What on EARTH?! emails: May 2018
May 4, 2018
Institutional divestment from fossil fuel companies is gaining serious momentum. Today, nearly 900 institutions with over $6 trillion in investments are in various stages of divesting from fossil fuels, along with over 58,000 individuals. Divestment is no longer seen as just a symbolic or moral act anymore. Many now see it as a fiscally responsible decision, including the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world (Norway’s) which is worth $1 trillion.
One of the strongest and most symbolic moves came this January from the financial powerhouse of New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to completely divest the city’s $189 billion of pension funds from fossil fuels. De Blasio simultaneously announced a lawsuit against the five fossil fuel companies who have contributed the most to climate change. New York is “seeking to collect billions of dollars in damages to pay for city efforts to cope with the effects of climate change.” Their rationale? “Oil companies were aware for years that burning fossil fuels caused climate change but hid the conclusions of their own scientists.” This is huge.
New York joins major cities around the world such as Washington D.C., San Francisco, Paris, Melbourne, Oslo, Capetown, and Berlin to name a few. Even a couple Rockefellerorganizations have joined the party.
This is all welcome news as divestment has proven to be effective before. It played a significant role in South Africa in the 80’s and 90’s when the voices and actions of people around the world eventually helped to force the hand of the few in power to end apartheid.
The last time there was this much CO2 in the atmosphere (>400ppm) was 3 million years ago. Back then, temperatures were 2°C to 3°C (3.6°Fto 5.4°F) higher than preindustrial temps. Sea levels were 50-80 feet (15-25 meters) higher than they are today.
Sea levels have risen 8 inches since 1880 due to melting land ice and warmer oceans which causes water to expand (90% of global warming goes into the ocean). 8 inches may not sound huge, but sea level rise started accelerating in the ’90’s. NOAA estimates we’ll have an additional 1 to 8 feet* (.3 to 2.5 meters) of sea level rise by 2100. Estimates used to be lower, but experts have been significantly increasing them as they learn more about how ice melts at the poles. All eyes are on Antarctica and Greenland which hold 220 feet of potential sea level rise at bay in their ice.
Let’s start minimizing our emissions ASAP, shall we?
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Take sustainable action
Driving strategy. This is not an endorsement for driving. As I say in “How to Effectively Fight Climate Change”, being carless is the best. However, the reality is most of us drive at least sometimes. I drive when I can’t (or really don’t want to) walk, bike, or take public transportation to get from A to B. But when you are behind the wheel, it’s best to be smart about it right? Maximizing fuel efficiency is a win-win for your wallet and your carbon footprint. Just one gallon of fuel turns into 20 pounds of CO2.
By watching your speed, and accelerating and braking smoothly, you could save up to ~33% more gas according to the EPA. Using national averages, reducing fuel by 33% would save you ~ $450 a year and keep ~ 3,600 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere. This style of driving is generally less aggressive and safer as well. On average, cars are most efficient going 50 mph. To give you an idea, you’re paying an extra dollar per gallon going 80 mph compared to 50 mph.
Since learning this, I have made driving a bit of a game (I put safety first though obviously!) I try to accelerate smoothly, brake infrequently, and coast often. I look way ahead for stoplights and try to time it so I don’t have to stop. On the highway, I stay as close to 60 mph as possible…so be nice to those slowpokes – it might be me!
Other tips: Idling is wasteful if it’s for more than 10 seconds, keep your tires pumped, clean out any heavy stuff lying around in your car, and carpooling rocks!
Highlighting someone awesome
Jean-Pierre Goux and Michaël Boccara are the founders of Blueturn.earth (which they do on top of their regular jobs). Blueturn aims to generate a new enthusiasm for the protection of our planet thanks to the overview effect. The overview effect is a mindset-shift experienced by most astronauts as they look at the Earth from outer space. They are transformed to having a new profound love for the Earth and a deep feeling of oneness with others and life in general.
In 2016 Jean-Pierre and Michaël made it possible for people to see videos of the whole Earth from space for the first time ever by stitching together static pictures from NASA’s DSCOVR satellite (even NASA was impressed). They share these videos freely in hopes that they will evoke a similar mindset-shift for those who see them. The mesmerizing video of Earth on the Crowdsourcing Sustainability homepage (desktop only) is their handy work in action!
If this is up your alley, I highly recommend this twenty minute “short movie” called Planetary. It is a series of interviews of astronauts discussing the overview effect with awesome shots of Earth from space. Jean-Pierre’s Ted Talk is also pretty sweet (you may have to turn on English subtitles).
May 11, 2018
Portugal is proving that it is technically possible to safely and reliably run a power grid with high levels of renewable energy. In March they produced more electricity from renewables than they consumed as a country (103%). They did still use fossil fuels when renewables couldn’t meet demand, but it shows what our technology is already capable of. And the technology is only getting better over time.
Portugal plans on closing its remaining two coal-fired power stations by 2030 and expects to match 100% of electricity demand (not just one month’s demand) with renewables by 2040.
The average US citizen is responsible for 19 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions each year. That’s roughly equivalent to the weight of 12 cars. To break it down further that’s 115 pounds (51kg) of greenhouse gas emissions each day. If you’re interested, I have some images that help further put this in perspective in “You are more powerful than you think. Act Accordingly”.
Although the range is extreme, the global average GHG emissions per person is around 6 tonnes. The EU and China are both under 10.
“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life you have to exchange for it, immediately or in the long run.” ~ Henry David Thoreau (full quote)
Take sustainable action
Use that bike! I was surprised when I found out that biking is actually safer than driving. Even though bikers are more likely to get in an accident on any given trip, they end up living longeron average thanks to their healthy habit. It adds up. There are many studies supporting it.
According to a 5-year study in the British Medical Journal, those who biked on their commute were 41% less likely to die than those who drove or took public transportation (the study looked at 260,000 people aged between 40 to 69 in the UK). Bikers were also 45% less likely to have heart disease or cancer. Nearly half of all deaths in the US are attributable to heart disease or cancer. Another study in the Netherlands concluded that every hour on a bike extends your life by about an hour.
70% of all car journeys could be made on a bike in less than 20 minutes. If the distance is short enough and you choose to bike, you’ll likely prevent 1 pound of CO2 from entering the atmosphere for every mile you go.
When you can, consider biking! It makes you healthier, saves you money on gas, extends the life of your car, helps save the planet, and you will feel great. Plus, biking’s FUN (duh, that’s why kids do it).
Highlighting someone awesome
John Cook has worked diligently to clearly explain what scientists know about climate change to us non-scientists. Two of John’s most impressive pieces of work are an influential paper substantiating the 97% consensus claim and the Skeptical Science website.
97% Consensus Paper: John was the lead author of an award winning paper that analyzed the expert consensus on climate change by examining the nearly 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers from 1991-2011 that contained “global climate change” or “global warming”. The paper concluded that 97% of scientists agree on global warming. It made huge waves and was even highlighted by Barack Obama and David Cameron. Not too shabby.
Skeptical Science is an award winning and highly respected website that clearly explains the peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change in an unbiased, straightforward way. Starting in 2007 with just John writing, it has now grown into a global site run by volunteers around the world. This site is fantastic – definitely check it out if you have any questions on the science of climate change.
I was fortunate enough to speak with John – he’s a gem! I found the following to be particularly powerful:
(to make the following more realistic, imagine an easy-going Australian accent for ‘JC’ and a somewhat star-struck ‘RH’ trying to play it cool)
RH: Why do you do what you do? What motivates you?
JC: People. Climate change is about people. Especially the people who have contributed the least to causing it. It’s not just an environmental issue, but a social justice issue.”
RH: Is there anything you’d like to tell readers directly?
JC: Breaking the climate silence is key to building social momentum. This will lead to political momentum, which in turn, will lead to larger climate action…Every action we do today, every little bit of progress now will help down the line.
May 18, 2018
And although not enough is being done by government (including negative progress at the federal level), the will of the people for action on climate change in the US is strong:
- 82% support funding research into renewable energy sources.
- 74% support regulating CO2 as a pollutant.
- 69% think global warming will harm future generations
We’re starting to get it! We now need to translate these desires into actions, quickly.
The strong support for sustainable policies is impressive considering we still haven’t fully grasped the severity of our situation, or what it means for us personally. The maps below highlight a key misunderstanding. We think climate change is more likely to affect other people than it is to affect us personally. This is likely due to an optimism bias that 80% of us have (the same cognitive bias that explains why 90% of people think they’re better than average drivers).
58% of adults think global warming will harm others in the US, yet only 42% think it will harm them personally. For people to grasp the true weight of this issue, and thus treat it accordingly, it’s important to understand that climate change will, to varying degrees, affect everyone in the near future.
This is important because we need to act quickly. If more people understood that they will be personally affected by climate change, they would care about it a lot more and respond to it accordingly.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” – Albert Einstein or George Finlay Simmons…it’s unclear who said it…and beside the point 😉
Take sustainable action
People shop online all the time. The amount of packages delivered in the US has nearly doubled in the last decade. As a consumer, there are a couple of easy things you can do to minimize your carbon footprint.
But first, I will risk annoying you to state the most important message: buying something we don’t actually need is just a waste of money, space, and greenhouse gas emissions that go into making the product and delivering it. We all have things lying around, gathering dust, that we’d be better off having never bought in the first place. So, before buying something, take time to double check: Do I really need this? Will it be used regularly?
Assuming you do need it, the following will help to minimize your carbon footprint:
- Optimize shipping options.
- If you need to get multiple things, order them together as much as possible so they come in one delivery and one package.
- Choose “no rush” shipping instead of 2-day delivery when you can. Why? Expedited shipping means companies send out trucks that aren’t full to get our products to us quicker. This ultimately means more miles driven by trucks and more of them on the road.
- When offered and if convenient for you, choose to pick up items from a centralized location (in a locker at a public location). This prevents trucks from having to go “the last mile” to every single person’s door.
- If you’re shopping on Amazon, use smile.amazon.com when you buy stuff so a portion of the money goes to an organization of your choice. I did some research and believe Cool Earth is most effective at minimizing emissions. They help prevent the deforestation of rainforests, while simultaneously improving the quality of life for people in these communities.
Highlighting someone awesome
I met Lucy at a climate change event in Boston last fall during HUBweek. We created a group to discuss what it’s like talking to people about climate change and how it can be done better.
Lucy is a freelance journalist covering social justice, environmental justice, and women. She can seemingly do everything: articles, interviews, documentaries, breaking news, etc. and has done work for The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, BBC, Greenpeace, TIME, PRI, and CNN.
My favorite work of hers is a 30-minute documentary where she goes down to Antarctica. You get to hear from all the passionate people on the expedition, see some beautiful shots, and learn more about Antarctica as it relates to climate change alongside Lucy – it’s quite authentic. If you’re going to watch, I recommend scrolling down and reading in between the ~5 minute videos, but you can also watch the 30 minutes in one chunk.
I’m looking forward to watching the 360 video project on deforestation in the Amazon that she’s currently working on (how cool is that?!?). You can follow Lucy on Twitter @sherrifflucyor Instagram @sherriff.lucy.
May 25, 2018
The electric vehicle revolution may play out faster than you think! This is huge as cars and trucks are responsible for 10% of greenhouse gases globally.
Cities and countries around the world are stepping up by banning sales, production, and even the presence of gas or diesel vehicles in the next two decades. Why? They intend to reduce pollution-related deaths, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost economic productivity, and make their cities both cleaner and quieter.
The following countries have said they will ban the sale of gas and diesel cars:
- Norway (by 2030)
- United Kingdom (by 2040, phaseout begins 2020)
- India (by 2030)
- France (by 2040, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050)
- Netherlands (by 2025)
- China – has not set a date yet, but they make up 30% of the global car market
Where countries haven’t stepped up yet, cities have. The mayors of Los Angeles, Paris, Mexico City, London, Seattle, Milan, Quito, Cape Town, and Auckland have all pledged to ban gas and diesel cars from being allowed in “large parts” of their city centers by 2030 while Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Vancouver banned them outright by 2030. Copenhagen’s ban on diesel starts in 2019.
Automakers see the writing on the wall as well with many planning for an all electric future.
The climate silence.
People aren’t talking about climate change enough. 65% of people in the US “rarely” or “never” talk about climate change. Only 20% say they hear people they know talk about climate change at least once a month.
Nearly 2 billion adults around the world have never even heard of climate change. One would hope that those who do know about it are at least talking about it.
As Ezra Klein wondered back in 2010, “Can we solve global warming without talking about global warming?”
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” – Robert Swan
Take sustainable action
Here’s an easy and powerful one. Speak up! Break that climate silence!
No need to get in an argument or anything obviously – that doesn’t do anyone any good. I think the sweet spot for talking about climate change is a balance of being realistic about our situation, non-judgmental, and optimistic through the fact that each of us can (and do, one way or the other) make a difference every day.
Hearing something from someone you know and trust goes way farther than hearing it from any other source. In other words, you can reach the people you know more effectively than the rest of the world can.
I challenge you to have a conversation with someone today about climate change and/or sustainability. (I’d love to hear about it too if you’d like to share!)
Highlighting someone awesome
Chris Ann Lunghino
In my opinion, Chris is a role model. She has empowered thousands to not only become more sustainable, but in many cases to be advocates for sustainability going forward. She has been successful, in part, because she brings people together around common goals and helps to form a greater sense of community.
In 2010, while living in California, she started a non-profit called Community Sustainability USA with the mission of creating a culture committed to sustainability. The organization found great success in its “My Actions Count” program, which helped to drive behavior change among people in school districts, government, and even businesses. She believes their evidence-based strategy was a big part of their success. It focused on accountability, bonding, fun, and competitions. Their message was positive so people felt good about what they were doing and, as a result, spread it to others.
After moving to Tennessee, Chris worked for the Sierra Club on the Beyond Coal campaign. She built coalitions, held monthly meetings, and put on public visibility events that garnered media attention. Perhaps most importantly, she gave hope and specific actions to people who previously felt there was nothing they could do to make a difference. She has also challenged the powers that be in the energy industry and is currently finishing up research at Vanderbilt that will help drive demand for large scale renewable energy throughout the Southeast. Next month, Chris will start a new position, directing policy and communications for Silicon Ranch, a utility scale solar developer.
When asked, “Why do you do what you do?” she laughed and said, “This is going to sound really funny, but I love everybody and everything in our world so I want to do everything that I can to help it be healthy.”
If she could put a message on a billboard, it’d read: “We are all one. Act with love for social, economic, and eco-justice.”