Decarbonizing Your Life - A Four Step Guide

Saturday, January 18, 2020 (Listed under Environment)

I work as a climate & environmental consultant.

The news that I consume each day is practically a full-time job! By the time I've cataloged the reports, quotes, science and all-too-regularly (and alarmingly) surpassed climate targets, I'm ready for lunch. It gives me renewed appreciation for the tireless work of scientists, journalists and activists who continually connect the climate dots so that we can understand the physics of a planet in peril.

From species extinction, heat & drought-fueled wildfires, Florida's now daily high-tide flooding, ocean warming, coral bleaching, arctic & glacial melting, crop failure and fresh water scarcity—not to mention the continued denial of fossil fuel companies to account for their half-century-long climate disruption—there's a lot to digest and understand in a 24-hour news cycle!

There's also the recent and very encouraging news that global asset managers and pension funds are beginning to divest from the underwhelming returns of a fossil fuel industry that continues—largely unabated—to exploit the planet, its resources and its people, not only costing countries billions of dollars each year, but putting investors, insurers and bankers at risk. 

What I realize is that the challenge to rein-in the coal, oil & gas industry is getting a bit easier as public pressure mounts. More people are examining their lives to assess how they can become less dependent on Jurassic-era fuels that have, ironically, brought us the dangerously hot post-WWII Anthropocene.

Here are four ways to begin decarbonizing your life in 2020:

1) Switch to an electricity provider that generates electricity from wind and solar power 

Imagine if every rate-payer in the U.S. called their electricity provider tomorrrow to request clean electricity. The economy would literally change overnight. Why? Because energy executives would be clammoring to cope with an epic demand issue that they hadn't prepared for—an informed and engaged consumer!

Public sentiment, if put to work, would quickly transform the way that electricity is made and transmitted across the U.S. 

In states like Texas, the abundance of wind and, now, increasingly, solar power makes it easy for rate-payers to go green. With wind turbines spinning across West Texas and large solar arrays under construction, divorcing the fossil fuel industry is easier here than in some states. As with so many economic trends, though, consumers hold more power than they realize. By calling electricity providers across all fifty states, we can usher in the renewable energy deployment that we need to have a shot at keeping temperatures within the 1.5˚C limit. In reality, though, we're more likely facing 2˚C warming. Note that it's not as innocent as it may sound. It's not like a 20˚C July morning in Paris becomes a 22˚C afternoon. That happens all the time. The temperature thresholds of 1.5˚C and 2˚C refer to the average heating of our atmosphere over a very short period of geologic time (mid-19th century to the present). While I will address global heating in a separate post, suffice it to say that current temperature trends are unprecedented events caused by the burning of carbon-based fuels.

In Bill McKibben's New Yorker story addressing Blackrock's divestment from thermal coal and its CEO Larry Fink's decision to shift investments towards the renewable energy sector, Carbon Tracker's Kingsmill Bond summed up what McKibben referred to as a "seizmic shift" this way: "Who, now, will want to hold the stranded assets of the fossil era?"  

I bet that you feel the same way.

You don't want your electricity coming from a polluting coal or natural gas plant. It's time to call a renewable electricity provider in your state and ask them to switch you over. If you're outside of Texas, Google "electricity providers in ______ who offer wind and solar power" and insert your state. You'll discover the links you need. 

For those areas where renewably-generated electricity is not provided state-wide, consider creating a community team to explore building a distributed solar array to supply carbon-free electricity to homes and business in your neighborhood. Read how Lexington, MA saved $19 million dollars by harvesting solar power. There are a lot of "brown field" sites across the states that are good locations for community solar. 

2) Divest your portfolio and/or retirement account

Where you invest your money matters. Many fossil fuel stocks are found in "passive investments" like mutual funds. I encourage you to review any mutual funds that you're invested in and, if they contain fossil fuel companies (which most do), choose new funds that more accurately reflect the new energy economy that you want to support.

Sometimes it takes a few phone calls, a review of each stock in the fund (a prospectus can be supplied to you upon request) and the assistance of a financial advisor to make the changes. But it's worth it. Look for new funds where there are either no fossil fuel stocks or funds where their percentage in the fund is very small. Often times, moving from a large cap fund to a mid-cap fund solves the probem. I found a mid-cap fund that that includes a selection of technology companues that supply the components and maintenance services necessary to the future of the wind, solar and battery storage industries. If I can be one of the 58,000+ people to do this, you can do it too! 

3) Call or write your alma mater to request that they divest their endowment from coal, tar sands, oil and gas

To review the schools which have divested or partially divested to date, check out GoFossilFree.org or click here to land on their “Commitments” page. The University of California, Middlebury College, Syracuse University and Concordia College are among the schools that have committed to full divestment (coal, tar sands, natural gas and oil). Stanford University, while initially expressing great interest in elimating fossil fuels from its endowment, has so far only let go of its stake in the coal industry. Half of the universities in the U.K. have fully divested.  

4) Call on your employer to purchase renewably powered electricity

We can all plant a seed with the businesses that we frequent and with our employers when we request that they consider the benefits of renewably-generated electricity. I am in the somewhat odd habit now of asking restaurant owners, B&B proprietors and even bike shops if they purchase clean electricity. Just the question, posed in a positive manner, can spark interest and curiosity, which is what we need. Have a conversation. Help them to understand what's possible and why carbon-free electricity is so key to environmental and global security.

In addition, if you work for a company that encourages employee input, you may want to propose installing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations for electric car owners. Some companies, including Microsoft and Google, provide priority parking for EV drivers. Even better, suggest solar panel-covered carports with charging stations, such as the one at PartnersHealth in Spaulding, MA. Note that this project is financed by GE and Blackrock.

As mentioned above, Blackrock stunned the financial world last week when CEO Larry Fink announced that the world's largest asset management company would begin divesting from fossil fuels as a wealth preservation stragegy. Blackrock, who will divest a half-billion dollars from the thermal coal sector, joins the more than 1,100+ institutions that have divested over $12 trillion in fossil fuels since the divestment movement began nearly a decade ago. Last March, BNP Paribas, a French bank and asset management company with offices worldwide, made headlines when they announced an intial one-billion-euro divestment in thermal coal. Just last week, Frederic Simon wrote that Tim Eggar, chairman of the UK's Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), "sent shockwaves through the industry on Wednesday (15 January) when he said growing public awareness about climate change was putting the sector's very survival at stake." 

The tectonic plates are indeed shifting. Check out The Solutions Project's blueprints for converting 50 states and 143 countries to clean electricity for all purposes (e.g., electrified heating and cooling, electrified transportation, electrified everything). You can change the world by knowing what's possible!

Climate science, renewable energy, divestment momentum and the unfolding economic energy transition that is underway is accessible to all of us thanks to these and many other climate leaders, reporters and organisations who regularly post news and findings on Twitter: Bill McKibben, Michael E. Mann, Mark Z. Jacobson, Clara Vondrich, Carl Safina, Katherine Hayhoe, Mark C. Lewis, Sharon Wilson, Leah StokesEmily Atkin, Jamie HennJeff Goodell, David Roberts, Peter Strachan, Mike Hudema, Al GoreThe Guardian and CarbonTracker.

If you have questions about switching electricity providers, what I've experienced as a result of divesting from fossil fuels or how to best communicate your climate commitments to employers, financial advisors and neighbors, message me on Twitter or LinkedIn. If I can't answer your question, I can aim you in the right direction!

And if you're looking for a conversation to discuss your business or enterprise moving into the renewable energy future, check me out at StacyClarkClimate.  






 


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