For the first time in my memory, which stretches back to the now fuzzy early 1980s, I feel that we have the tools to positively combat climate change available at a personal level. No longer are we limited to advocating for municipal recycling, agitating McDonald’s to get rid of polystyrene clamshells, or hanging our undergarments out to dry in the sun. Hey, it was the 1980s and I wanted save the whales so I spent a lot of time writing letters to McDonald’s threatening to boycott Happy Meals forever unless they got rid of those old school burger boxes.
Let me use solar power as an example of a tool that we have available down here at a personal level. Consider the cost per watt in dollar terms from 1977 until 2015:
In simple mathematical terms that is a decline in price per way of over 99.5%. Whereas a solar photovoltaic system was probably only something that strange science teacher who drove an ancient Volvo actually had on his house is now something a lot more people can install.
Take my solar photovoltaic installation. In a little more than two half days and for a cost of less than $11K I had 4.64 kWh of solar installed in a single array on a west facing garage roof. After tax credits the total cost will come in somewhere around $6K. For six thousand dollars I now produce all of my electricity needs from the sun. Granted, it is a grid tie system so I use traditional utility power on occasion.
Yes, I use a lot less electricity than the average peer house but it’s not like I live in an off-grid yurt. I have a typically large American refrigerator, I run the air conditioning when it is hot, I have a large screen television that gets turned on to watch football games, and so on. Hell, I have an electric dryer and range. The point is that you can use a lot less electricity and produce it all via the sun with a fairly minimal investment and without sacrificing the quality of life we have come to assume is natural in the United States. This is not Ed Begley Jr. being eco-dramatic on Living with Ed.
Even better is that none of the technology used in a solar system is in its infancy, so the maturity of the design is well along which means the systems are reliable. No one is going to be spending hours up on a roof trying to figure out why the panels are not producing any juice. The solid state system just sits on top of the roof generating power from the sun without any moving parts or noise. Day in and day out whenever the sun shines and even when it does not. If that is not a powerful tool to combat carbon emissions and the resultant climate change I do not know what would qualify.
Going solar is just one of the many tools available to us to make a difference. We all need to take a moment and examine our lives. What are the activities that we engage in that have an outsize impact on our carbon emissions. Tools exist and are available to us that can ameliorate almost any source of emissions if we are willing to make the effort.
Given the horrible state of national leadership on climate issues it is incumbent upon us as concerned individuals to make every effort and deploy every tool. You might feel good about yourself when you sign a petition, but it has to go further than that if we are to have any hope of a sustainable and equitable future on this planet.
My goal over the next few months is to really examine what the tools are that can help me—a guy living a fairly normal suburban life with three other people in eastern Iowa—eliminate my carbon emissions.