Op/Ed

Climate Matters: Climb the climate mountain

STEVE MAIER

18th in a series

Two years ago, scientists were telling us that we needed to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and to zero by 2050. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2018 report established a target global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius. It may not sound like a lot, but The Climate Reality Project summarized it this way:

“Holding global warming to the … target of 1.5 degrees Celsius will be a big ask and require rapid and large-scale transformations of our economies and development paths. We have a short window to hit this goal, but holding warming to about 1.5 degrees is the difference between a world we can adapt to and one threatening life planet-wide.”

Now, two years later, the climate crisis is still here, only the problems are bigger and the timeframes for action are shorter. Three weeks ago, the scientists at the IPCC issued an update that, among other somber things, stated that we must make greenhouse gas emission reductions faster. Roughly speaking, the scientists are now saying that the changes we all needed to do by 2030 (which were hard enough), now need to be done by 2025.

Pause a moment to let it sink in …

OK, enough science for now. That’s about all I can take on any given day.

But, the question looms: How do we live and act with this knowledge?

The climate mountain is large and the road over and to the other side is long and uncertain. But there are many things we can do now that we know will keep us moving up the mountain.

I want to suggest a general goal or strategy for climate action: “Electrify Everything.” One of the take-aways from the recent update from the scientists is that humans should no longer purchase any new fossil fuel infrastructure. It is reasonable to translate that at the personal and local levels as something like, “No New Machines that Run on Fossil Fuel.”

Here are some examples, starting with the easier ones:

  • Electric lawn mowers, weed whackers, chain saws, etc. They are available, effective and price competitive. They are also quieter and healthier. Of course, mowing less lawn and mowing what’s left less often would be very good on the carbon, noise and health fronts, and also do a favor for pollinators.
  • Electric vehicles — largely the same story as above: available, effective and competitive on cost. And once you drive one, you’ll never want to go back. New models are appearing all the time, and many are now available in all-wheel drive. There are also more and more used EVs now for sale. EV charging on longer trips (out of state) is improving all the time, but can still be a concern. If you need to regularly drive out of state, there are plug-in hybrids that let you run on electricity only for shorter trips, but then switch to gas.
  • No new gas stove tops. Electric alternatives are available and work better. If you are a gas-stove devotee, I invite you to come check out our induction stove (dinner could be included). Once you test-drive one, you won’t want to go back to (fracked) “natural” gas.
  • Heat pumps are good alternatives for oil or gas furnaces or boilers, hot water heaters, and clothes dryers. But the selection and installation of heat pumps can be more complicated and usually require some professional help.

One uncomfortable truth, however, is that even if we do all these things, it will not be enough to reach greenhouse gas reduction goals, and it probably won’t be close. Some of the necessary changes will require actions beyond the consumer choices that individuals can make. Policies and decisions at the community, corporate and political levels will need to change, and change quickly, if we are to get further up the climate mountain.

However, there are ways for us individually or in groups to engage with entities that have the power to make such larger decisions, and we need more people locally to be involved with these kinds of advocacy actions.

Here are a few local examples:

  • Middlebury College has recently purchased land in Middlebury to be used for low- and moderate-income and work force housing. This presents a great opportunity at the community level to make sure that this new development is net-zero in terms of energy and does not install any new fossil fuel infrastructure. But early inquiries suggest it may take quite a lot of attention and advocacy to enable this to happen. Would you like to help with a project like that?
  • The Hannaford Career Center recently received voter approval to upgrade its buildings and systems. They have proposed a new gas-fired boiler. It is unclear whether they even considered electric heat pump options. After almost two months of requesting information, I have still not received a substantive response. Does anyone out there know anyone there that might help?
  • And, of course, advocacy for different policies needs to happen at the local, state and federal levels. Letter-writing campaigns maybe? Can you show up at local selectboard meetings?
  • Climate problems and solutions always involve issues of justice and equity. Are you interested in those?
  • There are many more of these types of decisions. Would you like to be part of a team to help identify them and work for climate-friendlier solutions?

Climate work is hard and, at times, frustrating. The climate mountain is large, too large for me to have confidence that we will make it to the other side. It is useful to know from the scientists what needs to be done and it is important to dream that it can be done. But day-to-day we need to take care of ourselves, or it is too easy to get depressed and burned out. These are the kinds of things that work for me:

  • Sing, dance, walk, play games, exercise
  • Plant seeds, tend gardens
  • Interact with people and other beings; be in relationship, be a part of a community
  • Find ways to bring joy and love to the work
  • Read poetry.

The climate crisis will increasingly define the work that humans are called to do. And we must do it even though it is unclear if or how we will make it over the mountain. It will help immensely if we can do it in community, in relationship, and with love.

—————

Steve Maier, a former member of the Vermont House, currently serves on the Middlebury Energy Committee and is a founding board member of CEAC, the Climate Economy Action Center.

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