If you are awake on this earth, you know there is a climate disaster brewing. Either you believe it and you are concerned, or you deny it and try to ignore it. Either way, you know it is there. And either way, you probably are not taking much effective action.
Why? Because you are a rational human being. The solutions don’t look good. Life is tough enough, and you don’t care to make your life worse.
Let’s fix that.
The reality is that your life can be better, not worse, as you contribute to a climate change solution. I want to lay out a specific set of ideas for how you can do that. Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell you to shrink your life and live like a hobbit. I’m also not going to tell you to wait for a techno-utopia to save us. I’m not going to say just ignore it and it will go away. It won’t, and ignoring it is a disservice to ourselves, our children, and future generations.
The impact we each have and the opportunities to address climate change depend largely on our station in life, so you cannot have one plan that fits everyone. For example, apartment building landlords can have a big impact that their renters cannot. Forty-five-year-old parents face very different realities from 20-year-old college students. Retired people have different options from corporate managers or union workers. But what we can do is assess our opportunities in key areas that can really help change our impact.
One more thing I am not going to do here — cutting back to reduce carbon. The climate movement has an almost myopic view of carbon footprint — which is generally defined as the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere based on your use of energy. The problem is that this is a zero-sum game that doesn’t take into account the impact an individual may have and how important that contribution might be for creating a solution. Critics of Al Gore, for example, focused on his carbon footprint as he promoted his message for An Inconvenient Truth. They criticized him for flying around to get the message out. Whether you like Gore or not, there is little doubt that his project changed the climate debate, and I would consider every ounce of carbon emitted for his work to be well invested. On the other hand, carbon spent on weekend jaunts to Las Vegas or to support passive gaming are much more frivolous, though even there, such an activity in the context of a specific life may make more sense than immediately meets the eye.
A Better Question
Rather than starting with everything each person can cut back on, let’s start on the positive side — what can you, in your unique role or position, with your unique abilities and talents, contribute to the climate change solutions we need? What can you add? How can you bring those talents to have the maximum impact on a solution? How can you use your current situation to have an impact, or how can you change your situation to make a bigger difference?
Job — Apply Your Best Work to a Solution
Other than sleeping, nothing in our lives rivals the time we spend at our jobs. We need our jobs and most of us bring our best energy to work all day. We contribute, we solve problems, and we work hard. The stress often goes home with us. Our job gets our very best energy.
What if we all directed more of our very best energy — our work at our jobs — to climate change solutions? For some, this might mean joining a committee. For others, it might be changing a policy. For others, it might mean changing your job altogether so you can contribute with the full force of your full-time work.
More importantly, what is your key skill that you could contribute? Are you an engineer? Maybe you can direct your efforts toward the technologies that will change the world — solar energy, battery technology, digitalization, automation, robotics, blockchain, AI, 3D printing, and cultured foods. All of these technologies can play a part in creating an abundant future. Are you a marketer? Perhaps your role is to look for these technologies and help bring them to market. Are you a communicator? Perhaps you spread the word in the areas and with the audiences that are available to you. Are you a teacher? You can teach people how to make their own climate mitigation plan. Are you an activist? Maybe the political impact is your unique contribution — trying to change policies that will help avert the disaster. And if you are retired, the need for your expertise and energy dedicated to this problem is enormous.
What I am suggesting is that you seize the opportunity to unleash your most creative and forceful work, i.e., your best energy, to climate change solutions. Most of us don’t do that. No job is perfect on climate, and all organizations we work for can take additional initiatives. You could lead those initiatives or participate in them. You could also change jobs to dedicate your energies better and more effectively.
Why focus on your job? Because it is where you can leverage your impact and make a bigger difference. It is far more effective than shrinking your sphere of influence to reduce your carbon footprint. You can make a much bigger difference by helping create new technology or bringing it to market than you can by trading your car for a bike. So, brainstorm the places where you can be effective. If there are opportunities and you otherwise like your job, stay with it and leverage those opportunities. If there are none or you hate the job, consider a new one. One year ago, I did this when I left sales consulting to become a sales leader in rooftop solar. I became very pleased with my contribution after selling 20MW of rooftop solar in a few years. Those sales stop close to 10,000 tons of greenhouse gases every year for years to come. I did it by redeploying my skills. You can make a similar difference by the thoughtful redeployment of your career energy.
How We Live
When it comes to climate change, there’s a whole lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ about lifestyle choices. Some of these choices can have a real impact, while others seem more oriented to letting people feel like they are doing something when maybe they are not. In this section of thinking through your carbon reduction plan, the focus is on electrification and renewable electricity sources.
Transportation — Own an Electric Vehicle… or Don’t
Our current transportation system is highly dependent on burning stuff — gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. And yet, we need to get around. We have to procure food, clothing, and other items from stores. We have to get back and forth from work. And we need to get to social gathering places and events. These core needs are predominantly served today by the automobile.
In the quest to shrink carbon footprints, many people argue that you should change to public transportation or turn to bicycles. Either one can be quite practical if you are in certain living situations. For example, if you don’t have children, live in an urban area where many stores you need are nearby, and your work is close and does not require professional attire, biking can be excellent. Or, if you are way out of an urban area and have a good commuter train access that terminates close to your office or place of work, then that public transportation can be great. But let’s face it: If public transportation will shrink your carbon footprint but double or triple your commute time, there’s a real question as to its efficacy as a strategy. This means less time with your family and friends, not more. It means less time for extracurricular activities like playing guitar, art class, or other enriching activities. It means less time for making a difference on climate change. For most people that will make their life worse, not better.
Our better bet today is to electrify. As soon as you can, obtain a new electric vehicle if you want to make a difference. Why go EV? Because the second step is to power it with solar energy. Electricity is the only energy we have that can be created without burning stuff, and burning stuff is what causes climate change. Right now, we do burn fossil fuels for most of our electricity. But that is changing and will continue to change. As it does, you will be able to meet your transportation needs ever more cleanly.
You can also make a paradigm shift. In the near future, more and more cities will roll out fleets of driverless EVs. Companies like Uber will operate them. You will hail a vehicle using your phone app, the vehicle will show up and take you where you want to go. With no driver, the cost will go down and likely become less expensive than owning a car. So here’s the deal: It’s more convenient, your costs go down, and you will save the carbon associated with building the car in addition to that generated by operating it. Fewer cars need to be built, lower cost to you (i.e., no insurance, gas, repairs, maintenance, etc.), and increased convenience — you will never need to find a parking spot again! Your life will be better in almost all respects.
Electrify Your Home and Go Solar
If you own a home, office building, industrial building, or apartment, that building has certain needs. It must be heated, cooled, and lit, both inside and outside. If your property is a home or apartment, cooking, laundry dryer, and hot water are also essential. How you provide these needs can make a world of difference, and you are in a unique position to lead change. Here are some things to consider.
First, go electric for the same reason as noted regarding vehicles — you can arrange to get electricity without burning anything. Even if you have a gas furnace that is 100% efficient, it still emits carbon dioxide, just less of it. The same is true for water heaters and dryers, gas ranges, and gas ovens. All burning of natural gas creates carbon dioxide output. When you stop burning gas, you reduce your carbon footprint, especially if you can make your electric energy renewable.
The transition to electricity can also save you money. The biggest difference you can make is by changing your climate control system from a furnace to a heat pump. Heat pumps use about half the electricity and cost 1/3–1/2 less to operate annually than a furnace, plus they are less expensive to have installed and they use no natural gas. The reason behind their efficiency is simple: heat pumps do not generate heat. Rather, they concentrate heat from outside a building and pump it into the building. They can even heat a home from the air outside that is below freezing by concentrating the heat that is in that air. Today, the economics for heat pumps are even better as the Biden administration pushes them as part of their climate change program.
For water heaters, many options are better than burning more gas. You can go to an electric water heater, and if powered with solar electricity, that will be a big improvement. There are also direct solar water heaters, but these will depend on your climate and access to sunshine. In some places, heat pumps can also be used for hot water, but this is less compelling in most locations.
Your other appliances should also be electric — the dryer, stove, and oven. But look for the most efficient ones you can find. For lighting, LEDs with soft light are by far the most important innovation to have inside your home. For outdoor lighting, many solar outdoor lights are on the market that do the job well. Just make sure you get a Kelvin rating of below 3,000 to keep the light warm and not an irritant to you or your neighbors.
The benefits of electrification only accrue to climate impact if your electricity is coming from renewable sources. So the final step — which you can begin without changing your appliances — is to ensure your electricity comes from renewable sources. If you can build a rooftop solar system, I highly recommend it. In almost all parts of the country, you will save a lot of money. If your site is not feasible for solar, subscribe to a solar garden or wind farm to ensure your electricity is coming from that source.
When you source your electricity with solar, wind, or other renewable and replace your appliances that burn stuff with those that use electricity, you have effectively taken your entire building out of the carbon creation game. Your life will be better, not worse, your costs will go down, and you will be more comfortable in your home or office. Plus, you will have a far bigger reduction in your carbon footprint than if you just decided to turn down the thermostat to reduce energy consumption.
The way to beat climate change on a personal level requires electrification of your household followed by sourcing your electricity from renewables — with the best answer being solar on your rooftop. If that’s not available, solar and wind garden subscriptions are the next best. In this way, you can take your home off of the carbon-producing map — a worthy goal for all climate activists — save yourself money and live a better life.
Personal Life Actions that Work
Once you have optimized your job for carbon reduction (step 1) and electrified your life with renewable electricity (step 2), how can you continue the momentum? I outline it here. However, a word of caution: Many people start with these items because they are easy. Okay, go ahead and do the easy things. I put these in part 3, however, because they are not nearly as impactful as the actions I described in Parts 1 and 2. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we are having a big impact when we have only done the small, easy things.
Making Stuff at Home
Transportation is one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gasses, but most of us think about transportation in terms of our cars and how we get to the store. At least as big is the transportation network that gets everything in the store to the store — food, clothing, hardware, garden supplies, and virtually everything else we need for contemporary life. Trucks, trains, airplanes, ships — all of them adding to the carbon footprint of anything you buy in a store or, for that matter, online.
Unless you have a job addressing those logistics needs, we can’t directly affect how the transportation business works. But we can affect how much of it we need to use. This is where home production comes in — for those who are interested or skilled, making your own can be an additional carbon footprint reduction strategy.
As mentioned in step 2, the number one contribution is to make your own electricity on your rooftop if you can. In virtually every state, it is less expensive to generate electricity from your own rooftop than it is to buy it from the utility. There will be a substantial investment, but even with financing costs, rooftop solar is almost always less expensive and will eliminate greenhouse gasses from the operation of your home or building. You will need to find a way to invest in this, but you do not need any skill to produce the electricity. Hired experts do the installation.
New technology is enabling a lot more home production as well. The making of music, videos, photos, writing, and digital art are all part of this trend. Laser printers enable printing of brochures and flyers in ways that were not possible a couple decades ago. The next generation of these at-home production tools are going to include 3D printing of personal household items, counter-top home food production, and similar capabilities.
Today, home production also relies on basic skills like gardening, sewing, auto repair, woodworking. You can grow some of your own food, for example, and for each bit of food you grow, there is no need for that to be shipped to the store where you would otherwise buy it. The same could be said for home production of clothing or furniture.
In the near future, home production will rely on new enabling technologies like 3D printing. Most of us already have a computer and phone, both of which are great home production tools if you create digital products or services. Be ready to adopt new production technology when it becomes available because it will greatly expand your capabilities.
At-home production can impact your carbon foot print, but you do not have to live with less to achieve your carbon goals. You don’t have to make your life smaller and less satisfying. Simply transform those parts that make the biggest impact while making your life better.
Diet — Not What, But Where
You can also reduce your carbon footprint based on food choices and diet, but one should be thoughtful about this. Many people provide guidance on carbon footprint and end up recommending veganism as a carbon footprint reduction strategy. According to the EPA, however, agriculture only accounts for 10% of US greenhouse gas emissions, and only a portion of that is from livestock. In other words, even if the entire country became vegan — an unlikely scenario — the total reduction would only be 3% or so. The impact on the size of your personal carbon footprint is also likely to be quite small.
This is not to say that food doesn’t matter — it does. With transportation (29%), electricity generation (25%), and industry (23%) accounting for over three-quarters of US greenhouse gas emissions, where you get your food is far more important than the actuality of what you eat. In other words, beef from a local farm that is butchered locally is far different, from a carbon perspective, than beef in a feedlot-raised, slaughter-house processed, food factory processed, frozen and shipped beef patty that ends up in your bag from a fast food restaurant. A vegan jar of palm hearts — with trees taken from tropical areas, processed in industrialized facilities, shipped from as far away as Indonesia, and resulting in a jar you need to recycle — may have far more carbon footprint than a hunk of Colby cheese produced in your own state. Less extreme, but also likely, is that an egg from down the road carries less carbon footprint than the head of lettuce you buy at the store, which is shipped in from California’s central valley. Veganism is not an automatic winner as far as carbon footprint goes.
Hence, the person concerned about carbon footprint in their diet should evaluate their diet to understand its sources. Where does their food originate? The more you can remove transportation, processing, shipping (especially refrigerated shipping), and cold storage from your individual food chain, the more impact you will have reducing your carbon footprint. The bigger benefit is to stay outside the system, rather than to change what you eat.
Here is the primary point: No matter what food decision you may make, it will have a very small effect on carbon. Look to steps 1 and 2 if you want to have a real impact, and don’t let yourself be satisfied that you are doing your part just because you tweak your diet. It won’t be enough.
Policy Advocacy — Helping Others Do the Right Thing
In 2021, I was impressed as many people were with the strong outpouring of energy and commitment from youth who demonstrated in Glasgow during the international climate summit. They were there in large numbers and came from around the world to try to push the negotiators to do the right thing and fix climate change.
The problem with this and other protests is its focus on what we are against. It is fine to be against producing more natural gas, but then you need an answer for how people heat their homes. We can be against burning coal, but then we need to push solutions for generating electricity. The world as we know it, after all, can’t live without energy.
More importantly, we have seen the climate agenda get hijacked by other agendas, as activist agendas often do. A good example is the policy priorities put forward by the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, which you can find here. There are fifteen “priorities” and they address population control, changing the monetary system, income inequality, resource distribution, the workday, banking regulations, and much more. But not one single word about not burning fossil fuels. Not one word about carbon emissions. Yet repeatedly, climate activists have cited these policy priorities as the way to create a new future.
So, the question is: What’s the agenda? I would propose that it is not climate change. CASSE has a bigger agenda, much of which has nothing to do with climate change. I’m not picking on CASSE here, but using them to point out, once again, that we need to understand what we are advocating if we are going to be effective. What we need right now, more than anything else, is meaningful, effective change that reduces carbon emissions.
What that might mean? Here are a few ideas:
- Advocate policies that help businesses and individuals adopt truly carbon-reducing technologies, especially those technologies that are available today — solar, electric vehicles, and electric home appliances.
- Advocate policies that enable local producers, especially food producers, to be the low-cost providers in their communities.
- Advocate policies that support R&D and the development of digitalization, automation, robotics, solar development, battery technology, and similar technologies needed for a post-carbon world.
- Advocate policies to make all these new improvements advantageous for the masses.
Ultimately, advocacy needs to lead to a better future for everyone. We can work toward a positive vision and solve climate change at the same time.
Making Your Plan
Most well-meaning people want to contribute to climate change solutions, but most of us have been fed a line of bullshit around what actions we can take. We can all do a lot, but it isn’t enough to give it lip-service or to engage in guilt-reducing, yet meaningless acts.
A meaningful program for individual contributions must be individually considered. I encourage you to undertake that consideration. The biggest impacts will be in the following areas:
- Evaluate your job and make changes so you can devote an increasing amount of your best energy to climate change solutions.
- Electrify your transportation methods, and source it similarly — or use your own physical energy.
- Electrify your home or business by swapping out gas appliances with electric ones, and source your electricity with renewables.
- Build solar on any buildings you own, assuming it is feasible.
- Source your diet as close to home as possible.
- Advocate policies that will make these actions more accessible and advantageous for more and more people.
Humanity can win in this challenge, but we need to do it by building a better future and taking actions that make a real difference. We need to do it by staying focused on what works and has a real impact. And we need to do it by bringing everyone on board. We can do this. Let’s start with ourselves, and then help our neighbors do the same. Let’s beat climate change.
This post was previously published on Predict.
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStock