Reducing Your Carbon “Pawprint”

Everyone loves their furry friends. What are some simple things we can do to lower their “pawprint?” The household cat or dog is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your carbon footprint, but producing the meat needed to feed the US’s cat and dog population puts out an estimated 64 million tons of greenhouse gas every year. There has also been a trend of heavy marketing and increased consumerism for pets; people are encouraged to treat them as a family member and services like monthly subscription boxes of toys and even caskets for pets have become trendy. Pet ownership can be done sustainably, as long as we stay mindful.

Consider What Kind of Pet to get and from where.

If you’re starting out on the path to pet ownership and haven’t decided what you want, consider a smaller pet or an herbivore. Small dogs and cats eat less than large dogs, and pets that are herbivores like rabbits or hamsters will have a lower carbon footprint than meat-eaters. If you opt for a dog or a cat, consider a “rescue” – one that needs to be adopted. Roughly six and a half million animals enter shelters each year.

Make Sure Your Pet is Fixed

This one is a good recommendation for any pet owner, even if you don’t have sustainability on your mind. Making sure that populations stay under control, and adopting rather than buying from a breeder, helps to keep the overall pet population and the resources they consume under control.

Feed Them Poultry

Eating chicken rather than red meat like beef can reduce the carbon footprint of a human by about 50%. Dogs and cats are carnivores and can’t eat plant-based diets, but you can reduce their carbon footprint by choosing less resource-intensive meats in their food. Also, watch how much you feed your pets – many in the US are overfed, which isn’t good for their health or for the planet. There’s a trend of pet owners are moving to more luxury types of foods – refrigerated meats, individually-packaged meals in disposable plastic single-use containers and the like.  Just like in our own lives, reducing the amount of packaging and energy-intensiveness is important.   

Pet Consumer Choices

Pets are becoming bigger consumers. We’re encouraged to buy everything from monthly toy and treat subscription boxes to elaborate burial services and caskets. Producing all of these things uses resources and generates carbon, so before you buy something for your pet consider if they really need it – just as we can for ourselves.

Pets in the Big Picture

Having a pet does not necessarily mean that someone’s carbon footprint is huge – the issue comes if having a pet is part of a larger consumer trend. If there’s a household with a big car, a big home, a large family and a big dog that eats beef and has similar consumer patterns to their owners, that magnifies the issue. Pet ownership is on the rise, but that may not be a bad thing for the planet. The birthrate in the US has been dropping, and 2019 marked the lowest point in 32 years. There are different reasons this could be happening; some blame the great recession and lingering economic instability. It could also be par for the course for a wealthier country. As birthrates have fallen, pet ownership has been on the rise, and it’s been suggested that many are filling their drive to nurture with “fur-babies,” which even when pampered have a lower carbon footprint than a human baby.

The bottom line when it comes to pets and the environment is to enjoy them, but keep them in mind when you’re considering your impact on the environment.

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meat is murder

A Digestible Solution to Climate Change

Climate Change can seem overwhelming. As one person, it’s difficult to know where to start, or to believe that you can make any impact on a problem so big. But many people making a series of small changes can make a real difference, and a great place to start is with what you eat.

Why Rethink Your Diet?

Over a quarter of carbon emissions come from food production. Of that, 47.6% of emissions are from raising meat; 18.9% come from dairy; 13.9% come from eggs, fish, and poultry; and only 11.5% come from veggies, grains, and fruits. At the same time, meat consumption has increased by about 20% globally over the past decade. Eating meat has ‘dire’ consequences for the planet – in the U.S. we’ll need to reduce meat and sugar consumption by 50% to avoid serious repercussions. It’s clear we need to find a solution to curb these figures.  

You Don’t Have to go Vegan to Lower Your Footprint

Just this past October, a study published in the journal Nature explored guidelines for reducing meat and sugar consumption, a “Great Food Transformation,” it outlines a wide range of strategies and the steps necessary to put such a change into place.  Similarly, A new report, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, recommends a largely plant-based diet, with small, occasional allowances for meat, dairy, and sugar.

While asking everyone to adopt a fully vegan lifestyle ASAP would certainly cut down on emissions, it’s just not realistic. For example, simply making changes such as picking chicken over beef would cut your carbon emissions in half. Climate change is a large-scale problem, and it will take participation from everyone to solve it.

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Climate Change is a Main Issue in 2020

There are 23 Democratic candidates running for President in 2020 so far, and for the first time, climate change appears to be a main topic voters want to hear about. Even Al Gore, the well-known climate activist, didn’t have climate change as his main campaign issue, and climate change was not discussed at all during the 2016 presidential debates.

Why Now?

There are several factors that might be causing voters to put their focus on the environment. For one thing, there have been a lot of news stories that put climate change front and center. The IPCC report recently gave us a deadline of 2030 to drastically reduce emissions if we want to avoid catastrophic results. The next four years are almost half of that time, and if a president gets two terms that effectively makes climate change a one-president issue. Movements like Fridays for Future (led by school-children) and proposals like the Green New Deal have kept our attention on the issue. Besides press coverage, more and more people are also seeing climate change beginning to impact them directly. Wildfires in California, droughts wiping out crops, and unusual weather patterns across the country have turned climate change from a distant concern to a pressing worry we need to address now.

Voters are Motivated

There has been a lot of lost ground for environmental protection and climate change at the federal level over the last few years. This appears to have activated many states and individuals to take stronger action independently. Voter activism around climate change has prompted many of the Democratic candidates to issue detailed proposals as part of their platform. There also appears to be a demographic shift from last election cycle, with groups that see climate change as a major issue making up a larger share of the voter pool for 2020 than ever before.

2020 Has to Be the Year We Take Action

With a tight deadline to make some drastic changes, this election cycle is the time to make sure climate change is the priority. The conditions are right, and the candidates are prioritizing it for the first time, so it’s more crucial than ever to get out and vote.

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Why Nuclear isn’t an Answer for Climate Change

Overall, nuclear power has been on the decline for a number of years. Of the 99 reactors online in the US in 2016, only one had been built since 1996 and it looks unlikely that more will be built. This month, Massachusetts closed their last nuclear power plant in Plymouth. This closure is part of a national trend for nuclear power, as plants in Pennsylvania and Illinois also close ahead of schedule, and another estimated fifteen to twenty plants are likely to close early over the next ten years. The industry is facing mounting pressure both from environmentalists concerned about the dangers posed by nuclear power plants, and from dropping energy prices driven by fracking and new energy sources.

Nuclear Less Cost-Effective

Nuclear power plants are tightly regulated and expensive both to build and to repair. Their main fuel source, uranium, is also costly to obtain and to enrich before it can be used. When nuclear was competing against coal, these figures were cost effective. But the rise of cheap natural gas from fracking, and the plummeting costs of other renewable energies like solar, have brought energy prices down to a point that nuclear power can’t compete with in states with an open electricity market.

Safety Concerns

There is some controversy among environmentalists about closing nuclear power plants. On one hand, they do reduce our carbon emissions, which is something the world sorely needs right now. But when nuclear power plants fail, they can have catastrophic consequences. Infamous incidents like those at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima gave many second thoughts about using nuclear power. The immediate impact of a meltdown is devastating, but the long-term consequences may be worse. Chernobyl will not be habitable anytime soon, estimates range from a minimum of several hundred years up to several thousand before the radiation levels are safe for humans to live in the area.

In addition, nuclear materials are often cited as a national security threat from would-be terrorists using them to make a nuclear or “dirty” bomb.

No Long-Term Radioactive Waste Disposal Solution

Even when nuclear plants are operating as designed, they put out hazardous waste that remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years. The US currently has no long-term storage solution for this waste; most is stored at the power plants themselves. And recently, there has been a proposal by the federal administration to classify radioactive waste as a lower threat level so it can be more easily disposed of at a lower cost. This is a concern for many states that have waste dating back to World War II, as “The new rules would allow the energy department to eventually abandon storage tanks containing more than 100m gallons (378m liters) of radioactive waste in the three states, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.” This waste would not be buried as previously thought necessary, and the tanks of waste would remain a threat to nearby residents.

A Better Way to Reduce Carbon

Ultimately, the best argument to keeping nuclear plants is to reduce our carbon footprint. But the health and safety costs of nuclear energy are too high, and we don’t have a solution to deal with the radioactive waste produced. Nuclear is no longer cost effective.  We do have access to other lower-cost, carbon-free technologies, like solar and wind. It would only take installing solar panels on about 17,500 square miles of the US’s roughly 3.7 million square miles of landmass (or about 0.4%) to power the country. This year, the US passed the two million installation mark in the solar industry, and the industry is still growing.

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Fed Up with the Federal Government, States Form Climate Alliance

It’s the two year anniversary of the US government pulling out of the Paris Agreement, but all hope is not lost. Many states and local governments have stepped up and committed to uphold their commitment to fight climate change.

The US Climate Alliance

The US Climate Alliance is, in their own words, “…a bipartisan coalition of 24 governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The Alliance represents 55 percent of the U.S. population and an $11.7 trillion economy – an economy larger than all countries but the United States and China.” And states are still joining – this April, Nevada and Pennsylvania became the 23rd and 24th states to join the alliance.

The states in the alliance have not only cut their carbon emissions by 14% from 2005-2016, they also saw an economic benefit. These same states saw a 16% growth in economic output, as compared to the national average of 14%.

Coastal Communities and Cities Lead the Charge

Climate Change may seem like a distant or nonexistent threat to some, but many of the country’s largest populations are on the coast. According to NOAA, as of 2010 39% of America’s population lived in coastal areas. These communities have been increasingly active on the issue of climate change. Florida’s newly elected governor Desantis has made climate change a top priority – a big pivot from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection banning the term “climate change” just four years ago.

New York City and Boston have already accepted that climate change is happening and will have a huge impact on them, and both cities have ongoing initiatives to prepare. Boston also hosted an International Mayors Climate Summit, where mayors from around the world met to share ideas on effective climate action. Locally, cities like Everett are choosing to buy solar credits to offset their municipal carbon footprint and save money.

The key to solving climate change is not looking to come in time from the federal level. It’s up to local action to get us where we need to be – taking individual action and, crucially, voting in local elections will determine our success in tackling climate change.

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New Activists Forcing Attention on Climate Change

Climate change first came out as front page news thirty years ago. Since then, a familiar pattern has developed – scientists issue increasingly dire warnings, which create a stir, but emissions continue to rise. That’s the issue with the climate crisis – changes are gradual, and for the most part, people can go on with their everyday lives. But there is a new generation of activists starting movements that are forcing us to pay attention to climate change.

Child Activists and Fridays for Future

One of the largest movements has been the “Fridays for Future” movement, led by Greta Thunberg. What makes it notable is that it’s led by school kids. Children around the world walked out of class to try and force their countries to adhere to the Paris agreement. Friday, May 24, is on track to be the largest walk-out to date. The last strike on March 15 made quite a stir as well, with 1.6 million students from 125 countries walking out of school to demand climate change action. Here in the US, Haven Coleman leads the US Youth Climate Strike and coordinated the strike in March. Their objectives include reframing the conversation about our heating planet as a climate crisis, and to make sure it stays a top global priority – and so far, it seems to be working.

The Time for Action is Now

The past year has included a few alarming reports on the environment. We’ve gotten dire warnings from the IPCC about the consequences of letting the globe warm more than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. There was also a recent report arguing that “One million of the planet’s eight million species are threatened with extinction by humans.” Many of the young climate strikers have been motivated by experiencing the effects of climate change already. Student activists have cited bushfires in Tasmania, wildfires in California, flash flooding and coral bleaching in Mauritius as some of their reasons for joining the Fridays for Future movement. But the positive side of all of this is that it seems to be waking us up to the reality we’re facing, and motivated many to take action. Even staunch Republican Lindsey Graham conceded that climate change is caused by humans, and endorsed a price on carbon. On May 1st, the UK became the first country to declare a climate emergency. Here in the U.S., many states have banded together to try and tackle climate change. Nevada became the 23rd state to join the United States Climate Alliance in March. The hour is late but we still have time to solve the climate crisis, and it seems like we may have finally started to find the motivation.

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How Third-Party Suppliers Soured the Clean Energy Market

Or

A Guide to Choosing Clean Power in MA

Utilities and energy are a complicated space, and for a busy consumer it can be confusing when trying to make a switch to cleaner energy. In particular, third party suppliers with inflated rates and shady tactics have been an ongoing problem in Massachusetts. Poor experiences with them have turned many customers into skeptics, but there are legitimate ways to reduce your carbon footprint with your electricity choices.

What is competitive supply?

Utility bills are split into two parts – delivery and supply. Delivery is what you pay the utility to be connected to their grid, and have energy brought to your home. Supply is what you pay for the actual energy you use. By default you get your “supply” from the utility itself, but to try and avoid monopolies, Massachusetts also allows what is called “competitive supply” or “third-party supply.” This means getting  the supply portion of your bill from another company that’s not the utility. The problem comes when this supplier has a variable rate – that is, their pricing is set “…at the discretion of the competitive supplier.” Some residents that have used these suppliers may have joined looking at a rate that was much lower than the utilities, only to have it jump up above the utility “standard offer” rate a short time later, leaving them worse off than they started.

What are legitimate clean energy offerings?

Some suppliers may market as being a clean energy offering, but they usually have a mix of energy that is not 100% renewable, and they will often be priced at a slight premium. There are better ways to know you’re choosing clean energy.

Solar

Perhaps the most obvious one is to install a solar array yourself – you know what’s being produced is clean energy that’s feeding directly into your meter. But for many people, solar requires good credit or a large upfront payment or their home is not sited well for solar.

RECs

A REC, or Renewable Energy Certificate, is defined by Mass Climate Action as  “… proof of purchase for the attributes of renewable energy generation.” An individual, company, or nonprofit that wants to cut their carbon footprint can buy RECs to offset their usage. This is a way to directly support clean power projects because the project owner gets the money for the RECs, thereby raising the project’s value.

Community Solar

Community solar, or community shared solar (CSS,) is a way to share the benefits of a solar array with multiple participants in a given region. Participants generally save money by getting a discount for on-bill credits that offset their utility bill. A host with good siting for solar will install the array; this installation is supported by the participants who invest or buy credit from the farm. This form of solar is meant as a solution for those who cannot install a solar array themselves. Currently this is one of the best ways to both support local, clean solar energy and benefit by getting electricity bill savings.

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Everett Advocate touts the city’s Community Shared Solar program

The April 26, 2019 issue of the Everett Advocate highlights Relay Power’s role in bringing Community Solar to Everett, MA, and describes how the program is a win/win for the City as well as it’s residents.

Read the pdf below or at the Advocate’s link.

Everett Advocate

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Corporate America is Going Solar (and Wind)

There are a slew of major companies that have been choosing to invest in solar this year. Corporate responsibility is becoming more important to consumers, plus it makes financial sense.

Amazon

The online shopping giant installed solar panels at its fulfillment centers in the U.K., producing enough to power 4,500 homes and offsetting 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year. And although it’s not solar, they’re also going green by purchasing the power produced by three wind farms to power data centers. “The new trio of wind farms will add to Amazon’s existing portfolio of nine utility-scale renewables projects, totaling more than 1,000 megawatts. AWS has a long-term target of reaching 100 percent renewables across its global footprint, and is already halfway there.”

Disney

Disney has pledged to cut its carbon emissions in half by 2020 – to that end, they’ve installed a solar field capable of producing over fifty megawatts. That’s enough to meet 25% of Disney World’s power needs.

Starbucks

Starbucks has partnered up with Cypress Creek to invest in several solar projects. These developments will produce 70 megawatts, enough to power 360 cafes in Texas. The coffee chain had previously used a similar model, investing in a project in North Carolina to power 600 stores.

Walmart

Walmart has installed about 150 megawatts of solar, with the goal of reducing their emissions by one billion metric tons by 2030.

Target

Target might take the cake, with a whopping 203.5 megawatts of solar installed. They have also worked to bring over 1,000 of their stores up to the Energy Star standard, and report their carbon emissions each year to the Carbon Disclosure Project.  

There are many more big names that are investing in solar – Ikea, Apple, Kohl’s, and Costco, to name a few. Solar isn’t just for hippies or do-gooders, it just makes financial sense, and more and more companies are making the switch.

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How Rooftop Solar Companies are Complementing Community Solar

There’s no question that solar is booming. Over the past ten years, the industry has seen an “…Average annual growth rate of 50%…” and now employs over 242,000 people in the United States. Even with this boom, there is still a huge amount of unmet need when it comes to solar. Rooftop solar installers and community solar companies can work together to move the country towards a clean energy future. In fact, a number of rooftop solar companies profit by referring customers to community solar when they can’t or won’t install on their home.

Community Solar Complements Rooftop Solar

A recent survey of solar installers revealed that traditional rooftop solar installers don’t view community solar as competition. In fact, rooftop solar companies had a overwhelmingly positive response to community solar. That’s because community solar serves different customers that rooftop can’t. According to the US Census, about forty percent of Americans live in housing that would not support a solar array. And even for those who do, obstacles like finances, structural concerns and shading prevent a majority of customers from taking advantage of the environmental and financial advantages of rooftop solar. Community solar can fill this gap, removing financial and siting obstacles that customers face when looking to make clean energy choices.

Community Solar Builds Awareness and Normalizes Solar

The survey also points out another major benefit to community solar. Having large public arrays like the ones along the Massachusetts Turnpike help to normalize solar. The more arrays there are, the more people will think of solar as a regular fact of life, rather than a futuristic and expensive pipe dream. These arrays can act as advertisement too, sparking interest for both potential rooftop and community solar customers as they pass by them.

We’ve Only Scratched the Surface

There’s good synergy between rooftop solar installers and community solar, and the market is still mostly untapped. In 2018, the United States only got 1.6% of its electricity from solar, while 76% of voters support increasing solar capacity. Both types of solar should find ways to work together to transform our energy grid.

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