Updated: Jan 11
Our friend, Jessica Forrest, is back! Following-up on her previous post, she imagines household level commitments on climate change…
It is October, and typically there would be a buzz around the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change, in which country governments strengthen their commitments to address climate change. This year, the conference has been postponed due to the global pandemic, though the progression of climate change intensifies. Scientists warn that to avoid the worst effects of climate change, global society needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 (of 2010 levels) and to net zero by 2050. So, in the leadup to 2021, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, urges governments and companies to rally around this goal and make meaningful commitments and actions around climate change, and Countdown brings citizens into this mix.
Indeed, we see that here in the U.S., in the absence of federal action on climate change, local governments -including my hometown of Concord, New Hampshire- are stepping up to commit to the Paris Climate Agreement and 100% renewable energy targets. We also see that large, global companies are setting goals to reduce their carbon emissions, reduce impacts on freshwater and forests, become better places to work, and more. In the case of climate, change needs to happen at all levels of society…so what about individuals and households? What if individual households pledge to reduce their own emissions 45% by 2030?
This is what the process might look like:
Set your household goal to align with the science. The best goals look to the science, but are also time-bound and quantitative, argues Andrew Winston in his book, The Big Pivot, referring to companies. The best goals are also ambitious – they may require innovation or advocacy to achieve them. In the case of climate, this is relatively straightforward: “My household commits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% of 2010 levels by the year 2030, and to net zero by 2050”.
Take a baseline measurement. We need to determine how much carbon emissions we produced in 2010 (or the baseline year) in order to determine what that that 45% actually is. Thankfully, there are a variety of carbon footprinting tools available (from Carbon Footprint, The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and GikiZero). You can check out my last post for how to calculate a carbon footprint for your household –what my family learned in the process, and what we need to do next!
Identify discrete, time-bound actions to help you to reach the goal. You may find that some solutions are easy to accomplish (such as replacing lightbulbs with LEDs or turning down the thermostat), but others are more costly, requiring new technology (such as replacing your gas guzzler with an electric vehicle). Prioritize those low-hanging fruit, but be sure to plan on those that are more costly with discrete deadlines. In some cases, where affordable options are not readily available, you may need to work with your community and advocate for new solutions. The win here is that taking collective action to reach your household goal will help others to do the same! For ideas of discrete actions to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, check out Count Us In and you can even document your commitments to see the cumulative impact alongside others!
Measure your progress. Keep track of each of your emissions sources and progress over time, and reassess on a regular basis.
Team up with others and reward yourselves! Who doesn’t like a celebration for achieving your milestones and hard earned goals. And, teaming up with others for motivation can be valuable. I like to think back to the Compact – where a cross-country group committed to reduce impacts caused by consumption and waste by purchasing nothing new for the year. Doing the work as a team and connecting for tips and support really helped!
So why set household level goals? Residential emissions are responsible for a HUGE amount of total emissions — a whopping 48% in the small New England city of Concord, as just one example. If many individual households make carbon emissions reduction commitments and take action, we should be able to get on track much faster to a zero net-carbon and more climate-stable future.
So, 45 by 2030…. Think about it.