Those of us who love the outdoors can’t help but notice what the climate crisis is doing to our wilderness. We see how global warming is destroying our forests, melting the glaciers on our mountains, and drying up our lakes and rivers.
But knowing what to do about it as an individual is harder. Given the magnitude and urgency of the issue, what can we do that will make a difference?
Many of us respond to this question by recycling and trying to consume less, but here’s the bad news – these measures are not enough to solve the climate crisis. To make a difference, we must also focus on the biggest contributor to climate change: the burning of fossil fuels to create the energy we use every day.
This big problem needs a big solution – a clean energy transition and away from coal, oil, natural gas and gasoline. The good news is that it is entirely possible and cost-effective to do so, and we all have an important role to play in this important transition.
There’s a zero-emission, high-performance alternative to anything that burns fossil fuels. At Electrify Now, an all-volunteer organization, we’ve helped hundreds of people eliminate fossil fuels from their lives. We divide it into three stages:
- Clean your power supply with renewable energy from wind and solar.
- Electrify your home with high efficiency, high performance electrical solutions.
- Electrify your ride with electric vehicles powered by clean energy.
By taking these steps, our energy dollars will create a solution: a new clean energy system that powers the world without carbon emissions. The alternative? Keep paying for dirty energy, which is the source of the problem. Below we explain why these steps are so important and how you can join the clean energy movement.
The big picture: Most global carbon emissions come from our energy system. Over the past 200 years, we have built a global energy system that runs on fossil fuels to provide electricity, transportation, and on-demand heat. More than 80% of the world’s heat-trapping carbon emissions come from burning fossil fuels. Even in developing countries, most emissions come from the same source. This system includes our own homes, cars, and anything else that burns fossil fuels. We cannot do without the benefits of abundant energy – so we must find a way to meet our energy needs without fossil fuels.
The exciting news is that renewable energy from wind and solar is now the cheapest way to generate electricity – cheaper than burning coal, oil or gas. We can use this abundant, cheap clean electricity to meet all our energy needs.
So the challenge of our time, and perhaps the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, is how to transition our energy systems from fossil fuels to renewables and “electrify everything” as quickly as possible.
Converting to clean electricity comes with amazing co-benefits: cleaner air, less pollution, more clean water, healthier people, and a stronger economy where we spend less on energy. As electric solutions become better performing and cheaper to operate, this transition is already beginning – but as Bill McKibben says, “Climate change is a time trial. Winning slowly equals losing” – or in other words, we need to move really fast.
This is where our homes and water heaters come into play. Most homes in the United States produce more than 20 tons of carbon emissions each year from the energy we buy—our electricity, natural gas, and fuel for our cars. By electrifying our lives, we can completely eliminate these emissions without compromising our lifestyle. It dramatically reduces our personal carbon emissions and also builds part of a new clean energy system to replace the one that causes so much damage. How to do it:
- The easiest and most important step: clean your power supply. Most homes produce 3-5 tons of carbon emissions per year just from the electricity we consume. Many states have passed laws to clean up the grid, but you don’t have to wait for clean energy.
The best solution is to subscribe to a Community Solar project if available in your state. Whether you rent or own your home, you’ll benefit from clean solar energy with no upfront costs. In many states, this actually lowers your energy bills. If Community Solar isn’t available to you, sign up for a Green Energy Plan from your utility—it’ll usually cost a few extra dollars a month. Or, if your home is eligible, install solar panels on your roof and drastically reduce your electricity bill.
Any of these options, or a combination of them, will ensure you have 100% clean energy, meaning that everything you run on electricity will generate zero carbon emissions. Imagine solar panels and wind turbines harvesting clean energy and powering your life every time you plug something into your electrical outlets.
- Get off “natural” gas and electrify your home. Next, think about all the fossil fuel consuming items in your home. Furnaces and water heaters are the two largest sources of energy in most homes. A house heated with natural gas produces 5-11 tons of emissions per year.
Natural gas is methane – a powerful greenhouse gas. Burning methane is a leading source of air pollution, producing a quarter of the country’s carbon emissions. Gas utilities heavily advertise “renewable natural gas,” but experts agree that this expensive technology won’t significantly reduce carbon emissions. The best thing we can all do is get off the gas completely and as quickly as possible.
If your gas furnace is more than 12 years old, or you simply want to reduce your carbon emissions, you can replace it with a high-efficiency electric heat pump. Most people are unfamiliar with this technology, but people in Asia and Europe have reliably heated their homes this way for generations, even in colder climates. A heat pump will keep your home warm and the same device cools your home in the summer – gas furnaces can’t!
Heat pumps produce lower carbon emissions than gas heating anywhere in the United States. Because they are so efficient, switching to a heat pump can also lower your utility bills. With clean electricity, you will heat and cool your home with zero carbon emissions.
Water heaters are the second largest energy consumer in most homes. If your water heater is more than 5 years old, consider replacing it with a heat pump water heater. These devices consume 3-5 times less energy than other technologies, so they are cheaper to operate. Even tankless water heaters cannot achieve this efficiency. These devices are similar to standard water heaters, but produce about ¼ of the carbon emissions. With clean electricity, your heat pump water heater will deliver all the hot water you need with zero carbon emissions, so you’ll feel even better about your hot tub.
Gas stoves, gas fireplaces, propane grills, and gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chain saws also contribute to carbon emissions and air pollution. Gas stoves produce dangerous indoor air pollutants that can trigger asthma, especially in children. Electric induction cooktops don’t produce these pollutants and heat up faster, offer more control and are easier to keep clean than gas ranges. We can replace all our dirty, gas-burning appliances with electric alternatives that don’t pollute the air, require virtually no maintenance or refueling, are quieter and easier to use, and cheaper to run.
- Electrify your ride and fill with clean energy. We rely on our cars to get us outdoors. But a typical car will produce 4-8 tons of heat-trapping emissions every year. Electric vehicles (EVs) produce lower total life-cycle emissions than gas-powered vehicles—even when factoring in battery manufacturing. The Union of Concerned Scientists concludes that a gas car in the US would have to go more than 88 miles per gallon to produce fewer emissions than an EV. When charged with renewable energy, EVs produce zero emissions.
Electric vehicle costs are falling, range is increasing, and charging infrastructure is growing every day. While sticker prices may seem high, the 5-year total cost of an EV is thousands of dollars less than a comparable gas car because fuel and maintenance costs are dramatically lower. If you know anyone with an electric car, ask them how they like it – they’ll rave about how fun it is to drive and how cheap it is to run. The next time you hit a busy trailhead or the ski slopes, imagine a parking lot full of electric cars and imagine all the emissions that would be avoided that way.
These solutions—renewable energy, heat pumps, electric vehicles, and other electric solutions—have the potential to offset the majority of global carbon emissions. Every time a furnace, water heater, or gas-burning car is replaced with a clean electric alternative, it builds part of our new clean energy system and helps slow down devastating climate impacts.
The more people know about these amazing products and the sooner we adopt them into our lives, the more likely we are to protect ourselves and our wild spaces from climate change. That’s why we created Electrify Now — to provide information to help everyone take these high-impact actions as soon as possible.
It’s natural for all of us outdoor enthusiasts to want to protect our wild places. To keep the outdoors we love clean and unspoiled, “leaving no trace” means something to us. Eliminating the destructive effects of fossil fuels is an important part of this “leave no trace” principle. Building a better, cleaner energy system is the great mission of our time to save forests and mountains and ensure a livable planet for all mankind.
Electrify Now it is not a commercial organization, it is voluntary. Please visit our website at electrifynow.net for more information and tips on how to perform these actions. Our Get an Activity/Discount page has helpful resources for each activity. Please share this information with your friends and family.
All images courtesy of Barb Burwell
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