NET ZERO HOUSEHOLD
Get your household carbon footprint as close to zero as quickly as possible (and create significant savings in the process). Together, we can do this ...
This resource is designed to provide a simple and strategic way to bring all the aspects of your life as close to net zero as possible (meaning you are not contributing any carbon emissions to our shared atmosphere through your activities). Household net zero is not possible without structural changes to our transportation, energy, and food production sectors (these require legislation - see below) - however with this tool you can make very significant progress in that direction and play a meaningful role in our collective work to reduce emissions and secure a healthy world for future generations. And if you approach this challenge with a community - inviting your friends, neighbors, church, block, etc. to do it with you - your impact can grow significantly. Furthermore, the beauty of reducing your carbon footprint is that many of its aspects will actually create significant and lasting savings in your life, increasing your overall financial health.
The actions are divided into categories of your life, and each has multiple stages. Stage 1 refers to actions that are simple, cost little or no money up front, and can be done immediately by almost anyone. Stage 2 refers to actions that take a bit more planning or may require a bit of savings to be able to do (the hope is that the savings from stage 1 actions will open the door to do stage 2 actions). Stage 3 refers to the biggest actions you can do - larger scale investments that will have a great return but take a bit more up front.
Tackle the stage 1 actions first. Do as many as you can. Then, move to stage 2. Then stage 3. Different families will have different paces - but the challenge here is to do it as quickly as possible. 5 years is not unrealistic for many people - and some can do it in less.
Invite your friends, neighbors, and communities to join you. Together we can build a movement - and this is what our children and their children need right now ... a movement. We don't have the time to make little changes here and there over time - we all need to be dramatically reducing our carbon emissions as quickly as possible. We have 9 years (at most) for our planet to reduce its emissions by 50% - and another 10-15 years to get to net zero. And then we need to be net negative as a planet beyond that (meaning we are drawing more carbon out of the atmosphere than putting into it) in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. If you imagine that playing out on your own block, that means half of your neighbors's households will need to be net zero by 2030. That's the pace we need to be moving at.
This is a lot - but we can do it if we set our collective wills to it. We need to adopt a wartime mentality as a society. We need to come together to fight for a hopeful future for our children, the way my grandparents' generation did during WWII.
Everything I am listing in this resource is something that I have done, am doing, or am planning to do with my own household. I invite you to join me in building a household net zero movement - and please invite your friends and family to join you as well.
Together we can do this!
INCREASE YOUR HOME ENERGY EFFICIENCY
Energy efficiency is the first thing to do to reduce emissions. The cleanest energy is the energy you don't use! Also, improving energy efficiency means reducing waste - energy you're paying for that you don't need to be. It saves you money.
Get a PECO Energy Audit (for residents of the Philly metro area)
PECO Home Energy Audit (in person or virtual - $49):
PECO will give you a thorough energy assessment of your property and offer details on how to improve efficiency, various deals on appliances and contractors. They'll also replace all of your non-LED light bulbs with LED for free. I've done this and I've already seen noticeable savings on my monthly bills. Click here.
PECO Free Energy Check Up:
People who qualify based on income can get the Home Energy Audit service for free. Click here.
Get the audit, read the recommendations, and do all the tightening around your house that you can do on your own.
If you don't live in the Philly metro area, ask around for good energy audit options in your community.
Change Your Behaviors
Ways to decrease your energy usage:
Turn off lights consistently when you leave the room
Lower your thermostat below 70 in winter and above 72 in summer. Dress accordingly.
Use your windows actively - shade them in the summer to keep out heat, open them in the winter to welcome heat in
Lower your water heater temperature from 140 to 120 F
Wash clothes in cold water
Line dry for half the year
Reduce your shower length or take showers every other day
Don't leave your faucet running when you're not using it
A great website to explore to find different ways to improve home energy efficiency is www.energy.gov.
You can also watch the Hunting Park Community Solar Initiative's energy efficiency and weatherization workshop video here.
Get Energy Star Appliances
Fridges, AC units, dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers are some of your most high-energy appliances. Replacing these with Energy Star rated appliances can save a lot of energy.
Get More Significant Weatherization Work Done On Your Home
Bigger projects like insulating walls and attics, replacing windows and doors, etc. can cost more up front but create significant long term savings. There are also good existing home weatherization grant programs in Philadelphia that you can apply for. Call our partner Hunting Park Community Revitalization Corporation (HPCRC) at 215-225-5560 to find out what programs you may be eligible for and to get support in applying. Here are a few good Philadelphia home weatherization grant and loan programs:
Basic Systems Repair Program (BSRP):
This program offers grants to low income residents who need repairs for basic systems in their homes. If basic systems need work, that should be done before weatherizing. Click here for more information.
Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP):
This program offers grants to low income residents to get more significant weatherization work done on their homes. Click here for more information.
Homeowners Energy Efficiency Loan Program (HEELP):
This program offers 10 year loans at 1% interest for residents to do energy efficiency work on their homes. There is no income requirement. Click here for more information.
DECARBONIZE YOUR ELECTRICITY
Electricity is only as clean as its source. Electricity generated by fossil fuels is dirty energy. If you drive an electric vehicle (EV) but charge it from your house and your house gets its electricity from PECO's normal energy mix (which is only 0.5% renewables - a truly appalling number), your EV may very well be a dirtier form of transportation than a car that runs on gas. Changing the source of your electricity is key.
Change your Electricity Provider to a Clean Energy Source
It is usually just a simple 15 min phone call to switch your electricity provider to clean energy and the cost of your electricity will be very comparable to what you were paying before. Here are some good options - there are plenty of others:
Get Rooftop Solar
Rooftop solar is an excellent long term investment. Taking into account the 26% federal tax credit, the home equity increase, the energy saved on your bill by your solar production, and the regular payments of solar renewable energy credits (or SRECs) for the energy you produce, your initial investment should return somewhere between 3X and 4X what you put in over the course of 25 years. This is like putting your money into a CD at an unheard of rate of 4-5%. You will also be able to know that for all that time your electricity is being generated by a 100% clean power plant on your roof.
The main challenge for people is the upfront cost. However, this is a stage 2 (rather than a stage 3) action because there are some great financing options out there that allow you to get panels on your roof at $0 down and have the generation go to work right away and help you pay off the loan quickly.
CWP has a partnership with Solar States (www.solar-states.com/hpsolar) through the Hunting Park Community Solar Initiative (HPCSI) that sets aside $200 of savings per kW of system installation size. If you are a resident of Hunting Park, this savings is taken directly off your up front cost of installation. If you are not, getting solar through the initiative will generate that rate of savings from your installation and donate it to a Hunting Park climate justice fund we are building to hire local labor to do cooling, greening, and energy efficiency work in HP. Either way, the world wins! Contact me here if you would like to learn more about getting rooftop solar through the HPCSI program, or register directly for a free solar evaluation at the link above.
Solar States has a 10 year $0 down 3% loan to finance your panels if you install with them - it's an excellent loan.
Also, if you fall below certain income requirements (they're actually higher than you might expect), you can apply for the Solarize Philly LMI Solar Grant Program, which will cover close to 2/3 of your up front costs. It's an excellent program, though there is a bit of a wait list. Click here for more information.
DECARBONIZE YOUR HEATING AND COOLING
Heating and cooling accounts for 55% of your home energy usage, which in turn means a comparable portion of your home emissions. Decarbonizing the source of your heating and cooling system and making it more efficient has a big impact on your overall carbon footprint.
Switch your natural gas to renewable natural gas (RNG)
If you live in the Philadelphia area and have natural gas heating with PGW, you can switch the kind of gas you use to renewable natural gas. RNG is gas harvested from above ground waste sources like landfills and water treatment plants, which means that it is not being drawn up from below ground through drilling or fracking and being added to the above ground carbon cycle. Rather, it is gas that is a waste byproduct of processes that are already taking place within the atmospheric carbon cycle system. For this reason, RNG is technically carbon neutral. That being said, this is only a temporary solution because there is not nearly enough RNG to supply the energy needs of the public if everyone were to switch. Society ultimately needs to electrify and make the sources of that electricity fully renewable. But while we are still in process switching away from natural gas, RNG is a good option. You can do it through the Energy Coop here.
Switch your hot water heater to a tankless electric
Tank water heaters have to constantly keep a large tank of water hot (40 gallons is common). A tankless water heater only heats the water when you use it, which is much less wasteful. Powering your tankless heater with electricity, rather than gas, further decarbonizes you - as long as you are getting your electricity from a clean source (whether through rooftop solar or by choosing a clean energy provider).
Switch your heating and cooling system to an air source or geothermal heat pump system
Heat pumps are an old and well-proven technology. They run on electricity, are much more efficient than boilers or air conditioning systems, and they can both heat and cool your home. If you have central air, you can simply replace your boiler and AC with a single heat pump and it will work through your existing system. If you do not have central air, you can install a ductless mini-split system, which has one outside heat pump unit and as many indoor wall mounted units as you would like. This is much more efficient (and pleasant) than hauling AC window units in and out by season, the wall units are very quiet, and if you have a radiant heat system you can cut your winter gas costs drastically by simply heating with your indoor units and having the radiant heat as a back up. A good company for installing heat pump systems in the Philly metro area is a family owned business called New Spirit HVAC. You can reach them here.
Geothermal systems are the gold standard for heating and cooling, but they are more expensive up front, more disruptive in the installation process (due to the drilling involved), and require a greater amount of land. Prices vary greatly depending on how they are installed. Ground loops can be drilled straight down, they can be sent more widely but with less depth, or they can be looped at the bottom of bodies of water if you have them on your property. However they are done, geothermal systems tap into the heat energy of the constant 50 F temperature of the earth a little below the surface, which enables them to heat during the winter and cool during the summer. Geothermal ground loops typically last at least 50 years (and often significantly more) and dramatically reduce your heating and cooling costs. You can connect a loop to a ground source heat pump and then use that energy to run your central air or ductless mini-split system in the same way as with an air source heat pump. To learn more about geothermal, you can explore the website of a Geodelphia, a geothermal advocacy group I'm involved with.
REDUCE YOUR HOUSEHOLD WASTE
All purchased materials have a carbon footprint, meaning that carbon was released into the atmosphere in order to produce them. Energy was used to the grow crops or animals that we consume, to manufacture the goods we use, etc. - and that energy was generated, at least to some degree, through the burning of fossil fuels. This means that when we waste food or other products, all of that carbon sent into the atmosphere to produce that product was sent for no reason - and by throwing the product away we require that more energy be used to make a new product, which involves burning more fossil fuels to make it. Reducing waste reduces the amount of carbon needed to keep our households running.
Ultimately, our collective goal must be to pursue and develop a circular economy, rather than a linear economy. The economics of planet earth are fundamentally circular - powered by the sun, everything is recycled, repurposed, and reused in an endless and sustainable fashion - nothing is wasted. Right now, our human economic systems are linear systems, meaning that they begin with the extraction of resources, which are then manufactured into goods, which are then consumed, and which in the end are discarded as waste. A linear economy converts the entire world, slowly and steadily, into garbage. It is fundamentally unsustainable. A circular economy is able to last indefinitely because everything is reused again and again. This is the only way to be good stewards of a finite planet in the vacuum of space. We need systemic change (which requires our votes), but we can all begin by pursuing as circular a household economy as we can, which starts with reducing waste. (A good and very user friendly video on circular economics can be seen here.)
How can we do this?
Everything in this category is stage 1, because they are all behavioral changes that you can start to make right away.
Reduce your material waste:
Reduce how much you buy:
Buy fewer things. In a consumerism-saturated society, we are surrounded by opportunities to buy new products. Many of us have developed an emotional attachment to new things - we feel a rush of fulfillment when we get them and a growing need for something new when we haven't purchased anything in a while. Consumerism is like pixy sticks for the soul - it gives you a momentary rush but never satisfies long term. The things that truly satisfy are our deep and simple everyday experiences like relationships and good food and rest and the joy of doing something we care about well. If you didn't shop as much, what could you use that extra time and money for? Buying less means participating less in an economy that is unsustainable and it means reducing the amount of carbon you are responsible for.
Eliminate single-use plastics from your life as much as you can:
Single-use plastics are extremely wasteful and are filling our world with garbage and poison - particularly marine ecosystems, human coastal communities, and low-income communities where plastics are manufactured or incinerated. There is a powerful documentary called the Story of Plastic which can be found here. Single use plastics are everywhere - here are some ways to remove them from your life:
Use reusable bags when shopping and don't accept plastic bags.
Use bar soap, rather than single use hand soap dispensers.
Never buy bottled water (unless it is for legitimate health reasons, such as unsafe tap water).
Get a travel pack of utensils and a reusable straw so you never have to use disposable utensils or straws if you eat out.
Shop for household products at plastics-free businesses - you can find a list of some good ones here.
Shop at grocery stores and businesses that have good policies on packaging and are working to reduce plastic waste. I do my grocery shopping at Aldi, which is working to make all of its packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. They're not there yet, but the trajectory is important.
Reuse, repair, and repurpose items:
Reuse items as much as you can. Many items that are presented as single use can actually be used many times. Zip loc bags are a great example - I've been working with the same box of bags for at least 5 years now and all of them are still working great. I just wash them in between uses and set them out to dry on a spread of chop sticks sticking up out of a pebble-filled mason jar.
If something breaks, fix it if you can. Over the years I've broken a lot of plates and mugs, but I've glued all the broken ones back together with gorilla glue and they continue to work well. Recently, part of the plug on my Chevy Volt car charger broke, rendering the charger useless and my car unchargeable. I looked online for guides on how to repair a broken plug, bought the right parts at the store (for just a few bucks), and fixed it myself. Repairing items saves you a ton of money and it means you're not contributing to all the carbon emissions needed to build a new product.
Repurposing items is a good way to take something that has worn out its original use and use it effectively for something else. Old t-shirts make great cleaning rags. Plastic shopping bags (if you have acquired some) make great small garbage can liners. Plastic Chinese food containers make good tupperware.
Use your imagination. The more you reuse, repair, and repurpose, the less you spend, and the less you contribute to carbon pollution through the purchase of new items.
Recycling is very important. Metal and paper are recycled pretty well, so you should toss all of this in your blue bin. Unfortunately, only 14% of plastics are recycled. This is a HUGE problem, which will only be solved by significantly reducing the production of single use plastics by the fossil fuel industry. That being said, 14% is 14% and you should recycle every plastic product that says it can be recycled, as well as all metals and paper products. How2Recycle has developed a good labelling system which you can learn about here and look for on the packaging of the products you buy.
Buy local products:
Buying locally grown food and locally made products reduces the amount of carbon burned to transport the products. The more you can buy locally, the better your carbon footprint.
Reduce your food waste:
Organize your fridge:
The average US household wastes 1/3 of all the food they buy. The simple act of intentionally organizing your fridge so leftovers don't get lost in the back and spoil (and making sure to eat your leftovers) can save you a lot of food and money. It also reduces your carbon footprint.
Reduce or eliminate red meat from your diet:
Red meat has a very high carbon footprint in its production and distribution. Removing it from your diet or at least significantly reducing it means you are contributing less to the carbon emissions involved in making it. To reduce your carbon footprint even more, go entirely vegetarian.
Shop at a grocery store with good environmental policies:
Many grocery stores have pretty bad environmental policies. Here's a link for ways grocery stories can improve their environmental policies. Greenpeace has supermarket rating results for their environmental policies with respect to seafood and plastics. To find out more about your store's environmental policies, go to their website or ask someone at the store. I shop at Aldi, which is one of the better stores. You can look at their policies here.
Buy rescued produce:
30-40% of the US food supply is wasted. It is thrown away, having never been eaten, and usually ends up in the landfill. This is not only a horrific waste of nutrition in a world with many people who are starving - it is also a massive contributor to greenhouse gases, because it means that all the emissions used to grow the food are wasted AND the wasted food is being thrown into landfills where it is producing huge amounts of methane. A great way to fight this is by buying rescued produce. There are a growing number of companies that are building a market out of food that would otherwise be wasted. Here are two great companies that rescue fresh, healthy, organic produce that is weirdly shaped, too big, too small, or otherwise unwanted by grocery stores and deliver it to your doorstep on a regular basis. I've been using Misfits Market and love it.
Misfits Market - www.misfitsmarket.com
Imperfect Foods - www.imperfectfoods.com
Composting is a big deal because it enables all your organic waste to be decomposed in open air by aerobic bacteria, producing CO2, rather than going to a landfill where it is buried and must be decomposed by anaerobic bacteria, which produces methane. Methane is 84X(!) more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 over 20 years, so think about how significant your climate impact could be over that time period by keeping all of your organic waste out of the landfill. Also, compost bins don't smell, and they produce rich soil that you can use in your garden.
Certified organic food is better for the environment because of its lack of pesticides. Farmers and companies that choose to grow food organically also tend to be more conscious of their overall environmental and climate impacts.
Support farmers that practice regenerative agriculture:
Standard industrial agricultural practices deplete the soil, making it less and less fertile over time, and making their land a net carbon emitter. Agriculture as it is currently practiced in the US is a major source of carbon pollution. Regenerative agricultural practices, however, keep the soil and its biome healthy, making the land actually take carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it in the earth. They also make farmland more resilient to drought and flooding, both of which are already increasing due to climate change. Changing standard farming practices over to regenerative practices is one of the most impactful ways to reduce global carbon emissions and fight climate change. You can learn more about regenerative agricultural practices here, and learn about a regenerative certification symbol to look for on products here.
BE CONSCIOUS OF WHERE YOU INVEST AND BANK
Where we hold our money and what we invest in is an area of significant impact with respect to carbon emissions. In a capitalistic economy, investment and divestment drive industries forward or bring them to a close. Taking our money out of dirty industries and putting them into clean industries is a powerful way to drive the change that needs to happen in our world. What is the capital from your mortgage, loans, savings, and/or investments being used for? It's important to be aware of this and to reallocate those funds if you need to.
Stage 1 or 2:
I've labelled everything here "stage 1 or 2" because they are somewhat in between. Divesting and reinvesting your retirement, switching your bank, or refinancing your mortgage can be done right away, without any significant upfront costs - in this way, they are stage 1. But they require a decent amount of mental and emotional energy, so in this way they can feel more like a stage 2 change.
Divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewables and ESG funds:
Divesting is one of the most powerful ways we can participate in shifting our nation into the renewable energy future we desperately need. What is your retirement invested in - do you know? If a portion of your retirement is invested in the fossil fuel industry, you are quite literally participating in the destruction of the world you and future generations are retiring into. That doesn't make sense. Switch your retirement into renewable energy and ESG funds (funds that have good environmental, social, and governmental policies). Do the same with your investment portfolio if you have one. Not only will you be helping fuel the transition to renewables - you are also very likely to get a much better return, since fossil fuels are dying and renewables are growing at a remarkable rate. Here are some resources on what to do with your money:
Clearview investing (ESG investing): https://clearviewinvesting.com/sustainable
Fossil Free Funds (ESG investing search engine): https://fossilfreefunds.org/
Raise Green (Investing in community green projects): https://www.raisegreen.com/
Be intentional about where you bank:
When you hold a checking account, or are paying off mortgage interest, or loan interest, do you know what that money is being used for? If you bank with any of the major US private banks, chances are a significant chunk of that money is going to fund fossil fuel initiatives. The worst environmental offenders today are Citibank, Bank of America, Fidelity, JP Morgan Chase, Vanguard, and Wells-Fargo - all of these banks are very large and widely used.
Try switching your banking to a public bank (a bank owned by the local municipality and accountable to the citizens) or a credit union (a non-profit cooperative that is member-owned). Public banks and credit unions are much more locally focused with their investing in order to keep the money in the community. They are also much more oriented around the interests of their members because of their public and cooperative statuses (in contrast to private banks, which make decisions in the interest of a smaller group of wealthy shareholders.) For both these reasons, they tend to be much less involved in global fossil fuel initiatives.
To learn more about public banks, go here. To learn about the prospect of a Philadelphia public bank, go here.
Credit unions are all over the place and you should have no trouble finding one in your area.
Transportation accounts for 29% of total US emissions each year - nearly 1/3! How we get around has a big impact on our household carbon emissions. Here are some ways you can reduce your footprint.
Bike to work:
Biking is a zero emission form of transportation, as well as excellent exercise. Regular cardiovascular exercise improves physical health, mental health, sleep, and overall well-being. In urban environments with a great deal of rush hour traffic, biking is often as fast as or faster than driving in. If you get into the habit of biking to work, you will reduce emissions, save money on gas or public transit fare, and improve your overall health. It's a triple win.
Take public transit to work:
Train, trolley, and bus travel emits much less carbon per person than driving, and it decreases overall traffic on the road. Depending on how the transit network intersects with your home and your job, public transit can be faster or slower than driving. Either way, public transit gives you time each day to read, rest, or catch up on work when you would otherwise have been sitting at the wheel dealing with rush hour.
There are pros and cons to this. Some people like working from home and others really thrive on being in person with their co-workers. However, if working from home consistently or even just a day or two a week works for you personally, removing travel from your week reduces the emissions you are putting into the atmosphere (unless, of course, you're biking to work, in which case it doesn't matter).
If you have to drive to work, carpool:
If you have to drive to work, consider carpooling. Two people in one car means that one less car is driving back and forth to work, reducing emissions. It's also more fun to drive with a friend.
Avoid air travel whenever possible:
Air travel is a major source of household emissions and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. For regional travel, going by bus or train produces far less carbon per person. If you do have to travel by plane, consider buying carbon offsets so that your emissions are made up for through investments in work that removes carbon from the air. Atmosfair is a well-respected Germany-based carbon offset program with an excellent air travel offset calculator. You can find it here. See the carbon offsets section of this resource to learn more about how they work.
Make your next vehicle purchase (and all future ones) electric vehicles:
Auto makers have begun the process of transitioning towards electric vehicles - the writing is on the wall societally, governmentally, and economically and they recognize where everything is headed. More and more companies are putting out more and more models and the options, both new and (in particular) used are getting less and less expensive. (I got my used Chevy Volt for a price similar to or less than a comparable gas powered vehicle of the same year.) In addition to this, battery ranges are getting much longer and charging infrastructure is growing.
Make your next vehicle an EV. It will save you significant money both on gas (which you will no longer have to buy) and on maintenance (EV's have far fewer parts and don't need repairs as often as gas vehicles). It will reduce the collective emissions and toxins in the air of your community. There is also a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for a new EV. This credit does not apply to used EVs (I learned this when buying my used Chevy Volt). Also, the credit is "up to $7,500" because the credit will only be applied up to, but not beyond, your annual tax liability. (For example, if you owe $5,000 total in taxes for 2021 and buy a new EV where the tax credit is $7,500, you'll only receive $5,000 - enough to zero out your annual tax liability.). You can learn more about the tax credit here.
Another important thing to consider about EVs. Whatever EV you get, you will be eliminating the local emissions of your tail pipe from your immediate community - which is good on many levels. However, in the fight to reduce global emissions, it is crucial that the electricity you are using to charge your EV is clean (this was mentioned above as well). If you are charging your vehicle from your home's electricity supply and you are receiving that electricity from sources that burn fossil fuels to produce it, you might actually be adding more carbon to the atmosphere charging up your vehicle than you would filling it with gas directly. The simple solution is just to make sure you switch to a clean energy supplier. And even better than this (and a better financial investment longterm) is to get rooftop solar.
Carbon offsets are a way for people to make up for the emissions they are responsible for by donating to work that removes carbon from the atmosphere in an amount equivalent to what they put in. For example, if I fly round trip across the country and am able to calculate the amount of CO2 emissions I am responsible for from that flight, through a carbon offset program I should be able to give a corresponding amount of money to an organization that does work that results in that total amount of CO2 being removed from the atmosphere, thereby zeroing out - or "offsetting" the emissions I made through my flight.
The beginnings of carbon offset programs was a bit like the wild west - some programs worked fairly well, some didn't at all, and there wasn't much oversight or standardization. The world of offset programs is now starting to stabilize and there are some really good and reliable ones out there. Here is a list put out by EcoWatch that gives their top picks for different carbon offsetting goals. Here's another helpful list of programs put out by Conserve Energy Future. There are different ways or reasons to approach offsets and different programs are more appropriate for different goals. Atmosfair is really good for offsetting the emissions of individual flights. Terrapass has a very simple program to use for calculating the overall carbon of impact of your daily life patterns and offsetting it on a regular basis. 3Degrees is good for businesses trying to offset their impact.
Offsetting your carbon is, technically, a donation - which makes it tax-deductible as long as the offset organization is a non-profit. So you can write them off on your taxes! But the concept behind offsets is that they are not really a donation, but rather a completion of the true cost of living and travelling the way we do. Our current normalized way of life involves pouring carbon into the atmosphere in a way that will severely impact future generations - there is a cost to how we are living that we are not paying for and leaving our children and grandchildren to pay for. Offsetting our carbon is a way of paying for our own mess and de-normalizing a pattern of collective irresponsibility. So for tax purposes, offsetting is a donation. But in reality, it is just cleaning up after ourselves so that someone else doesn't have to.
ADVOCATE FOR SYSTEMIC CHANGE
Even if we all do everything we can to reduce our household carbon footprints, this will not be enough to reduce carbon emissions at the dramatic pace needed over the next 10 years if we do not also have strong governmental policies pushing our society, industry, and economy along. For this reason, one of the most powerful things we can do is advocate for legislation that will drive a just transition to a renewable energy economy.
Stage 1: Vote for climate champions in every local, state, and national election
Register to vote if you have not already. Then make a point to vote consistently and at all your elections for candidates who recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and intend to work for legislation that will empower a transition away from fossil fuels that will (1) help workers in the fossil fuel industry get training and find new jobs in clean industries, (2) prioritize support for and empowerment of low income frontline climate justice communities, and (3) operate at a societal pace that reflects the urgency of the moment.
Stage 2: Advocate as an individual
Find out who your local, state, and national representatives are. There's a great search engine here - just type in your address and they will show you all your reps at every level of government. Write to your representatives and tell them what matters to you, or what particular bills you want them to support and vote into law. Your representatives are there to listen to you and their other constituents and represent your collective will in government. They do listen - so make your voice known.
Stage 3: Join climate advocacy movements
What you can do as an individual voter and advocate is limited, but if you get involved with a climate advocacy organization, they can add your voice to a larger group with well thought out and targeted strategies. They will be up to date on climate bills that are being put forward and will work with you to help fit your voice and your energy into a strategic space within their overall work. If you get involved, you may find yourself at the table with working groups, testifying at hearings, making signs and marching (possibly with your kids). Greta Thunberg began a climate strike alone as a 15 year old girl in Sweden and her tiny and seemingly insignificant start has ballooned into massive youth mobilization around the world. Get involved - you never know what you can do, and the world needs everyone's voices and boots on the ground right now.
Some excellent advocacy organizations are the following (I've been involved with or at least interacted with all of them at various points and highly recommend each):
Citizens Climate Lobby (a national group pushing a bipartisan climate bill - they have a really excellent annual lobbying conference in DC that I've been a part of): https://citizensclimatelobby.org/
Climate Reality Project (an international organization focused on training people to develop climate change presentations - their online trainings are really valuable (I've done one and been certified as a Climate Reality Partner)): www.climaterealityproject.org
Climate Witness Project (the organization I work for - a bi-national climate justice group focused on engaging faith communities to take action on the climate crisis): Contact our East Coast regional organizer here to find out how you can get involved. We've got a lot going on, particularly in the greater Philadelphia region.
Evangelical Environmental Action (EEN - a national organization focusing on engaging the evangelical community on climate. They're particularly good at showing how climate action and fossil fuel pollution reduction are major pro-life issues): https://creationcare.org/
PA Interfaith Power and Light (PAIPL - a PA interfaith group made up of great people doing great work): https://paipl.us/
POWER (a PA interfaith advocacy organization with a climate justice arm - I am actively partnering with this group and they do really excellent work (they will get you involved if you let them ...)): https://powerinterfaith.org/campaigns/climate-justice/
Sunrise Movement (youth climate justice work - this group is amazing, strategic, and highly effective - I've been to several of their marches): www.sunrisemovement.org
Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA - a national organization focused specifically on engaging and activating the rising generation of evangelicals): https://yecaction.org/
WE CAN DO THIS ...
We've normalized a way of life that is not paying the full cost of the commodities, experiences, and conveniences that we take for granted. We are taking a loan out from our children's future to pay for our present practices. But there is so much we can do to work together to reverse these trends and build a hopeful future. And in making these household changes, I believe that we will find our own lives changed for the better. We'll be more conscious of how we interact with the earth and its resources. Our air will be cleaner. Our finances will be stronger as we reduce material and energy waste from our lives. And our spirits will lift as we participate more fully in a healthy stewardship of creation and future generations.
Please join me. And spread the word!