PERSONAL INFRASTRUCTURE – how our individual choices can have a hug impact
In Good Enough for the Climate, I talk a lot about action. I talk about the principles of action and innovation in Part 2 and how those dynamics can drive wonderful unintended ripple effects. In Part 3, I describe a wide range of actions being taken across many sectors. Green Carbon for the land sector, mostly farms and forests. Blue Carbon is all about the oceans, our coastal areas, bays and estuaries. Black Carbon represents our engineered world, the energy, materials and stuff we relay on for modern life. Gold Carbon is the money to pay for it and the incentives to decarbonize it. In each of these areas I talk about the amazing people and the organizations they inhabit. I talk most about action at the organization level, but much less at the personal level.
As I’ve talked to people about the book I regularly get asked – “what can I do?” They aren’t asking, what company they can start, what organizations or policies they can get behind. They are asking what they can do in their daily lives to take action now to make progress on climate change. This is a great question. People want to act and they want to feel like they are part of the solution. But, honestly, most of us don’t spend our professional days working on or thinking about climate change. We are doctors, lawyers, auto repair technicians, physical therapists, etc. Climate isn’t our gig. So, what can we do? Most of the possible actions offered boil down to what sounds like a diet – eat better, drive less, recycle. These are all good, and certainly changing our day-to-day habits can help, but its marginal. The impact of these changes on our carbon footprint isn’t nearly enough to solve the problem. However, there are changes we can make that have a huge impact and perhaps even bigger ripple effects.
I just finished reading a wonderful book, Electrify by Saul Griffith (https://www.amazon.com/Electrify-Optimists-Playbook-Energy-Future/dp/0262046237, https://www.saulgriffith.com/, https://www.linkedin.com/in/saulgriffith/ ) that provides a great framework for things we can do as individuals that will have a huge impact. Much of our GHG emissions, principally carbon dioxide and methane, are generated from our Personal Infrastructure. We tend to think of infrastructure as the things we use that are in some way owned in common, like roads and electrical grids. However, we have a lot of personal infrastructure to maintain our comfy lives. Right now, I’m sitting in a warm house. Its snowing like gangbusters outside. I have all the water, food, light and heat I need. I have a stove to cook my food and all kinds of other machines to make life easy for me. I have a car in case I need to go somewhere, although I doubt it today. All this stuff is my Personal Infrastructure and the decisions I make about it have a huge impact on climate change. These things combined make up about 40 percent of our emissions and when we add in these items associated with where we work, play and shop its more like 60 percent, says Saul.
As Saul points out, simply electrifying all these things can greatly reduce our personal GHG footprint.
Transportation – get an electric car
Water heater – replace natural gas water heaters with electric
Heating – replace natural gas or oil with electric heat pumps
Food Preparation – replace natural gas stoves and ovens with electric
Washing, Drying, Food Storage, etc. – use the most efficient appliances you can find
Housing – tighten up the windows, doors, and insulation
Food – what we eat has a significant impact, a few more veg meals a week is good for many reasons
Your power – make sure you are sourcing renewable energy.
This handful of large items accounts for most of our carbon footprint. Typically, these things need to be replaced every 10 years or so. Make sure the next time you buy one its electric. Make sure that electricity is from renewable sources. Extend this to your community. Building codes and ordinances should encourage a rapid transition in these areas.
Sourcing renewable energy may not be as hard as we typically think. Yes, its great to put solar panels on our homes, schools, office buildings and we should be doing that at scale as quickly as possible. However, its not always an option. For example, it’s not going to work on my historic 110-year-old house lined with trees. But there are other options. Nearly all utilities offer a green or renewable energy program and retail electricity providers do the same. These programs are structured in a variety of ways, but the result is generally the same. Your dollars go to fund renewable energy generation, not coal, gas or nuclear based electricity generation. Demand for these programs continues to grow (https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/u.s-voluntary-green-power-sales-keep-surging-with-more-than-a-little-help-from-utilities). Green Mountain Energy is one example of a retail provider that provides this service in several states (https://www.greenmountainenergy.com/). A quick internet search will help you find the best solution for your area. Switching services is usually very simple and seamless. Easier that getting a new cell phone service.
The great thing is that all of these Personal Infrastructure purchase decisions send a signal and have a huge impact beyond your own usage. They help create demand for more renewable energy, help transform the grid, help sustain the effort to decarbonize everything for all. Our actions have a multiplier effect. As Saul says, Electrify!