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Climate change: the time has come to become unreasonable

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In delaying climate change action, we are making the biggest dice roll in recent memory, argues Jae Mather.

There are three stages people go through in responding to the climate crisis: ignorance, action and desperation. We’re still in a place where a large portion of the population is in the ignorance stage.

Moving into an action stage for some people takes half a second; for others it’s years. And then there’s a desperation stage where people think, “There’s nothing I can do when it comes to this big issue, because it’s so huge.”

Because of a large portion of the population is still in varying degrees of ignorance, they think that changing a lightbulb or putting out their plastic for recycling is going to solve the problem. They don’t really know much about it, don’t necessarily believe there is a problem or think that there are people in government or business that are sorting everything out. For the people who know a little bit, but who are still in ignorance mode, they often think they’re doing their bit.

Click here to read The Guide to Climate Change 2013

This can be looked at as a form of slacktivism, where people think retweeting or clicking ‘like’ on something is a sufficient enough action to have done their bit. The reality is that our bit that we have to do is so gigantic that we need action on a much larger scale. Slacktivism does have its merits, though, because some of the people who ‘like’ or retweet things actually end up doing much more about it.

What we need to be doing in reality is looking at a complete transition from a linear economy into a circular, closed-loop one where there is no waste because the end products from one piece of the cycle become the beginning products for another. This is a return back to natural systems.

We’re all brought up being taught that our job as a citizen is to buy, eat, consume and then die, and that is wrong.

That fundamental shift is going to be such a tremendous thing for not only business and governance, but also for civil society. This is the biggest piece of behavioural change engineering that our civilisation will have ever experienced.

That’s why when people try to crack the door open to understand it, they see that fundamentally, things are going to have to radically shift so much for us to actually have a prosperous, safe, sustainable world, they flock right through the action stage and into desperation instead. Then they often get stuck thinking, “There’s nothing I can do, it’s too big, it’s too tremendous, I’m just me.”

It’s very important for people to be informed and to understand the gravity of the situation. A famous Navajo proverb says, “You cannot see the future with tears in your eyes.” That is based around the concept that you’ve got to understand the reality where you are, but if you stay in desperation, you can’t do anything.

You have to understand the reality where we are to get on with the business of living: the shift in the way our living works, behaves and acts.

A large portion of the green world is learning from the two different approaches to sustainable communication. One, sell the threats; two, sell the opportunities. And more and more people, especially from the marketing and communications world, are saying it’s all about opportunities.

I’ve seen it shift quite quickly and radically over the last 10 years towards that opportunity focus, but my view is that there are certain cultures in the world that are more adept at things when they’re on their knees. That’s when we become creative.

Changing a lightbulb still matters because what it’s vitally important for, much more so than the energy you save, is to see something that can be done differently. It’s important to say, “I plugged this in instead of the old thing. It does the same job, produces just as much light, uses 80% less energy and lasts 10 times as long.” That is the message.

We need to get people to think that we have many unquestioned ‘normal’ behaviours that are inefficient. And that applies everywhere. The reality is our grandparents had a Sunday roast; they didn’t have a roast seven days a week like we do. Why has this become normal over a fairly short period of time?

Today, the average household spends 10-12% of its income on food. This is incredibly low. In medieval times, and for many people today in the developing world, it is 60-70%. We’ve become so used to the concept that food is cheap that we waste it, often without much thought.

Procurement and purchasing are the core of how we can make a difference. You can say, “I’m not going to buy x, y and z because I don’t need them.” That’s the most important thing. It’s not reduce, reuse, recycle; its refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. Refuse is the starting point.

The marketing world has played upon the weakness in the human psychology which is that we are an addictive species. We get addicted to ideas and concepts. We are addicted to oil. We are addicted to consumption. We are addicted to immediacy. That’s why Facebook and Twitter have taken off so much – because our species is hard-wired for immediate gratification.

We get that gratification when someone retweets your tweet, which is hilarious when you think about it. What has it actually accomplished? Some of it is brilliant and vital, and does a lot; a lot of it does absolutely nothing.

Someone once said to me, “Twitter is amazing. Look what it did in the Arab spring.” Yes, but they tweeted and went outside and did something. In the West, we tweet and then we tweet again. We don’t do things. That’s the fundamental disconnect.

Our entire economy has to be redesigned for it to function. It’s holding everything as it is. That’s fine, if it was giving us what we want. But we don’t want the world that’s coming, so it’s time to become unreasonable with these belief systems and management structures.

It’s time to lift our eyes up and staring off into the horizon to see that gigantic cliff that is rushing towards us. We need to think, “Wait a minute. Where are the brakes? How can I turn off this road? How can I actually stop? How can I change things so that we actually have a world that is worthwhile?

Nothing is inevitable. Our species is capable of amazing things. I want to be completely surprised at how quickly we evolve, and I know we can. So ultimately, this is the biggest dice roll in recent memory. And the threat is us.

What do we owe all of our ancestors that came through so much to get us all here? And what do we owe our children? Do we owe them a world of absolute and utter hellish desperation because of our ignorance and stupidity?

Currently it looks like we are going to be the hated generation in the future because of what we didn’t do. We need more people to say, “Enough is enough.”

As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.”

Jae Mather is the director of sustainability at HW Fisher & Company and the Carbon Free Group.

Further reading:

The climate clock is ticking. Normal isn’t working. What should we do differently?

We need more people with complete sustainability literacy

Cracking down on environmental offenders: the law and the environment

Climate change? Let’s talk about…

From austerity to scarcity: the coming global crisis

Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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