How you can go on the low carb diet and help save the world

Wednesday 23 May 2007, 3:52PM
By Infonews Editor
638 views , 1 comments

With the debate around climate change what can you do to reduce our carbon emissions


MP Judith Tizard is watching the debate around climate change with interest. But she is in no doubt - as a country we need to reduce our carbon emissions, and we need to do it now. As Associate Minister of Transport, she is promoting the Choke the Smoke campaign, which encourages people to reduce vehicle emissions and to go on the 'low carbon diet'. It's not as difficult as it might sound said the Minister.

There is scientific consensus that human action is changing the climate but debate continues around how much of an impact we are having on our planet. Many world leaders say climate change is one of the most serious dangers facing humanity.

While there is uncertainty surrounding the future, we do know that earth has got warmer over the past 150 years and that the concentration of greenhouse gases is near its highest point in recorded history.

But there is something that each of us can do to help combat climate change. The low carb diet may sound like a weight loss plan, but rather than counting carbohydrates, this diet counts carbon emissions. That is, what comes out of your car, and is released from power plants and anything else that burns fossil fuels.

Carbon dioxide is as a greenhouse gas, the type of gas that acts like a blanket around the earth and traps in the sun's heat. Carbon dioxide is accumulating faster than the earth can absorb it. Too much greenhouse gas causes the earth to heat at a faster rate and carbon dioxide is presently having the greatest cumulative warming effect on our planet. Once this global warming affects our weather patterns and climatic conditions, it is referred to as climate change.

The main culprit is parked outside on your drive - your car. About 40 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions come from transport, which is one of the biggest growth areas of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. There are more cars per household in parts of Auckland than anywhere else in the country. The low carbon diet encourages you to take a look at some of your habits and shows you how you can cut down on your carbon emissions

For starters, have a look at how often you use your car. Chances are you get behind the wheel just to pop around the corner - to go to the dairy, or drop the kids at school. One third of all New Zealand car trips are less than a kilometre and two thirds are less than six kilometres. If you embark on the low carbon diet, you'll forgo that car ride and walk, ride a bike or take public transport instead. Not only will this save you money on petrol and parking, it'll also help you stay fit.

If you can't give up your car, why not consider sharing it? In Manukau, for example, almost three quarters of people commute to work every day by car, compared to just half of Wellingtonians. Starting a car pool can be a great way of cutting down emissions while getting to know the neighbours.

There are some simple ways you can cut emissions when you do use the car. When was the last time you checked your tyre pressure? Keeping your tyres inflated to the manufacturer's specifications means you'll use less fuel. Even when you're not driving, tyres can still lose pressure and oxygen slowly escapes through the casing so it's a good idea to check pressures at least once a fortnight.

Another way to cut down your carbs is to remove your roof rack and check your spoilers. Anything fixed to the outside of your car increases wind resistance, which in turn can increase fuel consumption by over 20 percent. Even driving with the window open can use more fuel. There is no need to warm up your car before driving, as for a well tuned car, that will simply waste fuel.

Try and combine errands into one trip rather than making several trips. Did you know that the total distance travelled by motor vehicle across Auckland was 2683 million kilometres compared to 945 million in Wellington? Many of these kilometres will be made up of short trips, which use more fuel, produce more emissions, and increase engine wear and tear. And when you fill up your car, don't try to squeeze in the last drop of petrol. It is often spilt or lost through the overflow pipe when you accelerate or go around corners. Plus the expansion of the fuel can result in increased emissions.

Finally, the low carbon diet encourages you to drive smarter. Going more slowly saves fuel while accelerating harder than necessary uses more fuel. Stop the car whenever you are stationary for an extended period of time like waiting to pick up the kids from school. This will save more fuel than is lost from the burst of fuel involved in restarting the engine.

These are not big changes to make, but going on the low carbon diet could just make all the difference in the world!