After bushfires crept dangerously close to their Wamboin property in 2020, Syd Crawford and Camille Goodman made a promise to change the way they lived.
Confronted by the effects of climate change, they decided to radically reduce their carbon footprint.
“We sort of felt a bit helpless,” Mr Crawford said.
“We knew the problem was climate change and we thought, ‘well, what practical things can we do to take control?'”
But Dr Goodman said trying to calculate an appropriate amount of emissions they should be producing actually led them to try for a zero-carbon lifestyle.
“The more we looked into it we realised there’s no proper amount,” she said.
“We just thought, ‘we have to shoot for zero, like as close to zero as possible’.”
Now, they have installed solar panels at their property and are essentially living “off the grid”, thanks to an unusual source: recycled laptop batteries.
“[I] bought old laptop batteries by the kilo … then it was a case of disassembling them all, testing all the batteries and eliminating all the bad cells,” Mr Crawford said.
“Laptop batteries have maybe six cells in them, you might have one failed cell but the rest will be good, or sometimes they’re all good.”
Mr Crawford said 800 laptop batteries now effectively acted as one large battery unit for a rooftop solar system.
“[It’s] 44kWh, basically the same as three Tesla Powerwalls,” he said.
“It’s definitely not the easiest way to do it, but [it is] the cheapest way to do it.”
The couple records their personal carbon emissions each year but Mr Crawford said the biggest change in his personal carbon footprint had come from swapping over to electric vehicles.
“I’ve always been environmentally conscious, but it’d never entered my head that there was a problem doing [long car trips] at all,” he said.
Mr Crawford said his carbon emissions in 2019 were just over 10 tonnes, with three-quarters of that from his vehicles alone.
“The next year I’d got it down to 4.78 tonnes and reduced the vehicle emissions down to 1.8 tonnes,” he said.
“This year I’ve got it down to 2.26 tonnes, and my vehicle emissions are 0.85 tonnes.”
‘We’ve done all the easy bits’
Trying to go carbon zero has created some challenges for the couple, especially as they get closer to their goal.
While they managed to reduce their carbon emissions significantly over the past year, they said now they had done the basic things it would become increasingly challenging to reduce their emissions further.
“It’s hard because we’ve done all the easy bits,” Dr Goodman said.
“We’ve done the car, we’re on solar here, all our appliances are electric. We don’t fly anymore. We’ve cut down lamb and beef and dairy.”
She also started a job in Wollongong, a few hours’ drive from Wamboin, which meant the couple had to quickly upgrade their newly purchased electric vehicles for one with the range to travel over the longer distance.
But she said that overall, making the costly changes in the short term had improved their lives longer-term.
“None of this has made our quality of life worse, we would say it’s definitely improved it,” she said.
When asked if she had any tips for others hoping to cut their emissions, Dr Goodman said the most important thing was simply to aim for what was manageable.
“We’re doing everything we can, and what everyone can do is different,” she said.
“Just do what you can.”