Sustainability: Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time.
In 2000, I participated in a program called EcoTeams where we talked about the negative impacts of energy usage, transportation, water, and general consumption (especially food) on the planet. We learned how using less (or using in a better way) can lead to a richer life. This program was eye-opening and life-changing for me. We immediately began using green energy for 100% of our electricity (eventually producing all of our own juice with solar), reduced our water usage (down to one third of the average household), and also reduced our garbage and miles driven (and got down to one car for our three-person family). I was already vegetarian (since 1986) and eventually cut dairy out of my diet, too.
I know the issue of climate change is near and dear to many people, but we can become paralyzed by all the choices we're given for living greener. I try to shine a light on the most effective solutions below.
Electricity is one of the largest causes of greenhouse gas emissions (28% in the US) and the most important since it's easy for individuals and businesses to use 100% green electricity, so that's been my biggest focus. I wrote a short article about an easy and affordable way to use 100% green energy. I wrote another article (in 2022) about how using a whole-house fan instead of A/C uses much less energy.
Diet is the second most important because it's the next largest cause of emissions (25% worldwide); by moving towards a plant-based organic diet we can reduce our footprint (bonus: it uses much less water, too!). Cows emit methane (most of it by belching), which is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. In addition, creating pastures for grazing cattle has caused deforestation. Replanting trees will absorb CO2. If you have a NY Times subscription, here's a great interactive article about food choices.
The most comprehensive greenhouse gas footprint calculator I can find also enables you to purchase carbon offsets for your emissions (and even choose which projects to fund!). If you're using green electricity, enter 0 for it (kWh). If you purchase carbon offsets for your flights or other things, enter 0 for those, too. My footprint is about 6.7 metric tons per year; that's less than half the average American (16), but the world target is 2 so I have a ways to go. I'm thinking about purchasing offsets for the rest... do you think this is a good idea?
The City of Madison (and many other cities) are implementing Transit-Oriented Development with one goal being to reduce vehicle emissions. I wrote an article about this in 2022.
The new En-ROADS interactive tool lets you virtually change policies around energy, growth, land use (related to diet), and more to see how it will impact climate change. It's designed for policy-makers, but I encourage you to try your hand at it... it's enlightening!
In April 2007, we converted to solar and generate 100% of our electricity. I wrote an article about this geared toward helping others go solar. (A 2016 redevelopment proposal requesting extra stories threatened to reduce the sun on our roof and yard. The City shot this down and a 2020 redevelopment proposal was better. It still shades our solar, but it'll be a while before I know how much.)
For years, I gave an interactive and fun talk entitled Potent Home Remedies for Climate Change. I'm thinking about making a web page + video of the most important information presented so more people can learn about it and take action. Want to help? Have experience with video/graphics? Contact me! The talk covered:
The most effective solutions to climate change and how easy they are to attain without lowering one's quality of life.
Several different ways to convert to renewable electricity. The stars have been lined up for going solar for over a decade, but the federal rebate began ramping down in 2020 and will be gone by 2024. If you've ever thought about going solar, now is the time!!
How to easily use much less electricity.
We own a tankless water heater which uses less natural gas, has a long lifetime, and is 100% recyclable. I wrote an article about this.
We were more-or-less carless for three years beginning in 2014. We still mostly bike, walk, and bus in town.
This is obviously a topic of great interest to me. If it interests you, too, contact me; let's meetup and chat!