View a transcription of the questions and answers below from the November 13, 2022 Climate Service. Note: Please click the “+” beside each question below to view the answer!
Climate Service Q&A
There were several questions that are basically variations on this question. And this is very interesting, because the data show that many, many people are in exactly the same place right now.
When I participated the first climate service in 2018, I told you about a Yale University study where they describe “The Six Americas” and how Americans response to climate change falls into 6 groups. They do a survey once or twice a year, and based on people’s responses they divide you up into six different groups. I will describe them from the good group to the not so good group.
The first is those of us that are Alarmed about climate change, we lose sleep over it. The second group, people that are Concerned, they sort of get it but they are not alarmed. Then come people that are Cautious about climate change, it makes a bit of sense to them, but they’re not exactly sure. There are the people that are Disengaged, their lives are just too complicated to worry about climate change. Then, those that are Doubtful think climate is probably not a problem. And then there are those that are Dismissive who are the climate change deniers.
This survey has been repeated since 2009. Over that time, the population of the US has been moving slowly and steadily towards the Alarmed or Concerned end of the spectrum. Right now, the Alarmed, Concerned and Cautious represent 75% of Americans. Seventy five percent – a majority of Americans, AND it is a majority in every State – every State, red and blue!
And a lot of the people that are Concerned and Cautious categories are asking “What can I do?” or “What is the most important thing that I can do”, and that is the question being asked here, “What is the one thing we can do?”.
I’m going to give you an overview of what I think you can do, and what most of the things that I read think should be done.
The first and most important thing to do is inform yourself, read, analyze and question what you see. Based on this information, you should vote, and I think you should vote a particular way. And vote in every election, school board, county commissioners, other local, State and Federal elections. Every election is important! For people that are Alarmed or Concerned about climate, voting is the entry level thing you can do.
Another thing that you really need to do is to get involved – get involved with organizations that are advocating for any number of justice climate related causes. These are organizations like the Sierra Club, Blue Water Baltimore, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, League of Conservation Voters, and many, many more. These organizations are all over the place. You can find additional information about all of these on the Internet. If you join one or two organizations, you will learn more and have opportunities to take action. The organization that I’m a member of is the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland. We try to influence the State legislature based on UU values. Many organizations try to influence the legislative process from their perspective or interest.
There are so many organizations that any of you can find one that will line up directly with your values, your beliefs, and your areas of concern. If you’re concerned about recycling – there is an organization that does that. If you’re concerned about legislation – there’s something for you. If you are concerned about justice, there is something there for you. If you’re concerned about water quality, if you want to learn about composting – there are organizations for you. When you join, they will contact you and may ask you to write your legislator or call or send money. I’m sorry about the money ask, it’s just part of the deal. There will be opportunities to join rallies and demonstrations. All to make your voice heard.
Last year several people in this room went to Annapolis to support the Climate Solutions Now Act, which was passed in the State of Maryland Legislature. So now Maryland is back up near the top nationally with legislation supporting justice and climate. We were out there with our signs, and the legislators came by, and some of them talked to us, and were very helpful. Some walk by hiding their faces not wanting to be seen. But those are the things you need to do, because that influences how laws are made. But just making the laws isn’t sufficient, they have to be implemented, and our current, soon to be former, governor was not really enthusiastic about enforcing these regulations. This resulted in changing the budgeting process in Maryland because he was not doing the things that people wanted him to do.
Inform yourself, vote, join organizations and get involved.
Now, what can you do in your day-to-day activities? The thing that we are hearing the most of right now is a very simple word it’s called electrify (Electrify: The Optimists Playbook for our Clean Energy Future, by Saul Griffith), electrify everything. The whole point is to eliminate carbon pollution! Fossil fuels have got to go!
Maryland’s Climate Solutions Now Act calls for net carbon zero by 2045. That’s twenty-three years from now – there is a lot of work to do! We cannot get to net zero if we are driving gasoline powered cars and trucks or if we’re heating our houses, heating our water, drying our clothes and cooking our food with methane gas.
These are the things that we must do. The first step towards reducing carbon pollution is to electrify your homes. Next time you need to replace your furnace, go with a heat pump. Or better yet with a geothermal system. Next time you need to replace your water heater, electrify. When you buy your next car, electrify. Hybrids are good but we need to electrify them. It doesn’t have to be a Tesla. There are other cars and other manufacturers out there. Ford has introduced an F-150 pickup truck – electric version. Who would have thought that what is going to happen?
Change your source of electricity to solar and wind. For instance, you could change right now to Community Solar. Contact Robin Hessey (firstname.lastname@example.org) about how to do this immediately with UUCCs partner, Neighborhood Sun. This is critical. Right now, much of our electricity is not carbon-free, but increasing the demand will result in more wind and solar generating capacity. And you’re already set up with your electrified home!
If you have wind and solar now, install a heat pump, electric water heater, etc. Now you have eliminated carbon pollution from your home. Make no investments in anything carbon-related – electrify everything. Do not buy another internal or external combustion anything! Cars, furnace, water heater or clothes dryer. Did you know that heat pump clothes dryers are available?
Next is to make a personal commitment in how you live your daily life.
Reduce consumption. We throw away too much stuff in this country. It all ends up in landfills which are a large source of methane emission, about 10%. Scientists estimate that at least 25% of today’s warming is driven by methane from human actions. Methane gas is a very potent greenhouse gas, about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Everything in the landfill is covered with soil and the organic material undergoes a process called anaerobic (no oxygen required) digestion which produces methane that is leaked into the atmosphere.
In contrast, composting does not produce methane gas. It is a controlled, aerobic (oxygen-required) process that converts organic materials into a nutrient-rich soil amendment or mulch through natural decomposition. The end product is compost – a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling material. Microorganisms feed on the materials added to the compost pile during the composting process. They use carbon and nitrogen to grow and reproduce, water to digest materials, and oxygen to breathe. Compost everything. Don’t throw anything organic away, find a way to compost it. I know that the Green Bins are not available everywhere in Howard County yet, but it’s getting better.
The foods you eat. A plant rich diet is good for your health and reduces greenhouse gas emission. It is also kind to the animals. Beef protein takes over 25 times more fossil fuel than an equal amount of protein from plant sources. The Community Ecology Institute (communityecologyinstitute.org/) is doing great work to connect people to each other and the natural world. CEI has installed, expanded or maintained Nourishing Gardens for more than 20 community open spaces, including 16 schools that serve more than 50,000 students and staff.
Reduce your use of plastics. Plastics are a huge part of the waste stream, they are made from petroleum, and they’re basically non-recyclable. Less than 10% of plastic is recycled. The UpCycle (goupcycled.com) team is recycling certain plastics and we are very, very excited about that. They provided a bench in the new Nourishing Garden that we have started in partnership with CEI.
Reuse. Charity’s Closet (savagemill.com/merchants/charitys-closet/) in Savage Mill collects and resells clothes. There are companies that you can rent designer clothes and can return them when finished.
These are some of the basic things that each of us can do. It’s really simple.
I have seen a couple of other interesting things.
First is an analysis of electric vehicles. EV sales are slightly over 6% of new car sales, which is approaching a tipping point. Once a new product reaches a tipping point, sales accelerate, and wide adoption becomes inevitable. This is similar to the way smartphones became so ubiquitous. Fifteen to twenty years ago only a few people had an iPhone, and now there are probably over 100 in the audience today. So that’s a very positive tipping point for EVs.
And one other item. We’ve all seen the results of these climate models which are all gloom and doom.
A problem with those models is they assume a rate of greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere. There are four different scenarios; the worst is “business as usual” (i.e. continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions) and the best is net-zero carbon emissions later in the century. There are two additional intermediate scenarios. All the models start with that assumption as input.
There are some newer models that include human behaviors and how they are linked to greenhouse gas emissions. We all know that greenhouse gas emissions are fundamentally a result of human behaviors. These models incorporate how our behavior is impacted by advertising, media coverage, social pressures and other people that influence us.
If those people in the Alarmed and Concerned groups that are asking “what can I do?” were to start taking some of these actions, and they tell their neighbors and they implement them and tell their neighbors, and so on, then good things start to happen. We start reaching tipping points. Over 75% of the model runs show reaching net zero carbon emissions later in this century, maybe not by 2045, but in this century.
In other words, your actions matter. Please consider implementing some of the items listed above.
Which Maryland state legislators have done the most to support legislation that addresses climate change? What would be the top priority that should be done at the state level to have the greatest impact to stem climate change?
There are several that come to mind right now. Senator Pensky was the champion of the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022. He is the Chair of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. In the House of Delegate, Kumar Barve, Chair of the Education and Transportation Committee was instrumental in the CSN Act. Delegates Charcoudian, Stewart, Stein and Fraser-Hidalgo have done a good job. Former Delegate Lierman was also very good and was just elected to be Comptroller!
I believe that decarbonizing buildings should be near the top of the list. Also there is a lot of dirty energy sources that are included in the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS – those sources that are considered renewable in Maryland) that should be removed. For example, electricity produced from trash incineration gets Clean Energy credits, while studies have determined that they have significant health impacts on nearby residents, most of which are from minority communities.
A second item that should be near the top of the list is reforming the EmPOWER program.
The EmPOWER Maryland Low Income Energy Efficiency Program (LIEEP) helps residents of low income households install energy conservation materials in their homes at no charge. However, this program is managed by the Energy Companies (BGE, etc) and does not support transition from methane gas to electricity.
I’ve heard that a vast majority of the production of the most harmful things comes from a small group of companies. What are those companies? What is the best way of trying to change this? Are our individual actions directly impacting this (for example, if one of the companies produces cars, does changing our reliance on cars actually help)? Or is it better to focus on regulations or other things that might make more systemic change?
Here is a website that shows where the 70,000 largest polluters in the world are located. (fastcompany.com/90808187/this-map-shows-exactly-where-70000-of-the-worlds-biggest-polluters-are-located). There is no best way to solve this problem. It will take a combination of citizen activism (including boycotts), new laws, regulations and enforcement actions are all needed. The proposed Environmental Human Rights Amendment to the Maryland Constitution last year would have helped! Consider joining organizations
How can we encourage the government to ask for individuals to “Sacrifice” like they did during WWII? For example, share rides, grow a garden, buy local, etc?
Saul Griffith in his book Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future, makes a compelling argument that, were we to fully implement green solar and wind energy that “sacrifice” would not be necessary. There are several reasons for this.
- According to a DOE study at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for all energy sources, slightly more than 67% was “rejected energy”. It is the part of the energy which is produced but not used. In other words, we only need about ⅓ of the energy that we now consume.
- Carbon based fuels are inherently inefficient, using coal in generating electricity is only about 33% efficient and methane gas is between 42% and 60% efficient. Part of this is due to incomplete combustion and part of it is heat that goes up the smoke stack.
- Of course solar collectors and wind turbines are inefficient, but in a different manner. The protons that are not converted to electricity in a solar panel do not cost anything, where the gas or coal does. The same is true for the wind turbine, the wind energy that is not converted to electricity has no cost
- Internal combustion gasoline automobiles are between 12% and 30% efficient. Again, incomplete combustion and heat out of the tailpipe are the culprits. Compare this to electric vehicles (EVs) where the only inefficiency (~10% to 14%) in in conversion from electricity to chemical in the battery. Right now and EV costs range between 3 and 4 cents per mile while a gas powered automobile range between 14 and 20 cents per mile.
- Of the total energy produced (to be used in the US) 6.5% is used to find, mine, refine and transport fossil fuels.
Information about the Howard County Green Bin is here — howardcountymd.gov/public-works/feed-green-bin
Starting in April, 5,600 households in the Wilde Lake and Centennial Lane neighborhoods were eligible to join their neighbors in the Feed The Green Bin food scrap collection program. It appears that the program is growing!
Pizza boxes are not recyclable because they are contaminated. And even worse, that grease can contaminate the other objects in the recycling bin and make it all unusable. However, there may be clean parts that are recyclable, like the top of the box. The contaminated part of the box can and should be composted!