renewable energy

If you’re reading this, you’re probably someone who is concerned about the climate crisis. And you might have wondered, “But what can I do about it?” (or “What should I be urging government and business leaders to do about it?”) If so, you’re not alone. These are excellent and frequently asked questions. And answers are out there—but some are more informed, concrete, and constructive than others.

Often, these questions are asked by people who either: A) have been too busy dealing with other responsibilities or activities in their lives to spend much time learning about climate issues, and who genuinely don’t know what the primary causes and solutions to climate change are, or B) are highly informed about climate issues and are overwhelmed by the wide range of contributing factors and potential solutions, to the point of decision paralysis. Regardless of whether the questions stem from a lack of relevant knowledge or an abundance of knowledge and overwhelm, almost everyone wants to know which climate actions would be the best, most effective uses of their limited time and money.

A small percentage of people who ask “What can I do?” are only asking in a rhetorical way, and they don’t really want answers or plan to do anything. Some folks are so attached to the status quo that they would rather say that “nothing can be done” than consider changing any norms or habits. But we know the situation is not hopeless and we are not helpless. We all have agency to make a difference, and most of us realize that widespread inaction will consign us and future generations of all species to a wretched future.

Fortunately, most people really do care and want to do something (or want our leaders to do more). A study found that most of us wildly underestimate other people’s level of climate concern and their support for climate action. But the vast majority of people in the world—more than 76% of Americans, and more than 86% of people worldwide—are concerned about the climate, approve of pro-climate social norms, and want more political action on climate. (See: 2024 study published in Nature Climate Change, and an article about it in Carbon Brief).

That said, concern, good intentions, pledges, and commitments are not enough. These must be converted into actual action. And we can’t leave it to others (or rely solely on our leaders) to do this for us. There’s no more time for delay. We need all hands on deck now—which brings us back to the “What can I do?” question. I think that the moment after this important question gets posed is the critical juncture where climate progress too often gets stuck. Too many people are not seeing/hearing (or finding) answers that are specific or substantive enough, in the media or online or from peers. Many people don’t have the time, energy, or knowledge base to do this type of deep research or to figure out how to interpret or implement vague or wonky recommendations. That’s why my aim is to provide some clear guidance and direction—nuts-and-bolts information that can help people move forward and turn climate concerns into concrete actions. Thus, I’ve provided a Climate Action Starter Pack (below).

There are so many ways we can make a difference, on our own or as part of a collective effort. Each of us can take actions within our various roles: 1) as citizens, who have the power and responsibility to engage with and speak up to our representatives, governments, and other institutions, 2) as members of our assorted social circles, networks, and communities, including our workplace; and 3) as individuals, family members, and consumers. As I see it, those roles translate into these general categories:

  1. Systemic/Civic Actions
  2. Social/Community Actions
  3. Personal/Household Actions

Arguably, the changes we push for and achieve in those first two areas—influencing and working with others, and demanding policy changes and actions from government, businesses, institutions, and other entities—will have the biggest impacts and are therefore the most necessary. Clearly, one household’s lifestyle changes won’t be enough to change the world or stabilize the climate. However, there is an interplay among all three of these areas, and we should not discount the powerful ripple effects that our personal actions and choices can generate. They can set a needed example for and inspire our peers (people are much more likely to do something if they know someone who has already done it) and they send beneficial demand signals to “the market.” And admittedly, it can be easier and more immediately gratifying to make personal/household changes that are well within our control than to try to shift policies and systems, which requires a sustained, collective effort. Ideally, we can each find a good balance of actions within all of these realms, from macro to micro.

Climate actions and choices can include things To Do and things Not To Do. They can be high-tech or low-tech/no-tech (which is often preferable). And they can be no-cost, low-cost, money-saving, or higher-cost (and high payoff) investments. Many people assume that all climate-smart choices are going to be expensive or complicated or require huge sacrifices. But many of them are none of those things. Some climate actions might require a little thought, effort, or time, but many will save you (and society) money and improve quality of life.

There are literally thousands of things any of us could be doing to mitigate climate change, but it’s not possible for any of us to do all of those things, let alone all at once. All we can do is start somewhere, where we are, and do whatever each of us can do, and then do more when we can. We don’t all need to do the same things, but we do all need to do something, and it makes sense to try to do some of the things that will make the biggest difference.

Climate Action Starter Pack

This guide includes some of the most important climate actions you can take, some of which are also easy and money-saving. This is not an exhaustive list of actions. It’s a set of recommended actions—a menu of options that can help you build your own Climate Action Plan. Many are basic, beginner level actions and some are intermediate (i.e., they might require more time or money).

You may already be doing a number of things that help slow climate change. You might find it motivating to make a list of the things you have done or are doing and check off the suggestions below that you already engage in, and then identify some ways you want to build on those steps.

No one would expect anyone to take every action in this post. I recommend picking 2-3 actions to focus on at first, to make it manageable. Then once you make progress on those, add a couple more. You could set reminders and deadlines for yourself and regularly update your plan. Aim to add more actions each month, quarter, or year. It could be helpful to do this with others in your household or with a group of friends (or neighbors), for support and accountability.

Every climate advisor’s list of top actions will look a little different. I have developed these suggestions using a combination of sources, including Project Drawdown’s scientific analysis of top climate solutions, plus the Emergency Brake measures they identified (which are ways to make the deep emissions cuts that are needed immediately), as well as a Swedish study on the most effective individual actions for climate mitigation. And I’ve added my own commentary throughout on other important actions and “low-hanging fruit” (i.e., easy/quick, or free/low-cost choices), and some practical tips (and links) on how to implement the solutions.

I have presented these suggestions within the three main categories I mentioned above, in the following order: Personal/Household first, and then Social/Community, and Systemic/Civic actions. But please feel free to switch up the order and start with the broader systemic or community-level actions first! Or better yet, pick at least one solution within each of these categories when creating your own Climate Action Plan:

I. Personal/Household Actions (and Choices)

To take actions that make the biggest difference (in terms of climate impact), you could prioritize your actions based on Project Drawdown’s science-based solutions. Two of the most effective, high-impact solutions that they identified through their methodology are related to food: Reduced Food Waste and Plant-Rich DietsThese are some personal actions you can take in those two areas:

  1. Reduce food waste, refer to the numbered list in our recent Food Waste post.
  2. Shift to a more plant-based diet, i.e., eating less (or no) meat and dairy (a shift which also happens to be good for our health—as well as for the welfare of animals, and for land and water conservation): It’s easy to find delicious recipes online for meatless/vegetarian and dairy-free, vegan dishes, as well as vegetarian and vegan restaurants (those are search categories on Yelp), and plenty of information on protein-rich, plant-based or “plant-forward” diets. I’ve shifted to a mostly vegetarian and increasingly vegan diet. It’s gotten easier to do over time and I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself; I almost never crave meat anymore.

Click here for other top solutions identified by Project Drawdown. One of the other top solutions is Family Planning and Education (which I will cover in a later post).

Drawdown has also identified some “Emergency Brake” measures: “the fastest, largest, lowest-cost climate solutions we can deploy—right now” to make the deep emissions cuts that are needed immediately. I’ve listed below some specific personal actions you can take to effect change within each of the Emergency Brake areas. Some of these actions are easier and cheaper than others; you might put a couple of these in Phase II of your Action Plan, and many are best addressed through Systemic/Civic actions (which appear later in this post):

  1. Reduce deforestation: Only buy paper products (e.g., toilet paper, printing paper) that are FSC-certified or 100% recycled content, and reduce your use of disposable paper towels and napkins by using sponges/rags and washable cloth napkins. Only buy wood products (e.g., lumber, furniture, etc.) that are FSC-certified or reclaimed or used. Also, avoid products that contain palm oil (or non-organic soy, which is often grown in the Amazon region), when possible; palm oil and soy plantations—along with cattle grazing—are some of the primary drivers of global deforestation.
  2. Reduce potent, short-lived greenhouse pollutants such as nitrous oxide, “black carbon”/soot, and methane: Don’t use synthetic/chemical fertilizers and pesticides (which produce high levels of nitrous oxide), and do buy (or grow) organically grown food. Replace gas-powered lawn equipment (mowers and leaf blowers) with battery/electric equipment (or even better, reduce or eliminate your need to mow by replacing your grass lawn with native groundcovers or a garden, and “leave the leaves” or use them as mulch on your plants); and avoid using vehicles fueled by diesel and avoid burning wood (and coal) as much as possible (because these contribute to “black carbon” emissions). And if/when you can, switch from “natural gas” (methane) to electric equipment and appliances (e.g., stoves, furnaces).
  3. Increase energy and fuel efficiency: Switch to highly energy-efficient equipment and appliances (e.g., Energy Star certified), which sometimes qualify for utility rebates or tax credits/deductions, weatherize/insulate your home, and adopt energy-saving habits (note: conserving water also helps save energy). To avoid excessive energy consumption, also avoid buying cryptocurrency/bitcoin or using unnecessary AI tools. Choose fuel-efficient vehicles (non-oversized vehicles that ideally are electric or hybrid; or electric bicycles and scooters/motorcycles)—or better yet, drive less overall, e.g., telecommute or reduce your commute distance, ride a bike, walk, take mass transit, or carpool.
  4. Reduce all types of waste: Reduce your purchases of new materials/products, and reduce material and packaging waste (as well as food waste—see above). Always reduce first (i.e., don’t buy what you don’t need), then reuse/repair what you have and buy used or salvaged items or borrow/rent items when you can. (Note: There are local Buy Nothing groups all over, where people give their used items away for free, and some places have “tool libraries” or other venues where sharable items can be loaned or rented out). Lastly, recycle what you can. But be aware that many things are not readily recyclable, most plastics never actually get recycled and are shipped overseas, and recycling requires energy, plus melting down some materials—like plastics—can produce toxic emissions. It’s particularly important to avoid buying new plastic items (especially single-use, disposable items and all PVC items) and products with plastic packaging, as much as you can; I know this one isn’t easy, since plastic is everywhere. Plastics are made from toxic petrochemicals (fossil fuels) and they are a massive threat to environmental and public health, as well as the climate.

I want to expand on #4. I think it’s accurate to say that Buying Less Stuff is one of the most important things that all of us can do. In America, in particular, we are constantly pushed to buy, buy, buy—by companies and their advertisers, and also by our peers (or just from feeling like our status depends on “keeping up with the Joneses”). People in the U.S. consume much more, on average, than people in any other country. The ultra-wealthy consume the most by far, but most of us middle-class Americans also buy way more than we need. Our materialism and gross over-consumption greatly affect our climate and cause the degradation of all aspects of our environment. A study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology found that, globally, the stuff we consume (buy) is responsible for up to 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 50 and 80% of total land, material, and water use. Everything that’s made has its own carbon footprint (“embodied energy”) and environmental impacts—throughout each stage of its lifecycle, from raw materials extraction through manufacturing and use and finally disposal, via landfill or incineration (neither of which makes anything go “away”—it just ends up in our air or soil and water).

Using a different methodology than Project Drawdown, an earlier study from Sweden— which specifically focused on identifying the most effective individual actions for climate mitigationfound that the choices that will most affect your own contributions to climate change are:

  • how many kids you have (particularly if you live in a high-income, high-consumption, high-waste country like the U.S.)—This decision has a much bigger climate impact than any other we can make as individuals.
  • how much (how often and how far) you drive and fly;
  • how much energy you use in your home and how much of the energy you/your utility company use is from clean, renewable sources vs. dirty sources [Note: If your utility does not use much renewable energy yet, they might offer a program you can sign up and pay for that helps support the development of renewable energy projects in your region, an option that would be considerably less expensive than adding solar panels to your own home, though that’s also a great solution and investment if you have the means, as is getting a highly efficient heating/cooling system, e.g., a “heat pump”];
  • how fuel-efficient your vehicle (or the vehicle you are driven in) is; and
  • how much meat you eat.

Many of those synchronize nicely with Project Drawdown’s top 5-10 solutions, even though Drawdown’s are not solely focused on personal, individual-level actions. For more details on the Swedish study’s findings, click here (and scroll down to Part II of that post).

The final suggestion I would add to this list of Personal Actions is to think about which particular sectors or types of climate solutions you are most interested in or passionate about. Project Drawdown breaks the sectors down into: Electricity; Food, Agriculture, and Land Use; Industry; Transportation; Buildings; Land (Carbon) Sinks; Coastal and Ocean (Carbon) Sinks; Engineered Carbon Sinks; and Health and Education. You also might want to think about the skills, strengths, and resources you have that you can apply to the climate effort. Check out Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s Climate Action Venn Diagram (and her TED talk) to jump-start your brainstorming. And OneGreenThing offers a free, quick “Service Superpower Assessment” quiz that could help you identify the “service type that best suits your personality.” Tools like these could help you pinpoint specific actions or approaches that are a good match for you and your unique set of interests and attributes.

Also check out the Climate Action Resources section towards the end of this post for links to tools and resources that provide additional guidance on taking climate actions.

II. Social/Community Actions

These are some ways to engage socially and as a member of your various social circles, networks, and communities (online and off), to help contribute towards cultural shifts:

  1. One of the best ways to get started is to plug into one or more of the many climate groups or initiatives that already exist. (This suggestion also has relevance to the Personal and Systemic categories of actions.) Find a couple of climate organizations that have a tone or strategy that resonates with you or that seem like a good match for your particular interests. Follow a few groups, and then join or support at least one group (it could be national, international, or local). Also start following/reading some good climate information/news outlets: see the Climate Resources list at the end of our previous post, and go to the last section of this post for links to some Climate Action Groups, Apps, Newsletters, and Books.
  2. Next, start sharing climate information from the organizations and media you follow with your friends and social networks, online or off. Or you could start by sharing some of the information provided in this post. Also talk about and share your own climate concerns and feelings with your friends and family; in addition to alleviating some of the weight of those feelings, expressing them will help let others know they aren’t alone (since most of us underestimate other people’s level of concern). Also share some of the actions you are taking and offer encouragement and support for others to take their own actions.
  3. Look into whether a local climate (or environmental) group has been established at your workplace, school, church/place of worship, and/or in your neighborhood or town. If not, you could consider starting one. (One idea: Form a Book/Action Group.) To identify specific actions to implement with your group, you could refer to the actions suggested in the Personal/Household and Systemic/Civic sections of this post, and discuss ways to apply a few of those within your group or community.
  4. Check out Project Drawdown’s Job Function Action Guides (for various types of employee roles and positions), to find ways to “make your job a climate job.” (Also, IT specialists, therapists, and architects can find job guides in this Climate Action Resource Library.)
  5. Food-based solutions: When hosting a group (or having a party), serve plant-based (vegetarian and vegan) foods. Or host a potluck where everyone brings some plant-based (and/or locally-grown or organic) foods to share. And if you have a lot of food left over at the end, send leftovers home with any of the guests that can use them. If you don’t have many food containers you can give away, you could ask people to bring some of their own.

And last but definitely not least

III. Systemic/Civic Actions

The following are some of the most vital and influential actions you can take—pushing for big societal, institutional, and systems-level shifts:

  1. VOTE for climate champions (and pro-democracy champions) at all levels of government: local, state, and national. Vote out climate deniers and “fossil fools.” Even if you don’t do any of the other things listed in this post, please vote in every election. It’s the least any of us can do. To go a little further, inform your friends about campaigns, candidates, and ballot issues. And regularly encourage people (especially young people and fellow enviros) to register to vote, to check their registration status (and their state’s voter ID requirements), and to vote. Additionally, if you are able to, support or volunteer with a campaign, or a voting/election group that helps with voter registration or Get Out the Vote efforts, or volunteer as a poll worker.
  2. Move your accounts out of the big banks (which include Chase, Citi, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo—for those of us in the U.S.), where your money is used to fund oil and gas projects (among other unsavory projects). Move your money into more socially and environmentally responsible banks (e.g., local credit unions or “fossil-free” banks). And if your employer offers a 401k or pension program (or you have your own stock-based investment accounts), find out whether they include fossil fuel company stocks; switch to, or ask that your employer offers, a fossil-free, socially responsible investment fund.
  3. Participate in actions organized by the climate organizations you follow. Actions could be online (e.g. signing on to petitions and letters to your representatives or others in positions of power) or offline (e.g., calling your representatives, or boycotting certain companies) as well as in-person/direct actions (e.g., sit-ins, marches, protests; or meeting with your representatives). If you’re not seeing good, current petitions or letters to sign onto, directly contact your federal, state, and local representatives and officials to demand that they urgently support, create, and enforce policies that treat climate destabilization as the emergency that it is, through executive and legislative actions that: end fossil fuel subsidies, stop permitting new fossil fuel infrastructure (including “natural gas” and petrochemical/plastics infrastructure), commit to >95% renewable energy goals and the rapid phase-out of fossil fuel use, and develop (and incentivize the development) of public and private renewable energy projects. I like to remind my government reps that the primary purpose of government is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public for the common good. You can also urge your county to create a Community Choice Energy program, and pressure your electric utility company to rapidly make the transition to clean, renewable energy (solar, wind, no-dam hydro).
  4. Send messages and comments to media/news outlets (national and local), asking them to report more on climate change and climate solutions, and asking reporters to regularly interview climate scientists and experts who can accurately connect the dots between worsening “natural” disasters or extreme weather events and our destabilized, rapidly changing climate. (See Covering Climate Now for more ideas and resources.) You can also submit Letters to the Editor to your newspapers, about the climate crisis and solutions.

To address the two top food-related solutions identified by Project Drawdown, in a systems context:

  1. Reduce food waste: See the first section of our post on How to Reduce Food Waste (paragraphs 4-6) for some actions that focus on the systemic aspects of this problem. Also, if your city/county doesn’t have a local compost collection program, ask them to start one.
  2. Reduce meat consumption: Ask your state or city governments and school district to institute policies requiring the provision of non-meat options in government and school cafeterias and through their food vendors. You could also ask your local restaurants (and your workplace cafeteria program, if relevant) to provide more non-meat options. Cafeterias could do “meatless Mondays” (or even go meatless every other day or always). I would also suggest that they should try to procure organic (and local) foods.

As for Project Drawdown’s Emergency Brake measures: There are many ways to address these systemically, only a few of which I’ll mention here. You might pick one or two of these for your initial Action Plan, and add others to later phases:

  1. Reduce deforestation: Send letters/sign petitions to federal and state government agencies and officials, asking them to stop allowing the clear-cutting of large forest areas, and to ban further logging in the few remaining old-growth and mature forests; ask the state, local, and/or federal government to amend their purchasing policies to specify FSC-certified wood products and 100% recycled-content and/or FSC-certified paper products. Also ask your local lumber and home improvement stores to sell FSC-certified lumber (and other types of wood products), and ask other retailers (e.g., office supply and grocery stores) to offer and promote 100% recycled (or FSC) paper products.
  2. Reduce methane, nitrous oxide, and “black carbon” emissions: Tell your federal and state representatives to require and enforce the plugging of all abandoned wells and methane leaks; to support laws and programs that drastically reduce farmers’ use of nitrous-oxide-producing fertilizers and pesticides (and support/incentivize the transition to organic farming); and to incentivize the phase-out of heavy-duty/commercial diesel trucks in favor of electric or low-emissions trucks. You could also ask your city or state to phase out and eventually ban the sale or use of gas-powered lawn equipment, at least on public properties (something that more and more communities are doing).
  3. Increase energy and fuel efficiency: Ask your representatives (or at your least your workplace) to require that all non-essential lights and equipment be turned off in buildings after hours, and to push for high-efficiency requirements in your state building code, as well as to regulate or rein in cryptocurrency/bitcoin “mining” and unnecessary uses of AI, which are creating enormous energy demands for server/data centers. Also, ask your state and city representatives to replace vehicles in their fleets (including school buses) with electric or fuel-efficient/low-emissions vehicles, and ask your City Council or County officials to add more bike paths/lanes and bike racks throughout your area.
  4. Reduce waste: Tell your federal, state, and local representatives to support zero-waste programs and zero-waste procurement (including packaging and plastics reduction) specifications within their government agencies, with an emphasis on source reduction and a ban on (or phase-out of) single-use, disposable products, particularly plastic products.

There is no definitive, one-size-fits-all list of the climate actions that each of us should take. This Climate Action Starter Pack provides a general primer that includes a bunch of actions that most people can take. I also recommend taking a look at some of the Climate Action Resources in the next section, for other ideas and ways to get or stay engaged.

One’s climate actions and choices become more obvious and automatic as one’s climate and environmental ethic or mindset deepens. Gradually, you find yourself looking at almost everything you do and choose through a climate (and planetary health) lens. This doesn’t need to be seen as a burden; it is simply living within the reality of ecological limits. We already apply all sorts of other filters to our decisions (e.g., cost, aesthetics, convenience). It’s important to include climate and environmental considerations and shift towards prioritizing those over less consequential considerations.

I’m preparing a PDF checklist that summarizes all of the actions that I’ve suggested above. If you would like professional assistance with creating a customized Climate Action Plan for your household, workplace, or company/organization or other group, or if you want more prescriptive, step by step instructions or guidance on exactly how you can implement the strategies in your plan, I am a climate and sustainability advisor and I offer those services.

Climate Action Resources

The following are links to existing climate action groups, articles and guides, newsletters, apps, and books that might help you put your climate action plans into practice.

Climate Action Groups

These essentially function as support/action groups:

To find other types of group-based activities within climate organizations, see our larger list of Climate Organizations and peruse some of those groups’ websites.

Climate Action Articles and Guides

Climate Action Newsletters

Climate Action Apps

Climate Action Books

For lists of other books (plus films and videos) related to climate and other environmental topics, click here.

Again, if you would like professional assistance with creating a customized Climate Action Plan for your household, workplace, company/organization or other group, or if you want more prescriptive, step by step instructions or guidance on exactly how you can implement the strategies in your plan, I am a climate and sustainability advisor and I offer those services.

 

Related posts:

Share

April 8, 2024
[Click here to comment]

I’ve been wanting to share some links and info. on a few very promising and impactful (but under-utilized) developments, trends, efforts, and solutions that I think more people should know about, spread the word about, and get involved in—namely: 1) land restoration, regeneration, and rewilding; 2) Community Solar; and 3) alternatives to plastics (and to animal leather and meat, etc.)  I may develop more in-depth posts on a couple of these topics in the future.

 

I. Land restoration: remediation, regeneration, rewilding

Check out these sites for some great information on land (and habitat) restoration projects and programs:

Loess Plateau, ChinaEcosystem Restoration Camps: “A global movement of people that is creating an abundant earth. We repair broken ecosystems together and, in doing so, provide humanity with hope and a better future. Our big goal is to have one million people come together by 2030 and restore degraded ecosystems in 100 camps around the world.” Find out where their current camps are here (see map).

Regeneration International: Their mission is “to promote, facilitate and accelerate the global transition to regenerative food, farming and land management for the purpose of restoring climate stability, ending world hunger and rebuilding deteriorated social, ecological and economic systems.”

The Rewilding Institute (AKA Rewilding Earth): Their mission is “to develop and promote the ideas and strategies to advance continental-scale conservation in North America and beyond, particularly the need for large carnivores and a permeable landscape for their movement, and to offer a bold, scientifically-credible, practically achievable, and hopeful vision for the future of wild Nature and human civilization.”

Half-Earth Project: “With science at its core and our transcendent moral obligation to the rest of life at its heart, the Half-Earth Project is working to conserve half the land and sea to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity, including ourselves.”

And for a great story on a Brazilian couple who replanted and restored a 1,500-acre forest, see this article. They have been written up on many other sites, as well, including Smithsonian Magazine. Their organization is called Instituto Terra.

Also related to regenerative land use: I’ll be creating a post about permaculture at some point.

Related posts: Sustainable Land Use and Land Stewardship Posts; and Re-Tree the Worldand Sustainable Agriculture, Farming, Gardening, and Food;and Animal Protection / Biodiversity Organizations and Resources

 

II. Community Solar  

Community Solar is also sometimes known as Shared Solar or Solar Gardens.

“Community Solar refers to local solar facilities that are shared by multiple community subscribers who receive credit on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced. Community solar provides homeowners, renters, and businesses equal access to the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy generation regardless of the physical attributes or ownership of their home or business.” (Source: Solar Energy Industries Association: Community Solar—go to this link for more information on where it’s being implemented)

For more information on how community solar works and its benefits, see:

Solstice: Solar for Every American

Groundswell: Building community power

Grid Alternatives‘ Energy for All program

Department of Energy: Community Solar Basics

I also plan to write a post about renewable energy micro-grids, as well as solar-wind hybrid systems.

Related post: Municipalities, States, and Countries that are Achieving, Approaching, or Committed to 100% Renewable Energy (in particular, see the paragraph about Community Choice Energy, or Community Choice Aggregation local power programs)

 

III. Alternatives to petroleum-based plastics and other problematic materials

Ecovative Design: This company is making mushroom (mycelium)- and hemp-based (“MycoComposite”) biodegradable/compostable foam-like packaging, mycelium-based leather-like textiles, skin care products, and now also meatless meat.

Other entrepreneurs have made other types of bioplastics (including pleathers) from: banana peels or banana leaves; avocado pits/seeds and peels; agave fibers; hemp; and vegan “leather” from nopales cactus.

Hemp alone is extremely versatile. Its fiber, seeds, and oil can be used to make: fabric/textiles (e.g., clothing, rope); Hempcrete and other building materials; bioplastics; biofuel; foods and drinks (and animal feed); CBD products; paper products; and other products and materials. Hemp has many environmental benefits and advantages over other materials that it can replace. For more information, check out Vote Hemp, the Hemp Industries Association, or other groups.

Related posts: How to Identify Greener Products; and Health Impacts of Toxic Chemicals and Pollutants

 

I hope you’ll check out the links in this post, share them with others, and add any relevant recommendations or information in the Comments. Thanks!

Share

October 30, 2021
[Click here to comment]

Cities, towns, counties, states, regions, and countries all over the world are making large strides towards shifting to renewable energy sources (e.g., solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, biomass, and wave/tidal energy). In early 2018 we published our original post on this topic. This new post provides an update on where things stand three years later, in early 2021:

Within the U.S., the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 program reports that (to date, as of early 2021), more than 170 cities, more than 10 counties, 8 states, and 2 territories have adopted the ambitious goal of 100% clean energy (for at least electricity). Note: This is quite a bit more than just three years ago, when the stats were 50 cities, 7 counties, and only 1 state (Hawaii).  As of this year (so far), the 8 states and 2 territories that have committed to this goal are: California, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Virginia, Washington, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico!  The counties that have made this commitment are located in California, Colorado, Idaho, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington state.

Whereas three years ago, only five towns in the U.S. had achieved this impressive goal (generating 100% of their electricity from non-polluting, renewable sources), now five counties (unincorporated county areas) in California, as well as 47 cities and towns across the U.S. have achieved this goal. Most of those cities and towns are in California. The non-California towns are: Aspen, CO; Greensburg, KS; Rock Port, MO; Kodiak Island, AK; and Georgetown, TX. You can use the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 map to see if your city/town/county or other municipalities in your state have committed to or achieved these renewable energy goals.

Worldwide, many other cities and countries are also approaching and even reaching 100% renewable electricity goals. The Global 100 RE Strategy Group says that “To date, 11 countries have reached or exceeded 100% renewable electricity; 12 countries have passed laws to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030; 49 countries have passed laws to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2050; 14 U.S. states and territories have passed laws or executive orders to reach up to 100% renewable electricity by between 2030 and 2050 [Note: That is more than the 10 identified by the Sierra Club above]; over 300 cities worldwide have passed laws to reach 100% renewable electricity by no later than 2050; and over 280 international businesses have committed to 100% renewables across their global operations.”

Countries that are powered or almost entirely powered on renewable energy (>90%) include: Costa Rica, Iceland, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Norway. Other countries with very high percentages of renewables include Portugal, Germany, Scotland, New Zealand, and Austria. Islands that now have >90% renewable electricity include: Eigg and Orkney (Scotland), Tasmania (Australia), Tokelau (New Zealand), Tau (American Samoa), and Samso (Denmark).

Note: Some of these countries, cities, and islands use primarily hydropower; large dams are controversial, as they are environmentally destructive to ecosystems and habitats. Some biomass (and landfill gas) sources can also be controversial. It definitely does not make any sense or pencil out (climate-wise/carbon-wise or otherwise) to cut down trees en masse (let alone ship their wood or wood pellets across the world) in order to make energy.

Some programs that help cities, regions, countries, and other entities move towards 100% include:

Also see these other resources on 100% renewable energy efforts:

We should all ask the leaders of our cities, towns, counties, states, and countries (mayors, city council members, county supervisors, governors, state legislators, congressional representatives, Senators, and President) to commit to a 100% (or at least 90%) renewable energy goal (as well as carbon-neutral and net-negative emission goals), and to enact forward-thinking policies right away to move rapidly towards those goals. You can share these program links with them, so they will be aware of networks they can join and resources they can use in setting their policies and meeting their renewable energy goals.

One way to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy sources at a local level is to create a county-wide, city-wide or regional Community Choice Energy (AKA Community Choice Aggregation, CCA) program. Per The Climate Center, “Community Choice agencies are local, not-for-profit, public agencies that provide electricity services to residents and businesses. Community Choice introduces competitions and consumer choices into the electricity sector with a focus on local, renewable energy to stimulate rapid innovations in clean energy systems.” According to Local Power, Community Choice energy programs now serve more than 30 million Americans, in more than 1,500 municipalities across the country. As of early 2021, there are 23 Community Choice energy programs established in California alone, serving more than 11 million people, providing more than 3,800 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity, and avoiding 940,000+ metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year! In addition to California, eight other states have also authorized Community Choice programs (so far): Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

The Climate Center is also running the Climate-Safe California campaign, to try to push the state to set and achieve the goal of net-negative emissions by 2030 in California. You can read and endorse the platform via that link.

Energy efficiency is also critical. It is as important as shifting to renewable energy sources, because the less energy we need/use/waste (i.e. the lower the demand), the less we have to produce (supply) from any source. Simply adding renewable energy sources to the existing non-renewable sources will not help reduce pollution or slow climate change; renewable sources need to start to replace the existing fossil-fuel-based (oil, coal, and gas) sources. (All types of energy production, even non-polluting renewables, require material inputs and have some impacts.) The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) published a 2020 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, which concluded that “For the first time in four years, California took first place nationwide, edging out Massachusetts, the leader in the Northeast…. Rounding out this year’s top 10, are…Vermont (#3), Rhode Island (#4), New York (#5), Maryland (#6), Connecticut (#7), Washington, DC (#8), and Minnesota and Oregon (tied for #9). …Other regional leaders include Colorado in the Southwest, and Virginia in the South.”

 

This was our previous post on this topic:
Cities and Towns Achieving (or Approaching) 100 Percent Renewable Energy (2018)

Other related posts:

Share

February 23, 2021
[Click here to comment]

High-Impact Climate Actions and Choices that Make the Biggest Difference

If you’re not already aware of how dire the climate crisis is becoming (and how much worse it will get if our civilization continues on with “business as usual”), consider this past year’s news of extreme heatwaves, droughts, and massive fires across the Arctic, the Amazon, Australia, California, Africa, and elsewhere; and the increasingly catastrophic storms, hurricanes, and floods that have been happening throughout the world. Also take a look at the graph below of global carbon dioxide levels over time, and seek out more information on climate change from reputable sources (see the links list at the very bottom for several media outlets and non-profits), including articles like these:

What humanity chooses to do (or not do) in the next year or two—and over this decade—to lower greenhouse gas (carbon) emissions will determine how catastrophic things will get in the future and how quickly. The only way we will be able to slow and lessen the climate crisis enough to keep our world habitable and hospitable to life is to make big, bold, powerful, and effective changes rapidly and at scale. While smaller problems also matter and small, incremental changes and solutions are worthwhile and can really add up when many people take them on, it is crucial that we understand and focus on the biggest problems (i.e., planetary-wide crises) we all face, like climate change, and understand which choices, behaviors, actions, and policies have the greatest impact on accelerating vs. slowing climate change. Being aware and informed about which types of human activities are contributing the most to worsening climate destabilization empowers us to make the changes that will generate the most significant results. We’re not actually helpless, even though we may sometimes feel that way. Knowledge is power, and what we don’t know or understand could very well kill us (along with most of the rest of life on earth).

Several studies have been done recently that help identify the practices (at the societal level and at the individual/household level) that contribute to (or mitigate) climate change the most. Something that’s notable about the findings of these studies is that many climate solutions don’t cost much if any money, and many can even save quite a bit of money (whereas climate inaction is already costing all of us a LOT, and the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of taking significant actions would be. See “Climate change’s giant impact on the economy,” New York Times.) In fact, many climate solutions simply involve making the decision NOT to do something (e.g., not cutting down trees, not wasting food, not eating much meat, not having many kids, not flying often, etc.) rather than actively doing something or having to pay for something.

I.

Project Drawdown is a world-class research organization that reviews, analyses, and identifies the most viable global climate solutions, and shares these findings with the world.”  They organize their solutions into the following categories: a) Electricity Generation, b) Food, c) Women and Girls, d) Buildings and Cities, e) Land Use, f) Transport, and g) Materials.

Most of these solutions require some systemic, societal, institutional (e.g., government policy and industry-driven) changes, but it’s important to recognize that all of us as individuals and as communities can support and promote these types of broad-based changes, through our votes, policy advocacy, education and awareness building, and our own behaviors, habits, and lifestyle choices (which can not only reduce emissions, but also serve as role modeling and as examples and inspiration for others, helping to change the culture and shift consumer demand).

The Top 15 Highest-Impact Solutions identified by Project Drawdown are as follows (click each of the links below for descriptions, details, and cost/savings analyses). Many people are not yet aware that some of these strategies are so important:

  1. Refrigerant Management (leak prevention and proper, careful disposal of HFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners; phase-out of HFC chemicals and and replacement with safer, climate-friendly alternatives)
  2. Wind Turbines [onshore]
  3. Reduced Food Waste
  4. Plant-Rich Diet
  5. Tropical Forests (preventing deforestation, and doing restoration and reforestation)
  6. Educating Girls
  7. Family Planning
  8. Solar Farms (utility-scale solar power plants)
  9. Silvopasture (integrating trees and pastures into a single system for raising livestock)
  10. Rooftop Solar (distributed, small-scale solar PV systems <1MW)
  11. Regenerative Agriculture (practices that enhance and sustain the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, thereby sequestering carbon; e.g., organic production, cover crops, compost, crop rotation, no-till or reduced tillage, etc.)
  12. Temperate Forests (protection/preservation and restoration)
  13. Peatlands (protection/preservation, fire prevention, and restoration of bogs, which store a lot of carbon)
  14. Tropical Staple Trees (planting perennial crop trees)
  15. Afforestation (growing new forests on land that is not currently forested, especially degraded agricultural, pasture, or mining land; preferably a diversity of native and adapted tree species rather than mono-cropped plantations)

Policy-makers, industry/business and institution leaders, foundations and philanthropists, nonprofit organizations, and all of us as citizens should take these findings into account when deciding which climate strategies we should prioritize and amplify, and the types of projects and programs on which we should focus most of our time, energy, and money.

I recommend taking this short, interactive, online quiz on CNN’s website: “The most effective ways to curb climate change might surprise you.” The quiz is based on Project Drawdown’s findings, and it indicates which changes can be made by individuals/households, by industries, and/or by policymakers. (Note: Many of the changes can be made or influenced by more than one of those.)

Project Drawdown published its research conclusions in a book: Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, edited by Paul Hawken.

NOTE: See an updated version of Drawdown’s research findings in our newer post (from June 2023): Project Drawdown’s Top 15 Most Effective Climate Solutions.

II.

In addition to Project Drawdown’s useful findings and recommendations, another recent scientific study (from 2017, by Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas) has identified some of the highest-impact personal choices and actions each of us can make/take to reduce our own contribution to climate change:

Climate Mitigation: Most Effective Individual Actions

Their data showed that the following are the highest-impact decisions and actions; sadly, they also found that education and government recommendations (in the US, EU, Canada and Australia) have been failing to focus on most of these (and instead they often mention and prioritize lower-impact actions). We should all aim to achieve at least two or three of these, and ideally all of them:

  1. Having a small family rather than a large one (i.e., having few or no kids). This decision makes a bigger impact than any other we can make as individuals, by orders of magnitude beyond the others. Researchers have found that each additional person (in a developed country) ends up contributing an average of 58.6 tons of CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emissions to our atmosphere per year. [Note: The carbon footprint of U.S. households is about 5 times greater than the global average, as we Americans consume so much more than people in most other countries. (Source)]
  2. Going car-free (or at least driving as little as possible, and ideally switching to an electric vehicle or a very-low-emissions, high-MPG hybrid vehicle)
  3. Avoiding airplane travel (or flying as little as possible).  [From a New York Times article: “In 2016, two climatologists published a paper in the prestigious journal Science showing a direct relationship between carbon emissions and the melting of Arctic sea ice.” They found that one passenger’s share of emissions on a 2,500-mile flight melts the equivalent of 32 square feet of Arctic summer sea ice. And cruise ships are even worse; “even the most efficient cruise ships emit 3 to 4 times more carbon dioxide per passenger-mile than a jet,” along with other serious air and water pollutants. And container/cargo ships use even filthier fuels.]
  4. Buying/using green, clean energy (e.g., via your utility if they offer this, or by installing solar or wind). [A note from me: FIRST always use conservation and efficiency to minimize any over-use/waste of energy! One of the best ways to do this is to avoid living in a home that is too big for the size and needs of your family. It’s wasteful to have to heat or cool—and furnish—rooms or spaces that you don’t really use.]
  5. Eating a plant-based diet (or reducing your meat consumption)

For more information on this study, see this article/analysis, as well as this concise Grist post and its infographic (shown above), which provides a good visual sense of the relative difference in impacts from each of the choices or actions/inactions. To learn about additional personal actions and decisions that can make a difference, beyond the five identified by the study above, check out the book Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, Expert Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists (Island Press, 2012).

For some of us, the five choices above don’t seem like big sacrifices to make, and in fact many can drastically improve our own lives (as well as everyone else’s). But in our highly individualistic and materialistic culture, many of us are taught that we can (and should) do whatever we want (any costs and harms to our community or society or public health be damned). We are too often conditioned to believe that we are inherently entitled to do anything we want (and buy anything that we can afford), and we are not often encouraged to think about whether or not we should do (or buy) those things. Americans, in particular, often tend to feel entitled to get as large and gas-guzzling a vehicle as we want, and many of us tend to drive and fly as often and as much as we want, and buy as much as we can, acting almost as if this is somehow our inherent, God-given right. Please question the assumptions, expectations, pressures, and social conditioning that you/we have been brought up with. These beliefs are not universal “human nature;” they are culturally taught. Consider the benefits of self-restraint and self-regulation. Think about the concept of “enough.” Think about: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Consider your neighbors; consider vulnerable populations; consider other species; consider future generations. Consider and be considerate of the common good.

Lastly, always remember (and remind others) that almost any choice or change that you make or that society makes to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions will not only help stabilize the climate; it will also reduce air pollution (as well as water pollution and ocean warming) and thus improve and protect public health and well-being in other very direct and often immediate ways.

 

Related posts:

Related resources:

See our Twitter list of Climate groups, scientists, and leaders

 

These are some organizations focused on the climate crisis and climate solutions:

And these are a few media / news and information sources that provide fact-based information on climate change:

Share

January 30, 2020
[Click here to comment]

We post daily morsels of illuminating information and inspiration on The Green Spotlight’s Facebook Page. If you have a Facebook account, we hope you’ll click on the page’s Like button (if you haven’t already “Liked” or “Followed” the page) and Share the page with your friends.

Please visit the Page to get a sense of the various topics that it covers. We hope you’ll share some of our links. To make sure that Facebook will continue to show you our posts on your Facebook homepage/newsfeed, visit our page regularly and give a thumbs-up to (“Like”) your favorite posts.

Here’s a sampling of some topics that we’ve highlighted on the page over the last month or so, including both good news and bad:

  • Ireland is completely divesting from fossil fuels (and has also banned fracking)
  • TransMountain pipeline approvals revoked by court
  • Protect the Protest: a new alliance of environmental and civil liberties groups
  • In 40 states, electricity from renewable sources is cheaper than the existing power supply
  • Air pollution causes lower IQ and other neurological deficits and diseases
  • Climate grief and depression
  • Traverse City, Michigan and Denver, Colorado set 100% renewable energy goals
  • Mexican President plans to ban fracking
  • Monsanto ordered to pay $289 million as jury rules Roundup caused man’s cancer
  • Poisonous red tides and toxic algae blooms worse than ever in Florida this summer
  • Teenagers’ climate lawsuit moves forward
  • Administration proposes weakening the Endangered Species Act
  • PFAS contamination in Michigan
  • Wildfires and heat waves around the world, including at the Arctic Circle
  • Quotations, photos, videos, cartoons, etc.

 

Share

August 31, 2018
1 comment

I was born and raised in the Midwest (of the U.S.).  Both sides of my family come from the Midwest: from Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio.  So I like to keep up on what’s going on in the Great Lakes region and other parts of the Midwest, and I promote and support good efforts happening there.

[Note: The Midwest is a very large region in the central/upper part of the country, comprising almost one-quarter of the U.S. states. The following 12 states are generally considered to be within the “Midwest” region: Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Missouri.]

Below is a listing of the midwestern environmental organizations (and a few other types of relevant organizations) and websites that we know of, though there are certainly many, many more.  (We don’t know all of these groups well, so being listed here does not constitute an endorsement.)  If you know people who live in these states, please share this listing with them.

What are some of your favorite environmental (or other) groups based in midwestern states?  Please let us know if the Comments!

 

logo2MIDWEST REGION (or beyond)

GREAT LAKES REGIONagl_logo_horizontal_full_color_rgb_1000px

 

ILLINOIS

INDIANA

IOWA

KANSAS

Lake Michigan, MI, Getty ImagesMICHIGAN

MINNESOTA

MISSOURI

NEBRASKA

NORTH DAKOTA

OHIO

SOUTH DAKOTA

WISCONSIN

 

You can also find regional land trusts/conservancies in each state via the Land Trust Alliance’s site.

And you can find other State-by-State Resources here (these listings include groups focused on social and political issues, as well). Also note that almost every state should have its own League of Women Voters chapter(s), Common Cause state chapter, Indivisible chapter(s), and an All On the Line (for fair district maps, anti-gerrymandering) state group.

Related post:

Share

May 30, 2018
[Click here to comment]

logoNEW: 2021 update: Municipalities, States, and Countries that are Achieving, Approaching, or Committed to 100% Renewable Energy

Cities, towns, counties, states, regions, and countries all over the world are making large strides towards shifting to renewable energy sources (e.g., solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, biomass, and wave/tidal energy).

Within the U.S., the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 program reports that (to date, as of early 2018), more than 50 cities, 7 counties, and the State of Hawaii have adopted the ambitious goal of 100% clean energy. The first five cities to hit their targets, generating 100% of their electricity from non-polluting, renewable sources, are:

In addition, Georgetown, TX is expected to hit its 100% renewable goal this year (2018). And the city of Palo Alto, CA currently provides 100% carbon-neutral electricity and carbon-neutral natural gas, by supplementing their use of renewables with carbon offsets (renewable energy certificates, which help fund renewable projects in other areas). Meanwhile, the other 50+ cities that have committed to achieving 100% renewable energy include several large cities, such as Atlanta, GA, San Diego and San Francisco, CA, and St. Louis, MO.

Worldwidemore than 40 cities now get all of their electricity from renewables, and more than 100 cities (including Seattle, WA, and Eugene, OR in the U.S.) now get more than 70% of their electricity from renewables; that is more than double the number of cities that met that threshold in 2015. Here’s a full list of the cities studied by the CDP (Climate Data Project). (Note: Some of these cities, especially in Latin America, use primarily hydropower; large dams are controversial, as they are environmentally destructive to ecosystems and habitats. Biomass & landfill gas sources are also sometimes controversial.)

A few of the countries that are leading the way on using renewable energy sources are: Iceland, Costa Rica, Germany, Uruguay, Scotland, Kenya, Portugal, and New Zealand.

Some programs that help cities and regions move towards 100% include:

Let’s all ask the leaders of our cities, towns, counties, and states (mayors, city council members, county supervisors, governors, and state legislators) to commit to a 100% (or at least 90%) renewable energy goal, and enact forward-thinking policies right away to move rapidly towards that goal. You can share these program links with them, so they will be aware of networks they can join and resources they can use in setting their policies and meeting their renewable energy goals.

One way to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy sources at a local level is to create a county-wide or regional Community Choice Energy program. Per the Center for Climate Protection, “Community Choice agencies are local, not-for-profit, public agencies that provide electricity services to residents and businesses. Community Choice introduces competitions and consumer choices into the electricity sector with a focus on local, renewable energy to stimulate rapid innovations in clean energy systems.”

Energy efficiency is also critical. It is as important as shifting to renewable energy sources, because the less energy we need/use (the lower the demand), the less we have to produce (supply) from any source. (All types of energy production, even non-polluting renewables, require material inputs and have impacts.) The Union of Concerned Scientists ranks states by their energy efficiency progress.  In 2017, they found that the most energy efficient states were: Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Vermont, Oregon, Connecticut, New York, Washington, and Minnesota.

 

For more information on cities with 100% renewable energy goals, see:

Also see these other 100% renewables efforts, for other sectors (beyond cities and towns):

 

Also see: 2021 update: Municipalities, States, and Countries that are Achieving, Approaching, or Committed to 100% Renewable Energy

Share

March 26, 2018
[Click here to comment]

imagesThis is a listing of some enviro-relevant groups in Canada (though not all of them are focused solely on environmental issues).

Even for those of us who aren’t Canadian, it’s important to support stronger Canadian environmental and climate protection efforts. The U.S. and Canada should be working together and competing to demonstrate their environmental leadership. Both countries have had a relatively poor record in protecting the environment in recent years; both have been building controversial oil pipelines and cutting too many trees (including old growth forests).

We have a Twitter list of Canadian groups, info, and news. And here is a non-Twitter list of some Canadian organizations:

unknown

Also, many international environmental organizations have a Canadian office or programs that include Canada.  For example, ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) has a Canadian office (and many Canadian cities and towns are members of ICLEI).

If you know of other environmental (or environmentally-relevant) groups in Canada, please mention them in the Comments. Thanks!

Share

January 26, 2018
2 comments

We post daily morsels of illuminating information and inspiration on The Green Spotlight’s Facebook Page. Anyone can view the page, even if you don’t have a Facebook account. But if you do have an account, we hope you’ll click on the page’s Like button (if you haven’t already “Liked” the page) and Share the page with your friends.

Please visit the Page to get a sense of the various topics that it covers. You are welcome to comment on the posts and we hope you’ll share some of our links. To make sure that Facebook will continue to show you our posts on your Facebook homepage/newsfeed, visit our page regularly and give a thumbs-up to (“Like”) your favorite posts.

Here’s a sampling of topics that we’ve highlighted on the page over the last few months:

  • Costa Rica now uses almost 100% renewable energy
  • Uruguay uses almost 95% clean energy
  • Aspen, CO, Burlington, VT, and Greensburg, KS use 100% renewables
  • San Diego plans to shift to 100% renewable energy
  • The island of Bonaire is switching to 100% renewables
  • Community solar for groups and neighborhoods
  • Ireland rules out fracking
  • COP21 Paris Climate Summit Commitments
  • CatalogChoice free junk-mail opt-out service
  • Organizations and Initiatives: Earthworks, Center for Environmental Health, Story of Stuff Project, Politifact, FactCheck.org, Solar Ready Vets, Troops to Solar
  • Books: Voices of the Wild, The Heart of Sustainability
  • New films: Time to Choose, Racing Extinction, Medicine of the Wolf, Last Days of Ivory
  • Quotations, photos, graphics, cartoons, etc.
Share

December 28, 2015
[Click here to comment]