Category Archives: Consumption patterns

Lifechanging information sources

The sources I list below have changed many millions of lives for the better (including my own). They contain timeless wisdom that everyone can benefit from – whether the information is new to you or you just need a refresher.

Three categories are presented (also the three cornerstones of this blog): health, personal finances and mental control.

Health

Healthy at 100 – John Robbins. This book convinced me shift to a much more plant-based diet – very impressive considering that I was a born and bred carnivore. It is a bit long, but definitely remains a worthwhile read. The accounts of the lifestyles of the world’s longest living communities were especially interesting.

50 secrets of the world’s longest living people – Sally Beare. Here we have a much more punchy and easy to read version of Healthy at 100. It also has interesting accounts of the lifestyles of communities enjoying extraordinarily long and healthy lives. In particular, this book got me to incorporate lots of nuts, seeds and berries into my diet.

The world’s healthiest foods – George Mateljan. This resource contains a number of interesting healthy recipes, but the most valuable aspect of it is the detailed nutritional information about the world healthiest foods. The information in this book is so powerful that it convinced me to eat spinach every day – something I would have seen as flatly impossible 5 years ago.

Personal finances

The automatic millionaire – David Bach and The millionaire next door – Thomas Stanley. These two books pretty much give the same message: Live within your means and automate your investments. It is very simple advice which clearly illustrates how people can become rich even on a modest income. Everybody knows this stuff, but reading these books will convince you to such a degree that you might actually start doing it.

The richest man in Babylon – George Clason. The message in this classic is much the same as that in the two millionaire books listed above. It is conveyed in a much more entertaining manner though – mostly through interesting stories from Ancient Babylon told in a wonderfully classic linguistic style. If you don’t have millionaire ambitions, but still want healthy personal finances, this is the only book you need to read.

How an economy grows and why it crashes – Peter Schiff. This is another book with a rather obvious message: saving and investment is good, excessive debt is bad. However, the very interesting way in which the message is conveyed makes it a thoroughly entertaining and convincing read. It also gives you a very nice understanding about the workings of a modern economy.

Mental control

Psycho Cybernetics – Maxwell Maltz. Many people call this the only self-help book you ever need to read. It is a true classic that has changed millions of lives for the better through practical teachings on how to control your own mind. Thought habits and self-esteem are key elements in this timeless masterpiece.

177 mental toughness secrets of the world class – Steve Siebolt. Despite the rather corny title, this book is a great quick reference for the best mental control strategies. Each “mental toughness secret” is only one page long and simple to digest. I’d especially recommend the audio version where Siebolt and his co-presenter expand a bit more on each secret in a fun conversational style.

The “21 great ways” series – Brian Tracy. Although I sometimes find Tracy’s approach to mental control a bit too mechanical, his extensive 21 great ways series contains information that anyone can benefit from. The information is communicated in a punchy manner and you can select from a wide range of titles to suit your needs.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – Consume information

PS: Why should you take lifestyle advice from a random guy on the internet? Good question. Take a look at the effects that these guidelines had on my life and decide for yourself.

The quest for quality information

Even though we all have access to a tremendous wealth of potentially life-changing information, these riches are often obscured under heaps of rubbish. Low quality information can throw you totally off track. We therefore have to be very careful to only allow our minds to be shaped by premium quality info. 

Information quality checks

The two best methods to assess information quality are peer review and track record. Peer review is when the quality of information is verified by a number of experts in the field. It is very useful for technical information such as scientific journals and reports. Expert reviews of books can also often be found.

Direct reading of peer-reviewed journals and reports is more targeted at professional researchers. For the rest of the world, however, it remains very important to check whether any article you read got its “facts” from reliable sources. For example, the popular science articles I write on energy and climate issues generally link to reliable data sets, articles and reports.

Customer review (as offered by online book outlets such as Amazon) is generally less reliable than peer review. You therefore need many more customer reviews than peer reviews to make a proper assessment of information quality. Generally, I’d say that the average of about 50 customer reviews is equivalent to one expert review.

Another very good way to verify information quality is track record. This is especially applicable to “soft sciences” where things are rarely black and white, but rather several shades of gray (like many of the topics covered on this blog). For this reason, posts on this site will henceforth feature a link to some key performance indicators from my own life where I apply the guidelines given on this blog. This track record presents clear proof that the guidelines given here actually work (and work well) when applied in the real world.

Watch out for bias

Another important information quality trap to avoid is subjective bias. This is when an author writes an article to try an prove a pre-conceived conclusion, including all evidence supporting his/her argument and excluding all information that doesn’t. Such articles can seem reliable at first glance, but mostly give low quality biased information.

The most common place to find such articles is on websites advocating a certain scientific viewpoint (e.g. for or against climate change) or a certain technology class (e.g. advocacy websites for renewable energy, nuclear energy or electric vehicles).

Plenty of good information on such controversial topics is available on neutral sites. However, if you have to read from a site directly advocating a certain controversial technology or scientific viewpoint, it is important to also read sites advocating against it in order to get a more balanced perspective.

Some good references

The next post will give a few examples of my favourite information sources.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – Consume information

PS: Why should you take lifestyle advice from a random guy on the internet? Good question. Take a look at the effects that these guidelines had on my life and decide for yourself.

The greenest consumption choice: Information

The right information at the right time can be incredibly valuable, not only in the moment, but for many years to come. In addition, modern information technology makes information highly accessible, affordable and environmentally friendly. Shifting some of your consumption from “material” to “information” is therefore a great way to make your life a few shades greener.

It has been said that we live in the “information age” or “the age of the mind”, but very few people really understand the implications of these phrases. The first implication is that your ability to use your mind to process information is critical to your success in this world we live in. In the marketplace today, the lowest paid workers exchange their time and energy for a little bit of money, the middle-class exchange their skills for more money and the elite exchange creative ideas that solve real-world problems for huge amounts of money. The reward gap between those who have mastered information and those who have not is huge and constantly growing.

The second implication is that it has never been easier to get the most out of life. Since information is critical to most things we do in this “information age” and a tremendous wealth of information is accessible to everyone with an internet connection, we have everything we need to be happy and successful. Naturally, it is up to you to pick out the wholesome information from all the junk out there, but this gets progressively easier with practice. The sooner you get started as an avid information consumer, the better.

The third implication is that we have a great opportunity to address our environmental problems through information. Habitual information consumers will have little time or inclination towards primitive material pursuits. A big fancy house, a small fleet of cars and lots of miscellaneous stuff simply become unnecessary and cumbersome to a mind that has successfully evolved beyond the primitive pursuit of material possession towards information acquisition, processing and sharing.

The next post will share some simple guidelines for assessing information quality in order to streamline this crucial mental evolution.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – Consume information

Green transportation – e-bikes

Electric bikes are one of the more exciting offerings of the green economy at present and will only get more exciting in the future. If you live somewhere that is reasonably bike-friendly, this option is highly recommended for any of the five reasons outlined below.

Firstly, an e-bike is an incredibly efficient mode of transportation, primarily because it is very light, but also because electric drive is highly efficient. The figure below from shrinkthatfootprint.com shows how efficient a bike is in terms of carbon emissions (energy consumption). Note that the “indirect fuel” component of the footprint of cycling is related to all that fat you’ll be burning while cycling and will be similar for electric energy consumption with an e-bike.

sustainabletransport

 

Secondly, an e-bike allows you to keep your gasoline-powered car without any guilt.  Under most circumstances, one still requires the conveniences of a gasoline-powered car to live efficiently in our modern society (especially if you have a family).  Buying an e-bike and committing to using it for all trips where the range and carrying capacity of the car are not vital will drastically cut down on both the environmental impact and costs associated with a car.

Thirdly, an e-bike is great for your health which, as discussed in the first chapter of the One in a Billion project, is vitally important. Of course, if you are very fit (or you simply live in a very flat area), a regular bike is also a great option, but the effort of biking will keep most people from using a regular bike as a primary mode of transport. With an e-bike, however, there is no such excuse. In fact, you can arrive at your destination feeling refreshed (not tired and sweaty) and often complete the trip in a similar amount of time as you would have by car.

Fourthly, an e-bike is very an affordable up-front investment. Decent entry level e-bikes can be acquired for around $1000 which should really be easily affordable for any developed world citizen. Really the only legitimate reason for not buying an electric bike is if your environment is very bike-unfriendly making it stressful or even dangerous to cycle.

Finally, an e-bike offers a very convenient mode of transportation. You will face little problems related to traffic jams or parking, little hassle when it comes to maintenance and none of the range anxiety associated with EVs. It really combines the best of both worlds (bikes and motorized transport).

So, why not give it a try? In the worst case, if it just doesn’t work for you, you can simply sell it. E-bikes have pretty good resale value.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

Green transportation – Cars

When it comes to transportation, by far the best way in which to save money and protect the environment is to move away from the most inefficient, yet most popular, mode of transportation we have: single-person-in-car. However, for the great many who cannot ditch their cars, the green economy is producing a number of attractive options for reducing your environmental footprint and even save a little bit of money in the process.

Firstly, we just need to get some perspective on just how far we still have to go. For example, the most car-loving nation in the world, the US, has one of the most inefficient vehicle fleets in the world (shown below). Thanks to the recently employed CAFE standards, the trend is moving in the right direction, but, given the long and traumatic US history of energy-dependence on the middle East, it is rather bizarre that the US vehicle fleet is still so terribly inefficient. For perspective, the vehicle fleets in places like Europe and Japan are almost double as fuel efficient as in the US.

US fuel economy

So, what options does the green economy give us to improve these rather terrible numbers? By far the most efficient type of car is a pure electric. Due to the efficiency of electric drive over an internal combustion engine, a typical electric car can get around 100 MPG (miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent). However, electric cars remain more expensive than standard options and also have problems with limited range and longer charge times.

Another thing to remember about EVs is that they are only as green as the electricity they use. In some countries, they have very low emissions, but in most countries, a good hybrid or even a regular efficient diesel is a better choice environmentally speaking. Take a look at this excellent map from Shrinkthatfootprint.com.

EVmpgequivalent

An attractive alternative is a plug-in hybrid. These guys only have enough battery power for about 10 miles of highly efficient electric drive, after which the car switches to hybrid mode which achieves about 50 MPG (still not bad at all). However, these cars are still about 20% more expensive than regular hybrids.

In many cases, a regular hybrid is the best option. Hybrids are really cheap nowadays and get excellent fuel efficiencies of 50 MPG or even more for smaller city cars. Toyota has an especially interesting range of “Hybrid Synergy Drive” vehicles which leverage the strong points of both the gasoline and electric motors to give the best and most efficient driving experience under all conditions. This is explained in a little more detail in the video below.

Regular gasoline/diesel cars are still the cheapest though and are making some impressive gains in terms of fuel efficiency. Diesel is generally more fuel efficient, but a bit more expensive. It also involves some other potentially harmful emissions.

So, to summarize: If you live in one of the green countries in the map above and you can handle the price and range limitations of an EV, this is the best option. If you have range anxiety, a plug-in hybrid is a great alternative. For all other counties, a hybrid is the best option followed by an efficient gasoline/diesel vehicle if you are really price-sensitive.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

Energy efficient housing

Insulate_house_diagramThere are several ways in which to make housing more energy efficient. In general, quite a few of these methods are only truly accessible to new builds, but there are also a few attractive retrofit options available to all of us who will probably not be building our own passive houses anytime soon.

When thinking about energy efficient housing, one generally thinks of reduced direct energy consumption, especially with regard to heating and cooling. Better insulation, draught-proofing and heat recovery ventilation are common themes in this regard. Depending on how energy efficient your home currently is, these basic green home options might provide some easy wins.

You can estimate the current level of efficiency of your home here. Note the large savings that can be achieved in a home with little existing energy saving measures. Once some initial measures are put in place, however, further savings become harder to achieve.

In a typical home, the best value can often be derived from properly insulating the loft. Since it is rarely used, aesthetics is less important, making insulation solutions cheaper and easier to apply. The ceiling also typically covers a large surface area over which heat can be transferred, making this the best place in which to get maximum bang for the insulation buck. For those who had no insulation before, payback periods from loft insulation are typically 1-2 years after which you win all the way.

Wall insulation can also result in very large gains in home energy efficiency, but can be more challenging and expensive to carry out. However, if you have cavity walls which are not yet insulated, this can be done quite cheaply, resulting in payback times around 3-4 years. Things become more expensive and challenging for solid walls though.

When it comes to floors, extra insulation is probably only a good option if you have suspended timber floors which can be accessed from below. For windows, double or triple-glazing typically does not offer very good value for money. Some heavy curtains can be a much better solution.

Some significant savings can also be cheaply achieved through draught-proofing. Payback periods of about 4-8 years are typical for professional installation.

Finally, heat recovery ventilators offer additional benefits as well as improved air quality. However, payback periods are longer and the overall solution is more complex than simple insulation and draught-proofing and should therefore be further down the home greening list.

In many cases, home energy saving is one of those things that just require a little bit of initiative to greatly improve your living environment in terms of finances and environmental impact. Don’t be lazy now. Let’s get it done.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

Heat pumps (water heating)

The highly efficient heat pump concept discussed in the previous post can also be used to heat water. Pros and cons of heat pumps for water heating are a little different from those for space heating though. We will take a brief look at those here.

heat pump water heater

Similarly to a heat pump for space heating, a heat pump for water heating is only applicable to relatively moderate climates. If the temperature in your area regularly drops below freezing, a heat pump is not the best idea. For all the places where temperatures usually stay above this threshold, however, heat pumps can reliably deliver hot water for half the usual electricity cost and environmental impact of a standard electrical resistance water heater.

That being said, however, if you have access to natural gas in your area, a natural gas water heater will still be cheaper (in terms of upfront investment) while delivering similar running costs and environmental impact. Natural gas is an especially attractive option in cold areas where heat pumps and solar water heating are not effective. 

In mild to hot climates, however, both heat pumps and solar heaters can be very attractive solutions for hot water. The competition between solar water heaters and heat pumps is actually fairly equal, but the factor that can swing the balance to either side is the ratio between sunshine and ambient temperature. Heat pumps draw heat from the surrounding air and work better if this air is warmer, while solar water heaters capture direct radiation from the sun and work better in full sunshine.

Thus, if you live in a place where with a fairly mild climate, but regular cloudy spells, a heat pump water heater may well be the best choice for you. For places with mostly clear skies and lots of direct solar radiation, a solar water heater should be the better option.

So, have a little think about your local climate and do the right thing. Water heating consumes a surprisingly large portion of society’s overall energy usage and still has lots of room for efficiency improvements. Heat pumps can make a significant contribution in this area.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy