There are many ways you can get involved today in the fight against climate change. We have to go big - we don't have time to make small incremental adjustments any more. Fortunately, while going big involves changes, it also comes with a LOT of benefits (not least of which is having a habitable planetary future) ...
WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR HOUSEHOLD CARBON FOOTPRINT
Reduce your waste
Composting is a big deal because it enables all your organic waste to be decomposed in open air by aerobic bacteria, producing CO2. When you throw your waste away, it goes 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.
Recycling is very important, but 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. This requires legislation (see below in the "Vote and Advocate" section to find ways to get involved).
Change your food consumption patterns
Buy organic whenever you can:
Organic produce is healthier and involves much better environmental practices than standard farming approaches.
Buy local whenever you can:
The life cycle of local produce releases much less CO2 into the atmosphere because it isn't transported long distances. Buying local also supports your local economy.
Eat less (or no) red meat:
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.
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.
Get 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 full of 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
Organize your fridge and eat your leftovers:
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.
Trees create beauty, offer shade, can produce edible fruit, cool and filter the air, increase local biodiversity, increase property values, and remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Buy a tree and plant it on your property! If you live in Philadelphia, you can get a free yard tree for your property through the TreePhilly program, or you can help plant and tend street trees in your neighborhood (or another) through the Tree Tenders program (description here, and registration here). Both are really excellent programs. Click on the links in the text to find out more.
Divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewables
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 are retiring into. That doesn't make sense. Switch your retirement into renewable energy and ESG funds. Not only will you be helping the Great 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/
Improve your home energy efficiency
Studies show that 40% of the massive global emissions reductions we need over the coming decades will come from energy efficiency improvements alone. This is because the cleanest energy is the energy you don't use! There are lots of ways to improve the efficiency of your home. Some common ones are sealing up drafts, switching your lights to LED, filling crawl spaces and attics with insulation, turning off technology at night, raising your thermostat in the summer and lowering it in the winter, and upgrading to more energy efficient appliances (AC units and refrigerators are some of the biggest drains). If you live in the Philadelphia metro area, PECO has several wonderful energy efficiency programs:
PECO Home Energy Audit (in person or virtual - $49):
They'll give you a detailed 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.
PECO Small Business Incentives Program:
This program runs free lighting audits for businesses (profit and non-profit) and provides huge subsidies to help them transition to all-LED systems. I did an audit for two related ministry buildings in the Hunting Park area and found that after the subsidies the total cost to transition both buildings fully to LED would be about $10,000 and the savings going forward would be about $7,000 per year. I highly recommend this program for churches, schools, or businesses looking to save substantial monthly energy costs.
Contact Peter Langon at the PECO Small Business Incentives Program at 610-220-1928.
A Great Energy Efficiency Web Resource:
A great website to explore to find different ways to improve home energy efficiency is www.energy.gov.
Switch to a Clean Energy Provider
In Philadelphia, if you go with the standard PECO electrical mix, only 0.5% of your electricity will be coming from a renewable source - a truly appalling number. However, while PECO runs all the electrical infrastructure, you can still choose where your energy source comes from - and there are a number of great green energy companies you can select to be your supplier. I use Green Mountain Energy. If you are heating your house with natural gas, the energy co-op also has a renewable natural gas option, which means that your gas is not new gas being brought up from the ground, but methane captured from organic waste facilities like landfills and wastewater treatment plants. We all need to get off fossil fuels entirely, but if you have to use natural gas for the time being, renewable natural gas is better than fracked natural gas.
The Energy Co-op
Select “Clean Electricity” and/or "renewable natural gas"
Green Mountain Energy
Clean Choice Energy
Rooftop Solar and Electrification
Installing rooftop solar and electrifying your home are the best way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Rooftop solar is an excellent financial investment. If you take into account your home equity increase and the federal tax credit, your initial investment should come back to you somewhere between 3X and 4X over 25 years. That's like putting money away into a CD at 4.5%-5.7% - and this calculation is assuming the continued low Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) values in PA. SRECs are payments the government makes to people for producing solar energy, and it varies widely depending on different state policies. In PA, the rate has been fluctuating between $20 and $40/1,000 kWh of system production. In NJ, the rate is $225-250. In MA, it's closer to $300. The point is, the return rate above is based on PA's current and very low SREC values. However, if they change, they are much more likely to go up than down as increasing climate pressures drive policy decisions, which will in turn increase the rate of return for rooftop solar. Add to this the fact that solar is 100% clean energy, and you are significantly reducing the carbon footprint of your home at a time that our world desperately needs it.
The CWP is running a rooftop solar initiative in participation with local solar installer Solar States in Hunting Park, Philadelphia - but anyone in the broader Philadelphia metro region can participate in it. Please contact our regional organizer, Allen Drew, if you are interested in learning more. Click here.
Once your electricity source is clean, the next step is to electrify your home. Here are the main things to do:
Switch to an electric tankless water heater. Your gas powered tank water heater is highly inefficient because its design requires it to keep a large volume of water hot all the time. Electric tankless water heaters only heat water as you use it, and do so electrically. I have a friend who has one and they work great and use far less energy. They also take up a lot less space in your basement. Click here to learn more.
Switch your stove and oven to electric if they aren't already.
Heat and cool your home with a heat pump. This is a very efficient heating and cooling system that runs on electricity. Click here to learn more.
OR ... get a geothermal heat pump. This is the most efficient way to heat and cool your home. While it costs more up front than a regular heat pump, it pays itself back in 5-10 years in energy savings, and then continues to save you a great deal beyond that. Click here to learn more.
Get an electric vehicle. EVs are getting cheaper and cheaper, and the infrastructure is growing quickly. There are plenty of used EVs available today. I have a used 2015 Chevy Volt, which I bought in 2019 for about $12,000. I plug it into a normal 120V outlet on the back of my house and it gives me 29-35 miles on a full charge, depending on the weather. I rarely need more than that for local driving on a given day, but the Volt has a gas tank that kicks in for long drives when the battery is depleted. In 2020, I've only gone to the gas station twice. The range of the EVs that are coming out now is consistently in the 200-300 mi range, and there are a growing number of fast charging stations, so with some planning even long distance travel is becoming less and less of a range anxiety issue. There are plenty of affordable used EVs, and a growing number of affordable new ones.
Vote and Advocate
Even if we all do everything we can to improve our own household carbon footprints, this will not be enough to reduce carbon emissions at the dramatic pace they need to be reduced over the next 10 years if we do not also have strong governmental policies pushing this along.
For this reason, one of the most powerful things you can do is vote for climate champions at every election - local, regional, and national. You can also get involved in local and regional advocacy - letter writing, direct actions, climate protests, and public hearings - by contacting the CWP's regional organizer, Allen Drew. He is well connected and can show you how to get involved. You can contact him here.
Some great advocacy organizations are:
The Sunrise Movement (youth climate justice work): www.sunrisemovement.org
POWER (a local effective interfaith advocacy organization with a climate justice arm): https://powerinterfaith.org/campaigns/climate-justice/
Citizens Climate Lobby (an excellent group pushing a bipartisan climate bill): https://citizensclimatelobby.org/
NASA webpage on climate change: https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – www.ipcc.ch
IPCC Report on the Critical Need to Keep Warming Under 1.5 C: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming – David Wallace-Wells: Click here.
Project Drawdown (climate solutions): https://drawdown.org/
Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) Creation Care Bible Study: Click here.
Beyond Stewardship – Ed. Warners and Heun: Click here.
Laudato Si – Pope Francis: Click here.
Climate Film Resources:
"Story of Plastic" Documentary (film and resources on the plastic problem): www.storyofplastic.org
Climate Video Short (really excellent - about 4 min): Click here.
"Paris to Pittsburgh" Documentary: https://www.paristopittsburgh.com/
"I am Greta" Documentary about Greta Thunberg - released on Hulu Nov 13, 2020. Trailer here.
Katharine Hayoe Ted Talk on Climate Crisis: Click here.
The CWP's "Climate Conversation: Bangladesh" video and study guide: Click here.