Earth Day Empowerment At Home In America
How do we bring urgent climate action home? Personal costs are already mounting from drought/fires and flood-related losses. In our lifetimes, those of us in places as diverse as New York, Miami, Houston, and Silicon Valley will either be forced to abandon our homes or pay many billions more to wall in our communities from rising waters. We may join the 75 million people globally who live one meter from the sea or the one billion whose infrastructure will be inundated this century. Human-caused climate change will increasingly disrupt us as a humanitarian crisis personalized to our localities, so what do we do concretely?
Should we sit in paralyzed inaction while global policy makers dither? Globally carbon dioxide levels are 46% above normal already and rising by ~35 billion tons per year due to our dependence on fossil fuels. Ten trillion tons of ice have melted in my lifetime as scientists’ models underestimate the pace and extent of human-caused climate consequences. We can’t wait; we know we must act personally and immediately. But how?
Climate Action Bang-for-the-buck Today
To start, we can be strategic at home by using a “Carbon Drawdown” approach just like policymakers eventually will (see the Green-To-Great Deal). Our household to-do list should prioritize the largest carbon pollution sourceswith the best return-on-investment solutions first. Moving quickly beyond feel-good actions like replacing straws or hand-wringing over our own ‘tiny’ impact, we can tangibly and materially move toward the better lifestyles, added domestic jobs, and carbon-neutrality of our better carbon future.
Too old, too poor, or too busy to make a difference? No. Actually most of the actions suggested here either save money or cost little while sending clear, job-creating signals to the new carbon drawdown economy. Yes apartment dwellers may have to ask these questions of landlords and lower income families will have to prioritize while taking advantage of incentives in places like California that offer them. But these steps are achievable and on the order of 1/1000ththe eventual cost of climate calamity that is coming if we don’t draw down those ~35 billion tons of excess annual carbon emissions quickly.
Carbon Draw Down At Home
A typical American home emits about 50,000 pounds of CO2 (about 25 tons) per year. Note: all figures here are approximate to accurately illustrate typical American homes and impacts. The US EPA gives you a customizable calculator for your household carbon footprint to reduce here. Over half of your and my emissions come from our home electricity, transportation, and food sources. So our first priority in the face of climate crisis is to reduce these largest carbon emitters asap.
1. Electricity — reduce 10,000 lbs CO2 per year
- Call your utility or “Community Choice Aggregator” (if available) and ask to upgrade to 100% renewable energy. If not available, ask to have this option. Cost is typically 1–2 cents per kilowatt-hour or < $5 / month.
- Invite two solar installers to estimate solar system costs for your home or apartment. Ask for financing options (lease or power purchase agreement) to match or reduce your utility electricity costs with little to no down payment.
2. Cars / Transportation — reduce 10,000 lbs CO2 per car per year
- Commit to choosing only electric (or worst case a plug-in hybrid) cars when its time for a new car. There are enough options now & more all the time. I recommend leasing so you can upgrade to better technology every few years. These new cars are fun to drive, safer, and cost much less for fuel/maintenance.
3. Food — reduce >2,000 lbs CO2 per year with these changes
- Replace one bovine meat meal per week with sustainable poultry, fish, or vegan because cows produce far more carbon-accelerating methane than other meats.
- Shop local at the market so food doesn’t have to fly or travel thousands of miles.
4. Heating / Cooling — reduce 8,000 lbs CO2 per year
- When water or space heater need replacing, buy a heat pump that will heat/cool air as well as warm water for your home. Heat pumps are common in Europe, replace gas/oil with clean electricity, and will become the norm in America next decade.
- Replace gas stoves with new electric alternatives (a revelation to gas-cooking snobs like I am… who wouldn’t have considered this change before).
- Many of us drive to vacations; we can shift to rent/share/lease renewable electric vehicles instead to save 1 lb / mile.
- Those who fly should 1) take fewer or longer trips, 2) consider purchasing carbon offsets, 3) watch for more efficient airplanes and fuels that are still emerging. This may be one of the last carbon emissions areas that we’ll be able to eliminate.
Working Down The Carbon Draw Down List
After taking the above big bites out of excess household carbon emissions, it’s time to work down your carbon footprint list to smaller and smaller items as well as those that are harder or more expensive so far. These actions are bigger hitters, yielding hundreds of pounds of carbon reduction per year with palatable, affordable shifts.
A. Replace 100% of light bulbs with LED bulbs including dimmed, tube, and spot lights.
B. Insulate your home and get estimates on replacing single-pane windows.
C. Aim for zero-plastic waste / packaging in your purchasing decisions. Recycle what’s left.
D. Actively seek non-bovine food sources for more meals while nurturing your culinary flair for locally produced foods.
E. Install and optimize your smart thermostat schedule to reduce wasted, too hot, or extra heating or cooling periods.
F. Make every purchase (refrigerator, clothes, consumables, etc) an exercise in voting-by-spending for the lowest carbon footprint your budget can afford.
G. Write an email/letter a month to a politician expressing enthusiasm for climate action that helps grow our competitiveness, increase jobs, and help overall national security.
In parallel it’s fun to gameify climate action (gameify — verb: to make a fun and self-competitive game to make behavior change more interesting) via small lifestyle changes that further reduce our carbon footprints at home and via the products we buy. Can we get to zero in certain areas? Can we shift electricity usage to cheaper periods (for solar time-of-day billing plans)?
Our Own Experience And Progress So Far
At home, my wife and I are motivated by taking the human-caused climate crisis seriously and applying a zero-carbon ultimate goal to improve our lifestyle, increase jobs and national security with carbon drawdown consumption, and improve the future of our kids at the best return-on-investment.
We started by calling our local community choice aggregation electricity provider to opt up to 100% renewable energy for 1 cent per kilowatt hour, about $3/month. Next we leased a solar system on our roof that will save us money over it’s 30+ year lifetime. We supersized it 1.5–2X our household energy usage so we could cover our future electric car charging.
Then we committed to replace our old hybrid cars with electric cars over a 4 year period; we’ve done both now and have ~80,000 miles driven on safer, quieter, cleaner, more fun cars to drive. We paid a bit more because we were early adopters but these days EV costs are competitive especially with leases that enable upgrading to fast improved models every few years.
Inside, we’ve done the low cost things that save us money like installing a smart thermostat and 100% LED lights that saved us tens of dollars per month. We are consciously reducing bovine meat meals by one per week without suffering and we have a game going to get to zero plastic waste in our shopping and packaging choices. Each car has re-usable produce and shopping bags at the ready.
Our next step as empty-nesters, will be to save more money and convenience by shifting to one EV supplemented with an electric bike and occasional Lyft/Uber shared rides. This action is particular to our situation, but is an example of taking carbon drawdown intention to consumption behavior. We also plan to swap out our water and space heater for a renewable electric “heat pump”, which is the way of the future for heating/cooling that’s both more efficient and lower cost. Soon we will also look at a house battery to enable us to harvest excess daytime solar energy and save even more on electricity bills. And we are watching for air travel alternatives that are low carbon, which remain a ways into the future.
In a couple years, we’ve reduced our carbon footprint by about half. We’re not saints nor able to abandon money concerns. We just know that our buying and home lifestyle choices need to include carbon drawdown as a first class criteria too. We have a ways to go to become zero carbon people, but it feels good to take concrete steps with the sense of urgency that the climate humanitarian crisis merits. Far from suffering from carbon drawdown choices, life is a little cleaner and simpler and we are able to take meaningful steps rather than being numbed or paralyzed by inaction.
Notoriously Powerful Climate Hero’s At Home
If American households took just one of the major actions described herein, while probably saving money and certainly not costing much, we could reduce carbon emissions by half a billion tons of carbon per year. If we steadily take additional household carbon draw down actions, we will head faster for our required carbon draw down economy while we increase jobs, economic growth and sustainable product choices.
Americans are amazing change-makers, when motivated, and we aspire to better lives for all. The emergent Carbon Draw Down Lifestyle is not only motivated by climate crisis; its’ an opportunity to buy into better lifestyles for all and it’s feasible now.
Further Reading List
The pragmatic Green-To-Great Deal alternative:
Want to be further educated on extraordinary consequences of human-caused climate change:
Larger perspective about this moment in history and why its pivotal:
Brilliant framing for climate action through top Drawdown carbon pools and solutions:
Great guide to climate actions at home:
EPA home carbon footprint calculator:
Carbon drawdown systems thinking & “sensitive inflection points” research for geeks like me:
Which brands to buy that really drive dignity for planet, people, as well as profits: