More on sustainability

I get quite frustrated with a number of ways in which claims are made for sustainability. Too often they can be most charitably be described as greenwashing.

So I took the Footprint challenge (again) at https://www.footprintcalculator.org

This time we came out at 2.3 that means 2.3 worlds would be required to maintain our lifestyle. It can also be presented as 3.9gha (global hectares per person). The world can sustain about 1.63gha, the UK average is 7.93gha and the global average is 2.75gha.

So while we are currently living at about 50% of the UK average (2016 data) and just below the global average (again 2016) we still have a long way to drop before we could consider ourselves to be living sustainably.

This is a reduction from what we have achieved in the past. However, by far the largest single item within our footprint is our housing. As that comes with my job we have almost no control over it, at the moment. The second (although only about 1/3 of the first) is driving our van. This calculator doesn’t factor in the cycling I do for transport and of course we are working towards replacing the van with a small electric car ASAP (that reflects changes including Jane commuting for the first time).

Factors that have reduced our score include:

  • No flying (more than 15 years since our last flight)
  • All our Electricity and Gas is the greenest, most renewable available (Ecotricity)
  • We are now nearly completely vegetarian
  • Most of our veg comes through a weekly veg box from a farm only 15 miles away (and everything in the box is grown organically on that farm).

However, Sustainable Sailing is about our long term, our retirement. At the point of retirement we have to find our own home (and we can’t afford to buy a house) and we want to be contributing to life not tearing it down for future generations.

So our goals are a retirement we can afford (which is why the catamarans costing hundreds of thousands of pounds are irrelevant) and which has a really low footprint (which is again why the big catamarans are out as well as diesel engines, new boats etc).

But we also believe that there are mental and physical benefits to a simpler and more sustainable life. So the choices are also good for us personally. Less stress, more beauty, more experiences, active lifestyle away from air pollution.

So it isn’t surprising that the people we prefer to read or watch are typically not the lifestyle experts, they typically don’t have old boats and low budgets.

It isn’t surprising that we reject the experts saying that fossil fuel free sailing boats are not possible because we have not seen them consider the footprint of their choices. Our goal isn’t to achieve or maintain a lifestyle that the planet can’t sustain. Our goal is to to live at a sustainable level, and within that, to live well.

A good recent example was that Jimmy Cornell who has had to abandon his attempt to sail around the world with zero carbon emissions. Our approach is very different.

When they start with a brand new 45 foot catamaran the embedded carbon footprint is incredibly different to that of a 43 year old 38 foot monohull and this is almost always ignored.

The key advantages of a performance catamaran for cruising without using fossil fuels are the large area for solar panels and the higher sailing speed which means that regeneration from spinning the propellers which turn the motors into generators.

However, we plan about the same amount of solar panels, and we plan to boost their efficiency by tilting them and moving some so that are not shaded by the sails as much.

We too hope to get some regeneration from the propeller but haven’t really budgeted for it.

Where the biggest difference lies is in consumption. That is where the expectations of sustainability are so different. We plan to live within what we can generate not generate enough for a particular lifestyle.

Within the consumption side of the equation comes a really significant disadvantage of catamarans. They can’t be steered by wind vane steering systems that use no electricity. We have seen a number of people whose boats use electric autopilots have to run their engines every couple of days because of the power drain of the autopilot. While we are going to maintain the original electric autopilot (useful for sail changes or when motoring) we won’t be using it on passages.

When you add electric winches, multiple fridges etc it becomes obvious that it is the luxury lifestyle that can’t be achieved. Yet for hundreds of years sailing boats have crossed oceans without fridges, washing machines, water makers etc. Even on a catamaran with it’s autopilot Cornell managed on a “minimal” use of electrical equipment.

Yet the naysayers always home in on the induction cooking and the electric motor as the problems that make zero carbon footprint sailing impossible. Neither of these need to be used if you don’t have enough power in the battery bank. Especially when crossing oceans.

For us the two biggest concerns (and the reason why, in the end we may well carry a generator) are:

  • Fossil fuel free heating (because electric heating is always going to be needed most when solar generation is at it’s minimum).
  • Canals and rivers (eg to get between the English Channel and the Mediterranean) where hours of motoring can be needed against currents or where timetables need to be kept (eg Panama Canal).

To be honest it is amusing that those telling us that a sustainable life isn’t possible haven’t even thought about the most difficult challenges.

It is important to note that we don’t think we have everything sorted yet. We are building up gradually on storage, generation and consumption of electricity so that we can find a good equilibrium for us – and yes, that will include restricting where we go to those places and seasons where we can maintain the equilibrium because anything else isn’t sustainable.

One thought on “More on sustainability

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