By Sherry Listgarten
A Climate-Friendly 2020Uploaded: Dec 29, 2019
‘Tis the season to make New Year’s resolutions, though any time is a good time to be a little climate-friendlier. If you are interested in making some changes, I’ve collected a few ideas in this post. Perhaps you’ll find something that appeals. Or maybe you’ve got something else in mind? I’d love to hear.
I’ve sorted the ideas into five categories: Be Informed, November Elections, Transportation, Food, and Home Energy Use. Two other big areas that I need to think more about are General Consumption and Adaptation. What are some concrete steps we can take to reduce our overall consumption and adapt to the coming (and present-day) climate changes? I’ve added a few thoughts on that. Finally, I have some 2020 plans for this blog that I’ve written up at the end.
Be Informed. This is a great place to start. Being informed can help us figure out which actions we want to take, and make it easier for us to talk with friends, family, and co-workers about climate change. Some ideas:
- Sign up for a weekly newsletter. You will find a variety of options if you do a Google search for “climate weekly newsletter”. One that you may not see is a “subscribe” option on carbonbrief.org. Remember to read the newsletters when they arrive, too!
- Watch some movies. Watching a movie about climate change can be easier and/or pack a bigger emotional punch than reading. A recent New York Times newsletter (speaking of newsletters!) recommends: Years of Living Dangerously, Merchants of Doubt, Mission Blue, This Changes Everything, and Racing Extinction. It also mentions some “classics”: An Inconvenient Truth, Chasing Ice, Before the Flood, and Ice on Fire.
- Speak up. Resolve to ask questions at home, at work, online, or elsewhere when you come across a climate issue you don’t understand or aren’t sure you agree with. For extra credit, go a step farther and help educate and inspire others. Whether it’s as simple as adding a comment to an online forum, or as complicated as speaking up at a family gathering, see if you can find effective ways to share what you know about climate change and/or encourage others to take actions that you are excited about.
FWIW, my resolution in this category is to watch at least three of those movies (I’ve only seen one) and to read at least four books on climate-related topics. I already subscribe to a number of newsletters, but I have recently signed up for the Heartland Institute’s weekly climate newsletter to better understand what the climate skeptics are thinking.
November Elections. These elections are critical to getting the US and the world on a more expedited path to addressing climate change. If you are not a big believer in the impact of individual action, the elections are a great place to spend some extra effort this year.
Unfortunately, I don’t have particular ideas here outside of the basics:
- Donate money to candidates who are committed to significant and immediate climate action (there are many!)
- Volunteer to make calls or send postcards to get out the vote and/or support climate-friendly candidates
My impression is that donations tend to be more useful early in the year, while volunteer opportunities are more likely to come up in late summer and early fall.
I hope to share more specific ideas as the year progresses, but I’d love to hear suggestions from those of you who are more politically savvy.
Transportation. This is our largest source of emissions, so a great one to pay attention to. Can you find something that works for you? Keep in mind that many people prefer the greener options for non-green reasons. Carpools can be fun, biking can be fast and convenient, and EVs let you fill up for cheap at home or at work. Even substituting a Swiss vacation for a Montana one can mean extra time and money for your vacation. Some specific ideas:
- Get a basket or two for your bike. If you are interested in biking more, it can help to have a basket or two on your bike. They even make collapsible ones that fold away when not in use.
- Lobby for changes at work. Are there changes your workplace can make to reduce transportation emissions? Maybe a policy to reduce work flights? How about adding secured bike parking or EV chargers? Would there be interest in discounted Clipper cards? Can it be easier to find potential carpool buddies?
- Try an e-bike. This may be an option if a standard bike is not a great fit for your commute(s).
- Limit your discretionary flying. Can you vacation overseas half as often, or stay in the western US instead of flying to the east coast?
- Keep a diary of your car use for one week. Can you learn anything about your travel habits from it? Could your household try using just one car for a week? For two weeks?
- And there are so many more: Try a new carpool. Take a transit trip. Consider a smaller or more efficient car. Purchase carbon offsets for your flights.
I hope you can experiment with ways to reduce your transportation emissions. FWIW, my resolution in this category is to keep building my bike habit so that biking is my first option for more trips.
Food. Diet and food waste are a large source of emissions, and some changes may be relatively easy for your family.
- Try meatless Mondays for a month. Or opt for meat at dinner only for a week or two and see how it goes.
- Limit beef to weekends. This might be an easy way to start cutting back. Another option is to limit beef only to dining out.
- Stretch the meat that you do buy. For example, buy at most a pound of meat per person per week for your household. (Or adjust that based on what you are consuming today.) The average American eats about ten ounces of meat per day, though nutritional guidelines suggest a maximum of 5-6 ounces per day. (1) Our goal for beef should be just 4 ounces per week. (2)
- If you are already eating little meat, then try the above with cheese or dairy.
- If your workplace has on-site dining, encourage them to offer more meat-free options, and especially serve less beef.
I’m not sure of specific steps to limit food waste. The best way I’ve found seems to be to just buy less fresh food since I tend to over-buy. But I’d love to hear ideas.
FWIW, my resolution in this category is to build my repertoire of vegetarian meals, preferably without eating more and more cheese(!). I need to be a better vegetarian cook. A larger variety of options will help us eat more vegetarian meals, and hopefully get to a half-pound of meat per person per week.
Home Energy Use. There are many possibilities here, though this tends to be an accumulation of small changes.
- Convert to LED bulbs. I don’t know about you, but we have several kinds of bulbs in our house that are not LED. An electrician pointed out to me that there are more types of bulbs now available in LED than ever before, and prices have dropped. There may be some updates you can do here.
- Schedule a Home Efficiency Genie visit. If you live in Palo Alto, these visits costs $150 or so, which isn’t cheap, but they come with a few giveaways (like some LED bulbs) and may give you some money-saving (and emissions-saving) ideas. In my experience, their suggestions can be pretty practical.
- Offset your home’s heating emissions. Consider tallying up your home’s emissions from natural gas use and purchasing offsets. The City of Palo Alto already purchases offsets for gas, so this may be more useful in other cities.
- Tweak your thermostat. This is a work in progress for our house. I set the temperature too low for a while. Now we have it where it feels warm when we come in from outside, but we need to wear sweaters inside, and we snuggle under blankets to watch TV. It works pretty well, though my fingers are a little cold as I type this…
- And there are other ideas, like chimney plugs, better weather stripping under doors, checking for gas leaks, changing furnace filters, etc.
There are also a few high-impact items that cost a lot up front, such as better insulation, more efficient appliances, solar panels, home batteries, and electric heat pump heaters. A well-insulated “building envelope” in particular can make a big difference.
FWIW, my resolution here is to better understand our electricity use. I think it’s higher than it should be, but I don’t really know why. Once I understand it, I hope I can identify some steps to reduce it.
Over-Consumption. We buy too much stuff, which increases emissions in the places that produce the items. But I haven’t thought of concrete steps to reduce this. There are general approaches, like buying items on just one day of the week, or preferentially buying used items, or staying away from big-box stores and opting instead for fewer high-quality local purchases. I haven’t figured this one out for our household, though we are making sporadic progress.
Adaptation. Temperatures are rising, which is already having local consequences today (e.g., the fires and power shut-offs we have seen) and will have more consequences in the coming decades (e.g., sea-level rise). What does adaptation look like, for us and for others, and how can we begin? I need to do more thinking on this. We have gotten air filters and a little portable battery for our house, for example, but that feels like a band-aid.
This Blog. I do have a few ideas for this blog for 2020. I want to find a way to hear from more local kids and report back. I also plan to tackle some contentious and/or difficult topics, including: nuclear energy, China and India, pros/cons of betting on tech, extremism among climate-change “believers”, pros/cons of buying permission to pollute, rationalizing our personal emissions, climate reparations, and urgency. I also want to continue to find ways to encourage productive conversations. Please share any suggestions you have as well.
Happy New Year, and I hope this is the beginning of a decade that sees much more national leadership and international cooperation on climate policies and more substantive progress on mitigating emissions and adapting to the changing climate.
Notes and References
2. Is it lame to reference my own blog? There are some good references there, though, like this one.
Current Climate Data (November 2019)
The globe had the second warmest November on record.
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)
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