Are You Ready to Volunteer in Your Community on Green Issues?

It has been almost 2 years since I wrote my first post on this blog. The objective was to share my own experience in trying to make a biggest impact on climate change. I also set out to share knowledge and resources with others who are also interested in fighting climate change. One of the best resources I came across is right in my community – Green Newton. Green Newton’s “Take Action” tool is an excellent way to assess and take steps to make a difference. In includes steps span form actions you can start immediately and don’t cost anything, such as changing your thermostat settings, to more substantive investments such as heat pumps or electric vehicles.

Earlier this year, I decided to join the board of Green Newton, as another commitment and step in my learning. As I got the know the other board members, I gained tremendous admiration for their dedication and time commitment to the organization. As I thought about my journey, I asked Marcia Cooper (President of Green Newton) and Sunwoo Kahng about their experiences and wanted to share it here.

Can you share how you got involved in the climate movement and Green Newton?  

Marcia: After hearing about Green Newton in the early 1990’s, I became a member and began working together with other volunteers on the organization’s bi-monthly newsletter mailing. Participating in other occasional volunteer activities seemed easy enough to fit into my typical routines, and in 2005, when asked to serve on Green Newton’s Board of Directors, I said “yes” without missing a beat. The commitment of fellow board members and the organization’s positive influence in the community was so impressive to me that in 2008, when asked to serve as the group’s president, I agreed, never imagining that some 13 years later, I would still feel so enriched by serving in that capacity.  

Sunwoo: I’d always been curious but uncommitted about environmentalism. We ended up buying a tear down because I loved the walkability of the location but also because there were not many houses on the market. I thought if we were to spend all those resources to build a new house, I wanted it to be sustainable so that it would be a better house for the future. We built to the LEED standard and I learned a lot about sustainable building overseeing much of the construction—not many knew what sustainable building meant back in 2006.  That was the beginning of my active interest in sustainability and it has deepened through the last 13 years.

I joined Green Newton once we moved here and ran the organic garden tour for several years. When Green Newton decided in 2014 to invest more heavily in a new website and e-newsletters, I volunteered to manage it. I have a background in information science.

There are so many areas to address with climate change, what topics are you most passionate about? How do you select the areas to invest your time? 

Marcia: While environmental advocacy is right up there, my highest priority is to inform people about how they can make a difference in reducing our community’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Everyone needs to know that around 61% of Newton’s greenhouse gas emissions is attributed to our energy use in our homes, and from our vehicles. Our decisions and personal actions can make a huge positive difference. My wish is that each individual would make a commitment to “use less and green the rest”, which is the essence of the City’s “4 Our Future” campaign. Though there are various energy-saving steps for everyone to take, the most impactful four are: insulate and air seal your home, upgrade heating system with heat pump technology, purchase an electric vehicle when it’s time to replace a vehicle and install solar if possible. 

Sunwoo: Though I have an interest in sustainable building because of my own home building experience, my personal passion is zero waste. I spent my years at Mason-Rice creating and running a composting program for all PTO events, and then joined the City’s Sustainable Materials Management Commission to try to work more broadly in the city. I don’t work an outside job and decided I would be the primary one in our family to give back to the community. I have the advantage of being able to devote a lot of my time to unpaid work and therefore can take on bigger roles. Good or bad, this City relies heavily on volunteers to get much of its good work done.

What are the most rewarding aspects of volunteering at Green Newton? 

Marcia: It is most exciting to see how we’ve helped hundreds of households to get Mass Save Home Energy Assessments — and in the past two years — over 100 households to upgrade to heat pump technology, and over 100 homes to go solar. Green Newton leaders also collaborate with Newton’s EV Task Force to assist folks with obtaining detailed information about electric vehicle models, prices, miles on a charge and incentives.  For me, it has been a unique opportunity to work with a wonderful group of citizens and city leaders, who are equally determined to help in one way or another to achieve significant environmental progress in our community.     

Sunwoo: I feel a sense of community and support for my beliefs regarding environmental responsibility. Sometimes it can feel lonely advocating for sustainability (like the Lorax!). In the last few years, I feel Green Newton is having more impact on changes in the city, and is really being heard more. That is very rewarding. We have to continue to grow our mailing list and encourage more passionate people to join the effort.

Can you suggest some good resources for people to learn what they can do to make an impact in their daily lives? 

Marcia: My top recommendation is to start with the Green Newton’s Take Action tool that can be found at https://community.massenergize.org/greennewton/actions, and under the “Things you can do” heading on www.greennewton.org, there’s a a number of excellent ideas for making an impactAdditionally, if anyone needs help to make decisions pertaining to weatherization upgrades at home, it makes a lot of sense to contact the city’s Energy Coach, Liora Silkes at  lsilkes@newtonma.gov 

Sunwoo: Start small and start with something that is meaningful to you. It may be reducing how much food you waste, buying less stuff, going meatless once a week, changing to LED bulbs, etc. Then keep adding bigger steps like getting a home energy assessment or considering EVs for your next car purchase. I was taught waste is bad growing up. That is a big motivator for me in all the climate action I take. Talking to people who have made changes and getting that feeling of support and community is big. There are so many resources on the internet to educate yourself and get ideas.

What recommendations do you have for people who want to get more involved in affecting climate change?  

Marcia: Good question!  We would appreciate getting more help to connect with local community groups, such as religious congregations, clubs and book groups, in order to schedule brief presentations on the “4 Our Future” campaign.  Also, it would be great to share Green Newton’s social media messages and bring more attention to our climate advocacy, programs and initiatives.  Our Youth Leadership Program is open to high school students, and residents of all ages are welcome to participate in Green Newton’s ongoing efforts to make a big environmental difference in our community.  Please contact marcia@greennewton.org to learn more.

Sunwoo: Keep up with the local politics on climate action and be vocal, join an environmental group to get support and learn how to affect change. Lot of the members of Green Newton’s board have passion projects and pursue them, often with the organization’s support. We can’t individually do it all, but as more of us take part, we can effect dramatic change. Lean on other like-minded people if you get discouraged. Remember that whatever we do, we are lessening the burden our children will have to bear

The experience and dedication that Marcia and Sunwoo bring to Green Newton is impressive. I hope over the years I can make an impact as well, and learn from all the volunteers at Green Newton. Are you ready to dive in? Start by learning more about the environmental organizations in your community. You can start with small steps.

KnowCarbon Good News – Nov 6

With COP26 in full swing in Glasgow, there has been a flurry of news. Some positive, some alarming. I like to focus on the good news stories, as it helps motivate me more. Here are some of the stories I have read in the past few weeks.

Clean energy could save American lives to tune of $700 billion per year

At COP26, more than 100 countries commit to reducing methane emissions

Plant from plastics: Bio-based polymers can be transformed into fertilizer

California Just Passed 5 Mega Laws to Fight the Plastic Crisis

What are the best stories you have read?

Great Ideas on Climate Change and Halloween

It can be spooky times for people concerned with climate change. However, with Halloween this weekend and the start of the holiday season, it is also important to also have fun and celebrate with friends. Here are some stories and tips I came across on what you can do to celebrate Halloween and still be green.

Whether you are planning a party, buying candy, decorating or trying to come up with a costume here are some great ideas from Ecowatch 6 Tricks for a Green Halloween, and 10 Green Halloween Tips from the World Wildlife Fund.

According to the World Economic Forum, in the United States, where most of the 900,000 tons of pumpkin produced annually will be trashed, rather than used as food or composted. In the last week it I have seen stories on smashing pumpkins and increase composting. Locally in Newton, Massachusetts where I live, the city is putting on a pumpkin smash.

What are you going to do this year? What suggestions do you have? What great articles and ideas have you seen? Please share

More Learnings From “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”

Although I finished Bill Gates “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” book a few months ago, I have been a little busy to get the learnings written up. In my last post I highlighted how emissions in US and Europe are going down, that electrification is critical, and the impact of manufacturing steel and cement.

In the second part of the book, Gates covers “How We Grow Things”, “How We Get Around’, How We Stay Cool and Stay Warm”, as well as diving into solutions and the role of government. Some of the takeaways I had cover

  • Consumption and impact of cattle
  • Why the government’s role is so important and how each level has a role
  • How as individuals we can take concrete steps

Consumption and Impact of Cattle

Generally, in the US and Europe we are blessed with the riches of abundant food supply, larger homes, and relatively cheap transportation. However, this also results in a very consumption-oriented mind set, that not only has a significant impact on greenhouse gases, but produces a lot of waste. A while ago I wrote about the “minimalists”, and while I certainly live a “first world” lifestyle I strive to be more conscious of my consumption.

Meat Consumption

According to the book, raising animals is for food is a major contributor to greenhouse gases. This sector is different than construction, since the food production generates methane which is 28 times more warming per molecule versus carbon dioxide. The issue is impacted by raising crops, animals, as well as deforestation. Overall consumption of meat is flattening in the western world which helps. However, as population growth and living standards increase in third world countries this will continue to put pressure on food consumption

“Around the world, there are roughly a billion cattle raised for beef and dairy, creating a warming effect equivalent to 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, accounting for 4% of all global emissions.”  What I had not realized is that where a cow is raised has a huge impact on the amount of methane it produces. Cows in South America emit 5 times as much methane as those in North America. In addition to eating less meat, be careful as to the source of beef can have an impact. In you live in the US, buying US beef is better, and also will have reduced transportation impacts.

The Role of Government

Governments around the world are the primary leaders and can make the biggest impact. Ultimately, it is the government’s responsibility to tackle large social and climate issues, as businesses are incented in short-term profits and growth. We have a history of success. In 1962 the US enacted the Clean Air Act, and in 1970, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency to help implement it. Since 1990 emissions of nitrogen dioxide has dropped 56%, and carbon monoxide by 77%. This is good progress, but is it enough? Clearly, we need to do more.

To make a significant impact on green house gas emissions, we need to accelerate the electrification. Electric vehicles, shift to heat pumps from oil or gas. However, this also requires infrastructure changes. The electrical grids are regulated at the state level. Building codes are controlled at the local level. At the national level, the government can provide incentives and tax breaks, such as exist for buying electric vehicles. According to Yale Climate Connections, who cite study in the journal Energy Policy found that government policies like Renewable Portfolio Standards have played a critical role in the more than 99 percent reduction in solar panel costs over the past 40 years.

At the local level there needs policies and education of the community. In Newton, Massachusetts where I live, city hall has created a Climate Action Plan, and hired a sustainability coach. The city is launching an program, called “4 our Future” around the following major initiatives: (1) Insulate to the max (2) Go solar (3) Update cooling and heating, and (4) Electrify your ride.

How Individuals Can Take Concrete Steps

Ultimately, it comes down to each of us taking some form of action. In the book, Bill Gates outlines several areas we can do. My self-assessment is here.

As a citizen

  • Phone or write your municipal government
  • Research and support the initiatives that the local, state, and federal government are putting in place
  • Run for office. While this might not appeal to many, you can also volunteer in your community

As a consumer

As an Employee or Employer

  • Set an internal carbon tax
  • Prioritize innovation in low-carbon solutions
  • Be an early adopter of environmentally friendly products
  • Connect with government funded research
  • Invest in early-stage innovations

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” is an excellent book, and easy read. I encourage both fully committed environmentalist and those trying to learn how they can help to read it.

3 Things I Learned From “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” So Far

For the last couple of weeks I have been reading Bill Gate’s book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”. It is written in a very approachable way, and while in some cases very rudimentary in the explanations, it is an excellent book to bring the topic to a broader audience. It does a fantastic job laying out the challenges, as provides strong data points to re-enforce the urgency. There is also a good mix of optimism, which should energize each of us to double down on our climate change efforts. I am not an expert in the areas of the book drills into, so there were some great insights and facts that I took from the book.

I have not finished the book, but here are 3 things I have learned so far:

  • Emissions in US and Europe are going down
  • While electrification is critical, our infrastructure is not set up for the future electrical demand
  • How much the manufacturing of steel and cement contributes to emissions

The following is a brief summary on these topics.

Emissions Around the World

While it is encouraging that emissions have declined in US and Europe in the last 15 years, the bigger issue is that in China and India (and other emerging economies) they are increasing at a much faster rate. As more of the world’s third world nations strive to raise their standard of living the fastest & cheapest way will result in greater use of fossil fuels.

Electrification and Impacts on the Grid

Electrifying our life from cars, to heating, to energizing manufacturing will be important to reduce the overall impact of today’s fossil fuels. However, beyond just converting to renewable energy, we need to revamp the whole electrical grid. Most experts agree that as we electrify processes like making steel, and running cars, the world’s electricity demand will need to double or triple by 2050. As we shift from carbon-based generation, where plants for situated close to cities and consumption to wind and solar, we will need to send power across larger areas of the country. This is because the areas that can generate the power (southwest for solar, and great plains for wind) are not connected via the electrical grid to the largest cities on the coasts. Connecting the power sources with the consumers I not just an infrastructure investment question, but more importantly a political one. Building electrical lines over long distances impact so many businesses, and private land-owners.

Manufacturing of Steel and Cement

Most of the media and attention, and my personal focus has been on how we travel and what we eat. It is fashionable to drive an electric car, switch from oil heat, and eat less meat. These are important things, and what makes them appealing is that as individuals we can make an immediate impact ourselves by changing our behavior. However, the biggest contributors to emissions are manufacturing and generating electricity. If your electric vehicle consumers electricity generated from a coal power plant, how does that help?

Summary

Making a different in climate change comes down to making changes and choices in your lifestyle. The more you learn and understand the better equipped you are to act and also educate others. Solving climate change will be challenging, and Bill Gate’s book does a good job of education, but also highlights areas we need to innovate or suggests impacts our governments can take. Each chapter I read provides more context, and forces me to reflect on the actions I take.

KnowCarbon Good News – Apr 24

I am currently reading Bill Gate’s book – How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. There are both sobering facts and healthy optimism. I will post some thoughts in the next few days & weeks.

With Earth Day this past Thursday, there were many positive announcements, which is very encouraging, although still a lot of work for all of us. Here are a few of the “Good News” stories, I came across in the past few weeks.

101 Nobel Laureates urge cooperation at Climate Summit

Hannaford supermarkets announce zero food

HeatSmart Newton Will Help Residents Adopt Heat Pump Technology for Another Year

US report: Bald eagle populations soar in lower 48 states

Beautiful spring day out there. Take the time to enjoy and pick 1 or 2 things you can do to help fight climate change.

You Are What You Eat

As we gathered for another Easter during Covid, and look forward to better times for family get togethers, I was reminded about good food, and what we eat impacts the environment. Normally, we would have lamb for Easter, and I must admit it is a favorite. It is well known that eating meats has a much bigger carbon footprint than a vegetarian or vegan diet. If you are not ready to become a vegan, what are you to do?

First and foremost, educating yourself on the topic is the first step. The biggest impact is the food you eat. While this is easier to adjust when you cook at home, and there is an increasing awareness and choices in restaurants to be environmentally friendly.

There are a number of carbon food calculators available to understand and compare the climate impact of your choice choices. My beloved lamb has the greatest impact, generating 39.3 kg (86.4 lbs) of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) for each kilo eaten – about 50 percent more than beef. Animal farming is responsible for 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, making it a significant contributor to climate change. Of those emissions, 65% comes from beef and dairy cattle. If you are not ready to give up meat (like myself), then there are still changes you can make immediately and still have a positive impact on your carbon footprint. This includes reducing the number of times per week you have meat, and substituting lower impact meats such as each chicken instead of beef. Finally, reducing the portion size of any meat that you eat. With these changes you can lower the carbon footprint from you diet by 30-50%.

When eating out we often look for different foods than we might cook at home, whether that is Chinese food, a Mediterranean salad, etc. In Newton where I live within 20 minute walk, I can easily get Sushi, Thai, Chinese, or Mexican, as well as the usually American fare. Almost all the these restaurants offer vegetarian options, and are still true to the flavor and culture of the establishment. Most will have a lower share of meat as a portion of the overall meal. For larger chains, I recently came across a cool web site called “Cool Food”. Cool Food helps people and organizations reduce the climate impact of their food through shifting towards more plant-rich diets. Panera are the first company with menu items to receive the Cool Food Meals badge. I love Panera, and have eaten many of their salads. Unfortunately, the one in Newton Center closed as a victim of Covid.

We didn’t have lamb this year. What are the steps you have taken? Any suggestions?

KnowCarbon Good News – Feb 13

As I sit in my warm house with the beautiful winter weather outside, I came across the following quote from John Boswell, “Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour”.

Here are a few of the “Good News” stories, I came across in my idle winter hours this week.

To Help Save Bumble Bees, Plant These Flowers in Your Spring Garden

A circular car industry could slash carbon emissions

Ozone Recovery Is Back on Track

We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need

Nothing like a cold winter day to reflect in our impact and actions we can take.

Think Globally, Act Locally: 100+ Years Later

I have always loved the motto “Think Globally, Act Locally.” If it had not been taken, and I was more creative, I would have used it for this blog. Alas I am quite late to the game, as the term is attributed to Patrick Geddes, a Scots town planner and social activist over 100 years ago. It was incorporated into the climate change community in the 1970s. Since it was already taken, and I also wanted to incorporate optimism as a theme into my blog and had to come up with a different name. You can read about why I started this blog here.

Circling back to community, I firmly believe it is one of the most critical aspects of people’s lives. Giving back to the community is fulfilling and creates everlasting relationships. So in today’s world what is community, what does it mean for climate change, how an individual can make a difference?

With respect to climate change, community could take a multitude of forms. Some examples include (1) a local group of people interested in climate change; (2) a global organization that brings people together around climate change; (3) online groups of individuals with common values. While these are not all “local”, they create endless opportunities to be part of a community and make a difference.

Over the last 18 months I have learned more about Green Newton. It is a fantastic organization with an amazing set of programs that include educational programs on heat pumps, a list of actions you can take to lower your climate impact, and how to get a no cost home energy assessment. As I learned more, I reached out to them to volunteer and started by helping promote their programs within the local Newton community. Last year I also wrote a number of posts on my experience with Green Newton’s Take Action initiative. Earlier this year, I was asked and accepted to join the board of Green Newton. I am excited to spend more time with the team, learning and helping others participate in our programs. You don’t have to join the board a local environmental group, but I encourage you to research what is available to you and sign up for their newsletter, or make a donation. It’s a start.

The premiere global scientific organization on climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC, created in 1988, is an organization of 195 governments that are members of the United Nations or World Meteorological Organization (WMO). What is amazing is that IPCC scientists volunteer their time to assess the thousands of scientific papers published each year to provide a comprehensive summary of what is known about climate change. I am embarrassed to admit that until a couple of years ago, I had never heard of IPCC. I learned about it from my brother, who is active in Ecology Ottawa. He is also an author. So what does this have to do with IPCC? My brother realized not many people know about IPCC, so he wrote a graphic novel to help spread the world – “Because IPCC.” You don’t need to write a book, but you could read one. You could also spend 15 minutes looking at the IPCC website to learn about their amazing work and dedication. Finally, if you are a scientist, and there are many in the Newton area, you can engage in multiple ways.

The third type of community I will cover is online. For me this last community is important for constant learning and encouragement to hear of the progress we are making and get ideas on what else I can do. There are quite a few groups on facebook, LinkedIn that I participate in as well as blogs and e-newsletters I read. I particularly enjoy “Climate Change – I Care!”, “Climate Change Guide Group”. I am still sorting through which blogs provide the “right” information for me.

To wrap up, here are three things you can do towards helping fight climate change.

  • Find a local environmental group and either volunteer, subscribe to their newsletter, or donate.
  • Pick one of the global non-profits, get to know their work and leverage it to educate your community, friends, and local politicians.
  • Join one online group and engage in the discussion. Pick one idea from the group to adopt in the next 30 days.

I remain optimistic about the possibilities. The past year with Covid-19 has been challenging for all, but communities are strong and help us get through the tough times.

KnowCarbon Good News – Feb 2

We are getting through it, and there are some great things to look forward to in 2021. Here are some of the good news stories on climate change I came across in the last few weeks.

The foods that reverse climate change

Electric vehicles close to ‘tipping point’ of mass adoption

4 ways the U.S. can reassert leadership on climate change

Global energy transition investment grows 9% in 2020, hits record $501B

Positive trends we can all build on. How are you accelerating some of these trends?