditioner. Going to bed after a cool shower and shampoo help. Air conditioners add a heat load to an over-stressed environment. I save mine for tenderfoot guests.

Daylighting and nightlighting
When I start my day, I pull the shades wide open in the rooms I'll be working in. Using natural light for illumination is called daylighting. At night, I use strategically placed photovoltaic nightlights to light my path through the house. They also act to keep mold at bay. I count the bulbs I'm turning on, and use as few as will safely light my tasks. All incandescent light bulbs have been replaced with compact fluorescents or LED lights, which use 75% less energy. My monthly electric bill ranges from $24-$50.

Reduce hot water use
I use only cold water taps, except once a day, when I wash dishes, take a shower and do the laundry (if needed) in series. In summer, I shower with solar hot water from our back-yard hose. Heating water comprises 15-20% of a typical household energy bill. Go Solar for Free Hot Water, an article in Mother Earth News, lets you evaluate an earth-friendly alternative. I wash in cold water every morning to habituate to cold water immersion, a practice that is a tested safety measure for workers in cold water environments.

Drive wisely & consider a hybrid when you buy your next car
In 2012 I decided to invest in my first new car, and chose a hybrid 2011 Toyota Prius II. The informative dashboard display was great motivation to change my driving habits, and I was able to get 52 miles per gallon within the first three days of driving. Some people think you can't put a kayak rack on a Prius, but I carry up to three kayaks on my roof using Thule aerobars and several types of saddles, sliders and J-hooks. I still get 47 miles per gallon carrying kayaks!

Not everyone can afford to buy a hybrid car, so thanks to a high school teacher who saw this web page, I've got a terrific link to her students' suggestions to Reduce Your Automobile's Impact on the Environment.

Minimize auto use

We plan ahead so errands can wait until there are at least three things to do in the same geographic area. Combining errands, or "trip chaining," helps improve air quality and reduces traffic congestion. See Ten Simple Steps to find out how easy it is to make an impact. Use the Terrapass carbon footprint calculator to find out what your impact is from driving and flying. Having a measure helps you set and reach a goal for reduction. My goal is for the Prius to sit in the driveway three days a week, up from two days last year.

Using alternate modes of local transportation is healthier for us, and for the air we breathe. I keep two bikes tuned and ready to go for sunny day errands, or I put on a backpack and walk to the local convenience store. I use Metro North rail to get from Norwalk to Manhattan to visit friends.

Photo: Our vegie garden grows in front, where a southeast exposure gives best sunlight.

Use regionally based suppliers

A large portion of fossil-fuel use comes from transportation for the goods we buy. Whenever feasible, I purchase from local suppliers. Supporting them ensures a sound regional economy and helps the Earth.

I harvest greens, herbs and fruits from my own garden from April through December/January. In 2015 & 2016, I succeeded in growing all the produce I needed through December. My goal for 2017 is to last through February, using crop covers and frozen or canned produce from my own garden.  The just-picked sweet taste is unbeatable! Follow this link to find a Farmers' Market in your area:  Fairfield County Farmers' Markets.

In the winter I suggest you look for "Connecticut Grown" or "Local" produce at the supermarket. I read labels to choose local producers for staples such as flour, eggs, tea and sweeteners. Check out Local Harvest to learn more. As a radical commitment to the Earth, I've forsworn tropical produce, unless I'm visiting in the tropics. Think about it - on average, produce grown in the US travels 1300 miles to reach grocery shelves. My mom taught me to drink four ounces of orange juice in the morning to get my vitamin C, but I get plenty from tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, kale, collards, broccoli, cabbage, yams, raspberries, currants and strawberries.

Recreate locally
Travelling to kayak doesn't make sense when we live on the shore of Long Island Sound, with its rivers, creeks, marshes, estuaries and the Sound itself, all within a short drive for coastal county residents. As an Environmental Educator, I believe in getting to know one's local habitats in all seasons, from pre-dawn to star-lit skies, in rain, fog and snow, as well as sunny weather. Our locale has a rich diversity of marine life, much of which you will only come to know through repeated visits with patient and quiet observation. There's no need to fly to Florida, Baja, or Alaska to find a rich natural environment. Connecticut has 412 species of birds (see the CT Ornithological Association for a checklist.) We recommend A Field Guide to North Atlantic Wildlife by Noble S. Proctor and Patrick J. Lynch for a guide to marine mammals, seabirds, fish and other sea life. To find local launch sites, check out the DEP's CT Coastal Access Guide.

I invite you to travel by train to East Norwalk's Metro North stop, where I'll be glad to pick you up for any Kayak Adventure lesson or trip. The station is an 11 minute walk from my home office.

Car-pool to launch sites

Most trips meet at my home office and use the fewest vehicles for the short trip to one of five local launch sites.

Waste management
Reduce, reuse, recycle, re-think. Minimize waste.
I bring canvas bags when I shop, and choose products with minimal packaging. I re-use #2, 4 or 5 water bottles, and store left-overs in safely re-usable containers. See this Trusted.MD article for information on re-usable plastic containers. We use cloth napkins and rags rather than paper products. We recycle plastics, metal, newsprint and office paper. All vegetable scraps are added back to our garden, as are grass clippings, autumn leaves, and tree branches that fall in storms. This EPA website has many tips for source reduction and reuse.

Reduce water consumption
Although we usually have plenty of water in Fairfield County, I try to minimize personal use of water. Toilets use the most, so I installed a Toto Eco-Supreme 1.28 Gallons Per Flush toilet to replace a 1940's era one that used 5-7 GPF. My water & sewage bills quickly showed a sharp decline. I keep showers short, and don't leave water running when brushing teeth or shaving. The EPA site, How to Conserve Water, gives engineering and behavioral practices to help use water effectively.

It doesn't make sense to water the lawn, as grass will bounce back from a drought (bluegrass and fescue can survive about a month without water). Follow these Lawn Care Tips to Save Water During Drought to have a healthy lawn in spite of erratic rainfall patterns.

I've installed two rain barrels to capture run-off from the roof, which I use to water our vegetable and fruit gardens. In times of drought, I save gray water from washing dishes to water house and garden plants, a practice I learned from my mom, who had a cistern at her island home in the Bahamas.

What's Your Impact?
To find out your impact on planet Earth, take this Ecological Footprint Quiz. To evaluate your impact on climate change, use this Carbon Footprint Calculator from The Nature Conservancy. Patrick Gonzalez, a Nature Conservancy climate scientist, says:"Each person can make a difference because one small positive act multiplied millions of times produces immense benefits."

Additional resources
Lester R. Brown's book, Plan B - Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, (2003) provided well-researched information and insights which spurred me to adopt major changes in lifestyle. Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute. His Plan B 4.0 was released in 2009. One Amazon reviewer called it "The best book on building a viable global future." To get an overview of the ecological concept of sustainability, Mathis Wackernagel & William Rees, Our Ecological Footprint, New Society Publishers, 1996 provides a research-based, detail-filled framework. Another book I recommend is Radical Simplicity by my brother, Jim Merkel.

Updated July, 2017.

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