Transitioning to a Lower Carbon Footprint with Cleaner Energy and Smarter Energy Usage
There is a clear connection between fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas production. The US emits approximately 15% of the total global output of greenhouse gases (ghg), second only to China (where many of our products are produced, so U.S. consumers are directly or indirectly responsible for some of that greenhouse gas production, too).
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, US sources of ghg emissions break down like this (2013 figures):
- Production of energy accounts for 31% of all ghg emissions. Residences consume 38.5% of that energy so as consumers of energy, we are each responsible for some of those emissions.
- Transportation accounts for 27% of emissions, with 61% coming from light-duty vehicles like cars. Buses are responsible for only .6%; in contrast, air travel accounts for 11%. How you choose to travel makes a difference.
- Agriculture accounts for 9%, with a growing emissions problem from animal waste management on feedlots and from crop farming methods. How your food is produced makes a difference.
- Industry accounts for 21% in the U.S., but as so many of our consumer products are produced overseas, this is not an accurate reflection of the ghg emissions we are responsible for as a result of our consumption patterns.
- Residential ghg emissions are approximately 6% of the total.
There is a tremendous amount of activity taking place right now in ALL areas of energy. We’re seeing the U.S. share of emissions remaining flat or even going down slightly, which is great news because it's occurring with an economy that's growing. What remains to be seen is whether those reductions will be significant enough – and fast enough – to slow the rate of temperature rise. (Because of greenhouse gases already in the earth system, and natural feedback loops, some temperature rise is unavoidable.)
Transition groups can help families and communities find ways to reduce their energy use in many different areas, while seeking fairness along the way. These are just a few possibilities for action:
Provide information at energy use, energy savings, and energy-related legislation at community events, neighborhood energy fairs, in discussion groups, on websites and social media on topics such as:
- Energy descent plans, which give people (and communities) an opportunity to think about their energy use and come up with a plan for how they can use less. See an example of energy descent planning here.
- Energy efficiency programs like the enhanced energy audits provided by the Center for Energy & the Environment. Transition groups may choose to lobby their neighborhood association or community council to help underwrite the cost of an enhanced audit for low-income community members.
- Energy efficient technology, helping people understand what is really effective and what is greenwashing.
- Accessible solar technologies like solar electric, hot water, solar cooking, solar lighting
- Community solar gardens, which make solar electric more affordable for everyone but which, because it’s new, has a business model that many people don’t understand.
- Carbon Tax and Carbon Fee and Dividend proposals for legislation.
- Field trips to see energy efficient homes, farms and businesses
Skill shares provide an opportunity for people to learn and practice new skills in a fun, social setting. Skill share events build the community as well as the individual!
- Host home weatherization work parties
- Build solar cookers
- Practice solar cooking, teach reduced- and non-energy-use cooking techniques like fermentation and ceviche
Challenges give people a specific activity and a specific amount of time to try that activity. After they’ve done it, participants share their experience, brainstorm how they could have done things differently and perhaps try again.
- Transit challenges – try mass transit or bike or walk for a day, a week, a month
- Emergency preparedness challenge – Are you prepared to live without energy in your home in case of a power outage? For how long?
Partnerships for Action
There are many energy-focused nonprofit groups working in the Twin Cities (see sidebar). Transition groups can connect with these groups for speakers, for resources, and to expand the impact of their work. Transition groups with a concern for justice issues will find it particularly fruitful to work with community partners who share their concerns, like Interfaith Power and Light and Cooperative Energy Futures.
Energy IS a justice issue.
- Many of the improvements and cost-saving opportunities we see are technological fixes; which may not be accessible or affordable to everyone.
- Energy production – like most industrial processes - is not a “clean” process. Some forms of energy are more polluting than others, but all production methods have an environmental impact. Where is pollution being produced and who is suffering the effects of that pollution? What are the environmental consequences of energy production? What is at risk – and for whom?
Transition groups are a place where people can grapple with the moral questions of energy use and production and then seek paths for action – as a group or in partnership with other groups.
- Fresh Energy provides comprehensive information about Minnesota’s transition to a clean energy economy in areas if legislation, regulation, policy and public outreach. They have a good newsletter.
- Alliance for Sustainability
- Center for Energy & the Environment
- Clean Energy Resources Teams
- Community Power MN
- Conservation Minnesota
- Cooperative Energy Futures
- Environment Minnesota
- Great Plains Institute for Sustainable Development
- Green Step Cities
- Interfaith Power and Light
- Midwest Renewable Energy Association (hosts Midwest Renewable Energy Fair every summer)
- Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership
- Minnesota Renewable Energy Society
- Sierra Club
On the national level, check out The Solution Project for an interactive map on renewable energy and its benefits in each of our 50 states.