Discover more from Climate Musings for all Shapes & Sizes
Earth Day Special: Am I a climate hypocrite?
The first step... admitting you have a problem
Hey folks — we’re coming at you with an Earth Day special centered around personal climate reflection. Hopefully this is a fun and thought-provoking twist on the content we have been publishing thus far.
As always, please click the subscribe button if you enjoy these Musings and share with your friends, family, and colleagues who may enjoy them as well.
Happy Earth Day! 🌳🌳🌳
My Theory of Change
As I’ve written previously, the world is facing a massive challenge — limiting warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius by cutting global emissions in half by 2030 and reaching net zero global emissions by 2050.
Today is an especially auspicious day toward reaching that goal as the USA announced its commitment to cut emissions in half by 2030 (…about time!)
When I heard the news this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder what my personal role in this journey will be. While I fundamentally believe in change at-scale through large institutions, I can appreciate the role that grass-roots initiatives play in summing up to a larger, collective movement.
So allow me to offer myself up for slaughter… 🐷
Am I practicing what I preach? Or am I part of the problem?
Introspection can be difficult without a guiding framework. So let's use the 5 sectors that encompass a majority of the global CO2 emissions to answer these questions:
What does good look like for personal climate behavior? and…
What do I look like? Good, bad, or ugly
Power (~25% of emissions)
Context: The majority of global power emissions stem from coal power — roughly 2/3 of the total, with rates varying widely by region. Renewables are scaling quickly, but even renewables have some marginal footprint involved in the end-to-end mining, logistics, and construction.
What good looks like? This one is easy. Good looks like finding ways to source clean, low-carbon power and reducing consumption + increasing efficiency where possible. Fortunately, some utilities offer a clean-power opt-in program where you pay a little bit more, but ensure they are sourcing clean power to account for your footprint.
What do I look like? Starting off right. I’ve chosen to opt into MI Green Power through DTE for 100% clean electricity and have recently improved the insulation and efficiency of appliances at my home.
Keeton’s score: 😀 good!
Industry (~25% of emissions)
Context: Industrial emissions stem largely from steel, cement, and petrochemicals production. These sectors are especially hard-to-abate given the high temperature requirements involved in the processes and inherent process emissions (the chemistry of cement literally creates CO2). Fossil fuels are just too dang good for these use cases today.
What good looks like? This one is a bit harder given the institutional scale of emitters, but I’d propose that ‘good’ here is limiting consumption where possible and practicing the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.
What do I look like? Given that reducing and reusing come first, I’d admit that I am a relatively heavy consumer of goods. However, I try and recycle whenever I can, have a compost bin at home thanks to my significant other, and generally avoid building massive concrete and steel structures in my back yard…
Keeton’s score: 🆗 decent…
Transport (~20% of emissions)
Context: This sector is perhaps the most straight-forward to understand. Emissions stem mostly from road transportation (about a 50-50 split between commercial and passenger vehicles) with about 1/4 of the total emissions stemming from air and marine travel.
What good looks like? Electrification! While the net benefit of electric vehicles is not absolute due to a carbon-intensive grid, switching to electric vehicles when affordable is a long-term decision that will only get better as the grid gets cleaner. Additionally, limiting air travel when possible, riding on public transportation, and walking / biking to local destinations is best practice.
What do I look like? Not great… I’ve given up the weekly air-travel from my consulting days, but I still drive a gas-powered car (I love driving a stick shift…) and I don’t use public transportation nearly as much as I should.
Keeton’s score: 😥 Ugly…
Land-use & Agriculture (~15% of emissions)
Context: The majority of emissions attributed to land use and agriculture globally come from deforestation, agricultural methane1 emissions from animals (literally cows burping), crops (decomposition of rice), and waste or landfill emissions.
What good looks like? Given the above, practicing what you preach means living in a relatively small footprint dwelling, with lots of trees or plants nearby, supporting strong local and state parks, and limiting consumption of meat.
What do I look like? I definitely support Michigan state and local parks and have trees and shrubs around my house — but that house is single-family rather than a dense, multi-unit option — and I fail badly on the meat front. I love a good steak. And I indulge too frequently. (no thanks to the BBQ place across the street).
Keeton’s score: 😐 Bad.
Buildings (~10% of emissions)
Context: Cooking and heating homes make up the bulk of the carbon footprint attributed to the building sector if we count the electricity usage associated with buildings in the “Power” category.
What good looks like? Given the above, good would look like electrical appliances — stove, water heater, laundry units — and a bi-directional heat-pump to cool and heat your house. (remember: electrify everything!)
What do I look like? Going the wrong direction — don’t look now but I just replaced my electrical range with a gas range. As far as heating goes, heat-pumps are not as efficient today as they’d need to be to operate in cold weather… so it is tough to make a replacement there yet. As far as appliances go, the pleasure of cooking on a gas stove is not one that I’ve been willing to give up to date.
Keeton’s score: 😥 Ugly…
Putting one foot in front of the other 🎵
In summary: 😀🆗😥😐😥
I’ve got a long way to go.
Let’s acknowledge that this is really difficult. I think about climate change 40+ hours a week in my day job, but I score poorly on the grassroots / at-home initiatives front.
Behaviors don’t change overnight, but I am a firm believer in putting one foot in front of the other… soon we’ll be walking out the door!
I’d invite you all to take a moment and perform the same exercise on Earth Day — I am confident the vast majority of you will score better than I did and inspire me further!
Until next time…
Methane is another greenhouse gas that has a higher relative impact than CO2 (roughly 20-80x depending on the time scale you talk about). If you want to learn more, I’d encourage you to look into the global warming potential for different gases — a good source found here: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials