The Smart Money Climate Choices You Haven’t Considered Yet
Unfreeze your mind, solve climate, and make your life better
Now that the UN IPCC has wrung the EMERGENCY bell — you know, the one that says we have seven years to reduce carbon emission by 43% or we are going to shoot past the 1.5 C degree target they set — one question should be front and center on everyone’s mind: How can I help? What can I do?
I’m going to outline a plan people can follow — how to take meaningful action that will improve your life and help solve the problem all at the same time. Don’t worry. Even though UN IPCC says it is an emergency — and it is — that doesn’t mean you have to hate the prescriptive medicine. It’ll be better. I promise.
Before I get to that, a couple of words about what not to do. Don’t be a denier and don’t be a confuser.
A Word for the Deniers
If you are a denier, the source of your denial is your anxiety over something happening that is out of your control. I empathize. Climate change induces anxiety in nearly everyone. It’s okay to feel that, just don’t be owned by it. Your anxiety is about the way of life you love and feel you are about to lose. Having worked hard to earn what you want, you are thinking: “I’m not giving up mine!” I don’t blame you. No one wants to give up what they feel they earned.
But what if I told you that the solutions to climate change are actually going to make your life better? What if your car will be faster and cheaper to operate? What if you can cut your heating bill by 50%? What if your electric bill can be 10%, 20%, or maybe even 50% less than it is today? All these things are available. It just so happens that they are also good for climate change.
Many people have made it seem that life can only get worse if you accept that climate change is real. They make it seem like what you have to do is crawl into a cave somewhere, sell your car and buy a bike and a train pass, and turn your thermostat down to 42 F degrees. The reality is that you do not need to do any of these things, and even if you did them, it wouldn’t work anyway.
So why not give me an ear? I’ll explain right after I talk to the confusers.
A Word for the Confusers
If you are a climate confuser, you advocate imposing other priorities over the top of climate change, thereby confusing the issue for many — especially the deniers. As a confuser, you want to use climate change as a rallying cry to fix economic inequality, address racial justice, reduce consumption, provide LGBTQ+ opportunity, insist on veganism for everyone, overturn capitalism, or any one of several other progressive issues. Many of these may be laudable goals, but none of them have anything directly to do with climate change.
You see, the UN IPCC report should sharpen the mind here. It says we need to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030, while a recent IEA report said that 2020 saw an increase in global emissions of just under 1%. Not good. We aren’t just behind, we are going in the wrong direction.
Part of the problem is that as a confuser you are pouring a lot of energy into confusing other issues with climate change — the ones mentioned above. And while ending racism and correcting economic inequality could be good ideas, they will not reduce emissions, and loads of people are getting confused about how we can solve the problem. The deniers look and say: I don’t want that! Confused folks look at it and say, “Is all that really necessary? I can’t do that. What should I do? I’m confused.” Plus, your energy is likely focused on that side issue, not carbon. I would ask that you consider changing your focus. For if we do not solve carbon, there won’t be a society to make more equal or to save from capitalism.
What Should We All Do?
There are the deniers and there are the confusers and there are the confused — millions of people who want to help but aren’t sure what to do, how to do it, or what the impact on their life will be. Here is a succinct plan and outline that can make a real difference in carbon and make your life better than it is today.
Step 1: Save 10% on Electricity and Source Your Electricity from a Renewable Project
The simplest and easiest step anyone can take is to source their electricity with a solar or wind farm subscription at a reduced price. If it is available where you live, there is no reason to not do this. It won’t take more than an hour, and you will save money, reduce carbon, and make electricity more reliable.
Step 2: Convert Your Household Appliances to Efficient Electric
Furnaces, AC, stoves/ovens, hot water, and clothes dryers are the most common appliances burning gas in the home. The climate change goal is to replace all appliances that burn gas and save money by making them more efficient. Furnace, AC, and hot water can all be accomplished using various kinds of heat pumps that save a ton of energy, are quieter, cheaper to install and operate, and emit no carbon. Everyone wins. Hear that deniers? You can SAVE MONEY! It’s all good.
Step 3: Replace Your Car with an Electric Vehicle
Faster, zippy, more fun, and pretty darned cool. That’s what everyone is saying. In my case, just the gas savings will pay for the new car payment. It’s astonishing. So the deal is this: I spend less money than I am now and I have a fun, exciting, new car to drive. Or truck. Or SUV.
More power, more speed, less money out of my pocket. Oh, and also no emissions and no gasoline bill. You aren’t even making a down payment on the future. You are making today better.
Step 4: Renew Your Electricity Subscription Or Build Rooftop Solar
Once you electrify everything, you may be using more electricity than was covered in your original subscription to a solar or wind farm, so you should upgrade your subscription — realizing, again that you will be saving money doing so.
That said, many deniers and confusers pride themselves on the same thing: Their independence. And by far, the best way to achieve independence is with your own rooftop solar. In today’s world, you can build that solar, pay it off within a few years, and have essentially free electricity for as long you own your home. Even deniers like that.
Why Do This?
The outcome of these four steps is to eliminate the emissions that are directly within your control and save a bundle of money doing so.
Do you have other ideas? Please add them in comments if you do! I’d love to hear them. Remember—the idea is to reduce your direct emissions and save money doing so.
No, It’s Not More Expensive — Yes, You Can Afford This
One of the common complaints about a personal program to decarbonize your direct emissions is cost. But let’s look at reality.
In most cases, subscribing to renewable electricity through your utility will save about 10%. Where’s the additional cost?
Heat pump purchase and installation in almost all circumstances is less expensive than a furnace and air conditioner purchase and installation. Furnace and central AC can easily be $8,000–10,000, whereas heat pumps are usually one-half to two-thirds of that price. Actual numbers depend on the size of your home and where you live.
Electric clothes dryers, stoves, ovens, and water heaters are comparable in price to purchase and install. There could be some additional electric work if you don’t already have proper wiring, so that work should be priced before committing.
EVs are pricey — there is no question about that. But, in many cases, they can pay for themselves. For example, I drive an older model minivan. It gets about 18 miles to a gallon. I spend about $350 per month on gasoline. Even at today’s prices and interest rates, I can purchase a recent model EV hybrid that gets 52 miles to a gallon for a $3,000 down payment and payments of less than $300 per month. When I factor in the reduced maintenance costs, I’m better off with the purchase of a new vehicle. It will be more fun too.
When you build rooftop solar, there are two ways to pay for it. You can build it with the cash you have, earn a payback in a few years (depending on where you live) and enjoy free electricity for the rest of the system’s life — usually 30–40 years. Or you can finance it, thereby transferring your current electric bill into a loan payment usually at a savings of 10–50%, and usually without a down payment. (These numbers come from the analyses I made for customers during three years in the solar industry. They vary by state and locality.)
Most folks who say they can’t afford to change are making the same argument businesses are making. “It’s too expensive, we can’t afford it, who will help us?” Keep in mind that in the US all of the changes listed above, except perhaps for the renewable subscription, have subsidies, grants, or tax credits available to make them more affordable. The numbers I have outlined are before taking advantage of those programs.
What Else Can You Do? — Look at Your Job
Separately from your own emissions control, a huge difference can be made by altering your career. There is a huge shortage of workers in the green industry, so most people can improve their incomes and long-term opportunity by moving to that industry. They can also help the world increase the speed of the green energy transition. Electricians are needed to install solar systems, wind systems, appliances, heat pumps, charging stations, and similar technology. Workers are needed in lithium mines, battery factories, and EV factories. Salespeople are needed from showroom floors to basic goods stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. If you are good at recruiting people, you could singlehandedly expand the productive capacity of the green energy industry, all while earning a higher income and better benefits. Because of the amount of time we all spend at work, most people who change jobs will make an outsized contribution to the solution, and increase their incomes at the same time.
I will discuss job opportunities from time to time in Carbon 350. If you want to hear them, please subscribe.
Your Next Biggest Impact — Lifestyle Or Politics?
Ok, so you are going along with me so far. You are saving money by electrifying and going to renewable energy. Great. You have your EV. Great. You managed your career to something that can have a much bigger impact. That’s perfect. And now you ask, what else can I do?
First and foremost — tell your friends what you have done. Share your savings and your story with them. Provide information so they can benefit, save money, and be part of the solution as well.
Second, many people want to change their lifestyle. Consume less, become a vegan, buy your food locally and organically, or maybe even grow your own in a garden. Choose your diet to lower your carbon footprint. All these are fine ideas. The science is out, however, on their actual impact on carbon, even though many advocates of veganism will insist it is the most impactful thing you can do. The problem is that carbon footprint cannot be measured accurately, even within an order of magnitude, because it can’t account for all kinds of upstream decisions that have a big impact. One study indicated that there is as much as a 50-fold difference in carbon impact from animal agriculture depending on the method of production. And there are two problems: a) you as a consumer cannot tell the difference between a high carbon footprint product and a similar low carbon footprint product, and b) the lowest impact animal food source could be less than that of a faraway shipped vegetable. So, if you want to change your lifestyle, go ahead and do it. Good mindfulness will probably yield a change in your total carbon impact, but you won’t be able to measure it. Plus, if you haven’t done the four steps mentioned above first, you aren’t having the impact your could be having.
Third, politics. These matter because they change the economics for businesses and corporations, without whom we cannot meet the UN IPCC goals. Corporations have two keys. First, some of them are enormous emitters. And second, they can make system-level changes that affect everyone without us having to think about it. Corporations can be affected through political work, and there are two key areas where that work can have a large impact: carbon pricing and renewable electric generation requirements for utilities.
Carbon pricing is critical because some industries that meet real needs, like cement, chemicals, and others, cannot completely clean up their production methods today. If cement were a country, as one commentator said, it would be the biggest emitter of carbon in the world. Fossil fuel refining is also a huge emitter. So long as carbon is free, these industries have no incentive to clean themselves up, and in fact, the laws of capitalism compel them to manufacture at the lowest possible cost. So if emissions are free, they need to emit instead of manage.
But if emissions are costly, these companies must assess the cost-benefit analysis of managing versus emitting. Most of them know that carbon pricing is coming and they are already starting to invest. Your role as a citizen is to keep the pressure on them and advocate for policies that ensure a high price for carbon. If we maintain that, the innovative spirits of corporate capitalism will find a solution. When it comes to making money, they always figure it out.
Renewable Requirements for Utilities
The other policy area needing a lot of attention is getting utilities to generate electricity with renewable systems. Solar is now the cheapest way to generate new electricity, beating out every other method. Solar is cheaper to build and cheaper to operate. It can be made better yet with proper public policy — incentives for entering the renewables market, renewable requirements for operating in a particular state or jurisdiction, ensuring transmission line construction needed to carry the electricity, and so on. Unfortunately, many states are going in the opposite direction, mistakenly thinking that the old way is the cheap way, and thereby making it harder to build renewables, sometime in states where it would be especially good to use solar or wind.
The reason the utility target is so important is simple — whatever percent of the power the utility generates is renewable, all of its customers are the same percentage renewable. If the utility generates 50% of its electricity from renewables, then all of its customers are using 50% renewable energy — whether they are deniers, confusers, businesses, individuals, or anything else. The utility mix applies to ALL users because that is what is coming in on their powerline. That’s leverage.
If you want to go the next level past your direct emissions, these two public policy areas are very impactful. They make a huge difference by changing the playing field for corporate America.
As I said at the outset, the emergency bell has rung. UN IPCC gives us seven years. Everyone seems to think it is someone else’s problem, but we have things we can do. Follow the four steps, commit your time and energy to a better job that helps solve the problem, and get politically active. This is how to make a difference. Deniers, confusers, and everyone else — we can all have better lives by doing this than by skipping it. Let’s get to work building a better life for ourselves, our grandkids, and everyone on earth.
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Thank you for this concise and practical article. I recently signed up for the green power program in Austin, Texas. It is from 100% wind and solar. It actually costs a tiny bit more but worth it to go renewable.
So far I’ve been lowering carbon by minimizing my use but will switch to renewables for all of it as quickly as I can.
I will replace current natural gas appliances as I’m able to. I had planned on doing it as the current ones died but will do it much earlier than that since we’re on a shorter timeline than we knew. It will actually be costly for my budget at about $1000 per item. Water heater, stove, dryer.
For A/C and furnace I will have to get a quote to know how much that will cost to replace. I already have low utility bills because I don’t use much compared to others, so I don’t expect it to pay for itself for quite a while but that’s not the point for me. I would love solar panels but have too much shade.
I didn’t think I could afford an EV but will look at what the options are. I don’t drive much so I won’t have as much savings as you got. I spend about $100 a month currently.
I’m intrigued about the idea to find a job in the industry. I’m an office manager and bookkeeper.