More Than a Feeling. Translating climate change into actionable change.

I looked out this morning and the sun was gone. That’s how I felt when the U.N. established that by 2030, we need to reduce GHG emissions by 45% under 2010 levels to keep our planet at a “safe” 1.5 degrees global warming limit. Translating this to everyday language means: I have to take action to spew out less 45% than I did a decade ago (i.e. in 2010 when this ancient iPad I’m typing on was created) and I have only 10 years to do it.

Scientists have an uncanny way of distancing a fact like this from our daily lives. What on earth does this mean for us daily? What does it mean for the 2,000 CEOs that pledged climate change goals? From Science to Action, we have not done a very good job at translating what 2 degrees or 1.5 degree limits mean for us to take action.

I’m not saying that we have to reinvent a whole new GHG protocol, Science-Based Targets, or Carbon Disclosure Standard. But what next? How do you put your feet in front of each other and start the day?

If you were a person learning for the first time to reduce your CO2  (AKA climate mitigation), you would have to dive into a dark complex world of carbon accounting. This has evolved into something so complicated that alienates any real action or impact we are feeling and removes us so far from our responsibility for this planet.

Yet there are a vast number of solutions. Grounded specifically stands out by diversifying to address every solution of climate change – agriculture, ecosystem management, biodiversity, sequestration, and more. But since I only know about energy – here’s my attempt in translating three technical words into feelings so we can take action:

  1. CO2 footprint – we all have them. We have feet so naturally we will have a footprint. Start the day about thinking how you use them. The biggest next challenge in industry is mobility. We are winning the war on coal and we now predict a path to reduce natural gas. Yet our biggest problem will be oil – i.e. fuel and transportation. Start with where you are and how you get from point A to point B today – this will be the most challenging problem for our carbon footprint in the next decade.
  2. Negawatt – This is the idea that the energy you do not use is the number one action that you could do to reduce emissions from electricity or heat. But not using something doesn’t help you and it is counter-intuitive to markets. Doing less doesn’t easily get a dollar carbon credit, daily offsets are difficult to measure, and there’s no market to trade my son’s less use of video game time to offset the ARC furnace used to make one bottle of wine. So I translate Negawatt simply to mean CHOICE. Every day you have a choice. Choices to put on a sweater (thank you President Carter) but instead think of it as a choice to diversify things in your life to be more efficient and use less resources. These choices to do something different or try something else results in innovation. So “use less” should translate to “be creative.”
  3. Baseline target –USAID’s definition is: “A baseline is the value of a performance indicator before the implementation of projects or activities, while a target is the specific, planned level of result to be achieved within an explicit timeframe (see ADS 203.3.4.5)”. Let me try to translate this. How were you doing circa 1992 (when the alarm was raised at Rio) compared to how are you doing now or will you do later? No matter what the value is, we feel pretty bad. No matter what target is established, it’s not enough. Encumbered, we do nothing. So I used a 5th grade non-English student to translate this term. Base means a foundation; line meaning a definitive mark; and target is … more complicated. Merriam Webster defines “target” as both a mark to shoot for and an object of ridicule. Combine all of these ideas together and perhaps we have an odd recipe to take action.
    1. Understand your base: Where is your foundation? Your community, where do you come from?
    2. Make a definitive mark: Understand not what somebody else values, but what you and your people truly value.
    3. Shoot for ridicule: Do something different today that might fail. But try. Always try.

So this blog seems trite: start with your feet, make choices that bring you value, and take risks. These all sound like emotions rather than action. Yet these are more than feelings.

These everyday rules translate into real economic, technical, market and scientific choices that are altering the course of climate change. Three examples:

  • Start with your feet. The foundation of mobility solutions lies in the needs of the community. In the pursuit of understanding the shared mobility needs of a community, specifically data on where you come from and how you move, we will be establishing a $250 billion revenue “mobility on demand” market in six years.
  • Stop counting the carbon. Count what is of value to you and integrate it in your everyday life or business. The solution to climate change will never be found in a linear line. Go beyond the carbon offset and think what you value as a consumer. We must put a human face to carbon-related consumption and the face must be yours. For example, the World Economic Forum is accelerating the cultural and market shift needed to shape the future of consumption. In doing so, they will be tackling “societal challenges including urban-rural divides, environmental degradation due to overconsumption, and worker reskilling to mitigate inequality.”
  • Try. Distributed energy resources (DER) offer services that are more reliable, lesser cost, and allows more power in the consumers hands (literally and figuratively). Yet DER solutions take hold only if we fail and try again. They are household and community-led and are human in their interactions, so therefore these systems must fail for us to get the resiliency needed. Hill and Martinez-Diaz captured this best in a climate resiliency book they wrote a few months ago on how “the rest of the time we largely fail to learn from our experience.” For example, their stunning finding that 8 of the 18 most hurricane-prone states have no mandatory, statewide building code. Optimism bias results in real financial consequences for a $1.3 trillion building and construction industry.

More than feelings, these pathways require that you to feel something to do something. From individual daily decisions, consumer and market actions take hold, and then scale is achieved. When we integrate the human side of the equation with the scientific side, our solutions become possible. Then perhaps we can begin dreaming.

Fun text boxes:

Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. (https://www.ipcc.ch/)

The average annual carbon dioxide emissions per person in the United States is approximately 20 metric tons, compared to a world average of four tons. How on earth am I going to shed 16 tons? (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428120658.htm)

Heating and cooling is at 51 percent of global energy use, mostly run on natural gas and oil. Transportation is at 32 percent of global energy use, mostly run on oil. (https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/6/18/18681591/renewable-energy-china-solar-pv-jobs)

Distributed energy generation refers to the small-scale energy generation technology units that are used to generate energy at a location closer to the end-users. (https://www.wbdg.org/resources/distributed-energy-resources-der)

Fun links:

http://bandboston.com/?page_id=310

https://blogs.sciencemag.org/books/2019/12/10/building-a-resilient-tomorrow/

https://www.wbdg.org/resources/building-resiliency