Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reducing Energy Demand: It’s Not Only About Technology And It Doesn’t Always Require Experts

In transforming our world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions there’s room for the creativity of all of us.

In our simulation modeling of the transition to a low-carbon economy, we find plenty of policies and actions with huge potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon prices, investment in renewable energy, and investment in a new energy infrastructure all have a part to play. But most of the successful scenarios we find in our simulation runs also have another element – reductions in energy demand.

Technology, from more efficient appliances to highly fuel efficient vehicles, has a lot to contribute to reducing energy demand.

But that is only part of the story.

People are also, without any new technologies or inventions, coming together to create systems that accomplish the same goals with less use of energy.

One of my favorite examples from recent months was reported in the Washington Post.
A class of second-graders, concerned about climate change, looked at the line of cars picking up children in front of their school each afternoon. If only we could make the pick-ups go more quickly, they reasoned, there’d be less idling, less waste of gas, and less greenhouse gas pollution.

Thinking and learning together, the kids came up with a system where pick-up times were staggered, every few minutes, based on the first letter of a family’s last name. Not only did the amount of idling decrease, but parents reported less hassle and less stress from waiting in long, slow-moving lines of traffic!

There are similar examples in most communities, if we’d just take the time to stop and look. In my neighborhood, for instance, we use an email listserve, which often has requests for “anyone going grocery shopping who could pick up one thing”, cutting done the number of trips by car we all need to make.

Urban design that makes cities more walkable. Bike sharing systems that make it easier to get around without a car. Ideas like these don’t need scientific breakthroughs (although we could use a few of those too). Thinking smarter about our energy use mostly requires imagination and a willingness to experiment.

And, if the quotes from the second-graders are any indication, we might just discover that coming up with new ideas is very fun and satisfying too!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Three Reasons To Keep On Working on Climate Education and Energy Policy

“Wow.  I just want to cry.  Please tell me we are making a difference.”’
Those were the words of a colleague today after she watched a  video illustrating a recent Bill McKibben essay about a rising tide of climate change symptoms around the world.
Many months have passed since the disappointments of Copenhagen and the failure to pass climate legislation in the United States.
Facing urgency from the planetary physics and gridlock in the political process, it is probably natural to feel discouragement at times.

But there are good reasons to believe we are making a difference, and good reasons to keep on going.

Here are three that keep me going: 
While it may feel like time is running out, time is also on our side.
  1. Climate symptoms will become stronger and more convincing with the passage of time, and so will the lessons from those trail-blazing communities that have already leaped into the transition to clean energy and begun to reap the benefits in cleaner air and better jobs. If we keep moving ahead and doing our best, the dynamics of the system are destined to provide us with lift and support. Keeping going means that we are planting our seeds, strengthening our networks and building our capacity to seize the moments that a changing climate and cutting edge energy experimenters will offer as time passes
  2. No one can predict the evolution of attitudes and beliefs.
    Just like the climate system, human systems of attitudes and beliefs are complex and non-linear, with tipping points where change becomes unstoppable. If you made a graph of these patterns there would be a long, flat ‘tail’ rising suddenly and steeply when a critical threshold is passed. We can’t know where those thresholds are until we’ve crossed them, but they are one reason to keep on writing, speaking, teaching, analyzing, organizing, voting, lobbying, and doing whatever we can. Keeping going means adding, little by little,  to the cumulative total of small actions that could someday carry us over a critical threshold.
  3.  There isn’t a point where it makes sense to stop trying, saying ‘all is lost.’
    Every tenth of a degree of temperature increase prevented means better odds of survival for some species somewhere, or some community sometime in the future. When it comes to climate change, making a difference isn’t so much a matter of solving the problem once and for all as it is tilting the odds and keeping more options open.
So there you are, three ideas that keep me going, convinced we are making a difference. Without doubt there are more than these three.

What are some more? Why do you keep going?