The Angry Clean Energy Guy’s definitive guide (sort of) of what works, and what doesn’t, in fighting climate change: How much can you fly? Should you eat any meat? What about plastic? What’s the best approach to transport? Should you buy any carbon offsets? How much should you recycle?
Photo by Assaad W. Razzouk
Here is your definitive guide off what works and what doesn’t in fighting climate change.
How much can you fly?
Should you eat any meat?
What about plastic?
What’s the best approach to transport?
How much should you recycle?
All this and more is coming up.
Welcome to Episode 29 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy with me, Assaad Razzouk, I am so happy you’re here. Thank you.
And before I forget, if you like this podcast, please tell your friends, rate it and consider leaving a review. This would be much appreciated.
I was struck recently by a story with the title “Sweden sees rare fall in air passengers as flight shaming takes off”. So according to that story, Sweden saw a 4% drop in the number of people flying by its airports, and that’s kind of incredibly rare. In Sweden, domestic travel was down even further at 9% and these numbers came in as a Swedish-born movement of flight shaming is gaining traction.
Flygskam or “flight shame” originated in Sweden two years ago when Swedish singer Staffan Lingberg pledged to give up flying.
I am really sorry, Staffan Lingberg, the issue is not flying. The issue is that flying is mis-priced, and it’s not mis-priced by airlines. It’s mis-priced by us, the people and by our governments. Flying short haul would have been 100% electric by now if we had not had to contend with 40 years of obfuscation and lies by Big Oil, which led to where we are today: Cheap flights driven partly by the fact that Big Oil doesn’t pay for its environmental destruction.
So here is the dramatic conclusion: We need to acknowledge when fighting climate change that we are fighting for system change. System change is about addressing the root causes of climate change.
Now, clearly, every one of us must also build their own climate resilience or at least start experiments on what will work for them. But don’t be fooled, that’s not enough. And that’s never going to be enough. We need to change the system.
So let’s divide the Chinese menu of “what I can do about climate change” into five broad categories, and I’m going to try and take you through each one of these succinctly.
The first is reduce emissions. So what can I do about climate change? Number one, I can act individually. I can take responsibility and I can reduce emissions.
How do I reduce emissions? While it’s all really basic common sense: Use your gasoline car less and use sustainable transportation more. So bicycle to work and use public transportation and walk in the case of short travel in countries that have the infrastructure. Trains obviously are more sustainable than airplanes, so it’s all common sense. But it doesn’t mean you should stop flying. The issue with flying is not so much the flying in of itself. It’s what I refer to before: The fact that flying is mis-priced.
And when flying or driving, one thing you should never do is buy offsets or carbon credits. That is not your role or my role and it’s a recipe to be ripped off by the big polluters.
Airlines should buy offsets because they are the ones that are polluting.
Oil companies should buy offsets.
Utilities that are fired with coal and gas should buy offsets.
Shipping companies should buy offsets.
But not individuals.
Now I understand the moral argument for buying offsets, but here we have to be practical. If you are buying an offset to offset your driving or your flying, you are being ripped off and there is no point sending even more money to the polluters.
Let me give you an example. Shell, as in Shell Oil, is giving drivers at the pump the option to pay one cent per litre of fuel in the Netherlands or one pence in the UK when they fuel their car and according to Shell, they will then use that money to offset the carbon emissions of the gasoline that I just used driving my car.
Shell presents this as being a great move because it allows us motorists who are still driving dirty cars to drive carbon neutral, if we only agreed to pay one cent per liter to Shell.
And they made the number sound very small. It sounds very small, doesn’t it?
But I have news for you. Shell is ripping you off, again. They ripped you off first by selling you gasoline, which probably should have been phased by now had they not lied so much for so long.
But in addition, one litre of gasoline emits two kilos of CO2, so 500 litres emit one ton of CO2. So when you pay one cent per litre or one pence per litre, you’re really paying 5 Euros for each ton of CO2 that your car is emitting. However, Shell is buying these for not more than 2 Euros and then they’re selling them to you at 5 Euros, so that’s two and 1/2 times their money right there.
It’s quite scandalous, actually, that they are taking advantage of individual action to reduce emissions to rip consumers off, as well as pushing responsibility for everything they have ever done to you, the motorists, instead of doing the decent thing, which is to invest in respectable projects that generate carbon credits with integrity, then retiring themselves these carbon credits.
So to go back to the numbers I was citing previously, they (Shell) should pay that 2 Euro or 5 Euro or 10 Euro to proper offset projects, and then, they should retire these carbon credits, not go and shove them off to us the motorists, and us, the people who fly in the case off the airlines.
So don’t buy offsets from your friendly dirty gas supplier or your friendly, dirty airline. They are ripping you off several times over.
Airlines are much better than Shell, broadly speaking. They understand this and by and large, they’re not trying to game the system the way Shell is.
So, as an example, JetBlue, a major U. S. airline, announced 10 days ago that it’s going to offset emissions from jet fuel for all its domestic flights from July 2020.
*It* is going to offset emissions. It’s not asking those who fly JetBlue to buy offsets at a two and 1/2 times mark up the way Shell is.
British Airways is also offsetting all emissions from its UK flights for the first time ever.
Easy Jet went much further and pledged to offset carbon emissions from the fuel used on all of its flights.
And to give you two last examples, KLM is aiming to reduce carbon emissions 15% by 2030 and SAS is reducing them 25% by 2030.
So remember, yes, by all means, take individual action to reduce emissions, but do it directly, not indirectly via offsets.
And of course, keep in mind that this is actually better for your health and that of the planet: Avoiding all the bad gases that come out of the exhaust of a car is actually a good thing for you and for the planet.
That’s the number one item on the Chinese menu of what I can do about climate change.
Number two is save energy.
So, yes, take a look at the labels on your appliances. Don’t leave them on standby. Adjust the thermostat for heating. Don’t go nuts with air conditioning temperatures. And by being careful how you use your home appliances, for those lucky enough to even have them, we save energy and we save money.
And use LED lights. Why? Because LED lights are up to 80% more efficient than traditional lightbulbs. As a result, you’re using less energy when you use them, which reduces the demand from power plants and decreases emissions.
And importantly, where possible, electrify everything around you and I’ll come back to why electrifying everything is a key action for the entire world.
BE REASONABLE WITH YOUR CONSUMPTION
Item three of the Chinese menu of what I can do about climate change is to be reasonable with what you consume.
So reduce what you consume, consume less more efficiently, reuse what you consume. Take advantage of second hand markets. Your t-shirt that you want to throw, instead of throwing it, cut it and use it as a kitchen towel. You’ll be saving money, and you will be reducing your consumption.
And barter, if there are markets for that.
You could also recycle, especially waste from electronics for example.
Plastic bags: Try to avoid them.
Plastic bottles: Try to avoid them.
Single-use plastic: Try to avoid it.
I mean, as a small example, take shampoo bottles. We really don’t need shampoo to come in liquid form in a plastic bottle, you can actually buy a shampoo bar. And if enough of us buy these, then their price will become very competitive with the usual shampoo bottles that seem to be everywhere.
And the same goes for body soap.
Shampoo bars and body soaps also generally come with a much nicer packaging made of paper, and you can even move to toothpaste tablets if you want.
But at the same time, when dealing with the plastic issue, don’t fool yourself.
All of this individual action is good, however you are being lied to by in large, because not more than 9% of global plastic is being recycled.
So we need to not only cut the use of plastic, we need to ensure that it’s priced correctly so that it’s use declines. And we need to make sure that we have the recycling infrastructure to deal with the plastic waste, which we don’t because those selling us the plastic couldn’t care less and aren’t forced to invest in recycling plastic as those of you who have heard this podcast know, because I keep talking about it.
Plastic is made from the waste product of oil and gas, and the problem is that it’s incredibly cheap because the producers don’t pay for the pollution that plastic generates. And so it’s mispriced and therefore it’s everywhere.
Our consumption of plastic has gone up from an average of two kilograms per person globally in 1973 to 23 times that number, so about 46 kilos per person today, with no justification whatsoever. All that excess plastic is not actually needed.
And remember, being logical and reasonable about consumption is better for your health and that of the planet, because we are today, all of us, breathing and drinking and eating plastic – because plastic is in our food chain, it’s in our water and it’s in our air.
Now the number four action in the Chinese menu of “what I can do about climate change” is to eat healthy.
I am not a proponent of veganism or vegetarianism, nor do I want to judge people based on what they eat. Everybody should eat what they want. However, if they eat healthy, they probably will be eating a lower carbon diet. It’s really just that simple.
Eat food which is produced near you.
Try to avoid imports because these not only create more emissions due to transportation, but they’re also obviously less fresh.
Also, eat seasonal items if you can, because obviously these would be fresher and also tastier.
So, generally speaking, if you just applied the rule of trying to be healthy about what you’re eating, you will be, by definition, eating a lower carbon diet.
And please don’t go off the reservation. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there is no need to lecture others on what to do. They know what to do, and it doesn’t mean that you’re right either. Plus we simply are not going to turn almost eight billion people into vegetarians or vegans
ACT AGAINST DEFORESTATION
The final thing you can do in the Chinese menu of acting against climate change is trying to do what you can to act against deforestation, while at the same time doing what you can to act for reforestation.
What this means is avoid unsustainable products, which are driving deforestation. For example, we can’t get rid of palm oil completely. But try and be aware of what you’re consuming and try to consume less of what’s driving deforestation and, broadly speaking, the biggest culprits are palm oil as well as meat.
So try and do something about it at your individual level, to the extent that you can.
And if you buy wood, for example, choose wood with a certification or a seal that shows that it’s sustainable.
And if you got the luxury or the ability to do so, plant a tree.
But planting a tree is something that needs to be done with some thought. You can’t plant just any tree anywhere in the world, and you should try to plant trees that are native to the area of the world that you’re trying to contribute to.
So it’s all really just common sense. Our highest purpose is to leave a habitable world to our descendants, so we should definitely all, I mean all of us, do our part.
But whatever you do, no condescension, please.
So, yes, change your habits. Yes.
And try and change your employer’s habits. People under-estimate the impact that they can have in the office on plastic use, for example, and on air conditioning and energy use and even on emission use.
And, yes, individual behavior at scale sends a price signal and a market signal, and then entrepreneurs and others and governments get on the bandwagon and change is effected.
But at the same time, you need to be humble. Don’t forget everyone else around the world, and that’s possibly two or three or four billion people who struggle every day because they don’t have enough food or clothes or water or energy. So don’t lecture them.
Now the good news is that the future is actually pretty clear.
We will drive electric, we already know that. We will drive electric cars, electric bikes, electric scooters, electric buses, even electric planes.
We will also electrify everything. That’s the path that we’re on. So we will replace technologies that still run on combustion like gasoline vehicles and natural gas heating and cooling with alternatives that run on electricity. What we need to do is we need to get as much of our energy consumption as possible hooked up to the power grid. Why? Because we know how to get electricity down to zero carbon.
So if you electrify everything, what happens is that every single electrical device gets cleaner throughout its life as we advance towards 100% renewables, which is inevitable. We are going to get there. We just need to do it better, and we need to do it faster and we need to do it with more urgency and we need to do it globally.
So back to the future. We will drive much, much more electric. We will also electrify everything. We will probably, most probably, eat less meat on average. Plant based diets will also become more popular. Artificially-cultured meat will probably remain something exotic. And our collective action will drive price signals and market signals, and therefore that’s where entrepreneurs and governments will go. But, and this is a very big but, all of that is not enough. So don’t delude yourself. Living sustainably is great, but it’s probably not going to move the needle in the time frame that we need it to.
What we need most of all is systemic change. That’s regulation that’s applying the “polluter pays” principle. That’s the capital markets pricing climate risks properly. That’s voting. So vote for change, vote for survival and please stop voting for your narrow self interest, as the Australians did a few months ago, electing a government that even they don’t believe in, on the back of voting for narrow self interest instead of voting for change and voting for survival.
And on that note, thank you so much for listening and have a great couple of weeks.
There is so much to be angry about, if you are a clean energy guy.
Every day, so many things that happen around the world make me angry when I look at them with lenses colored by the climate change chaos unfolding everywhere around us. And I am especially angry because I know we can solve the climate change crisis if we were only trying.
Each week, I will share with you a few topics that struck me and that I was very angry about – and this will generally have to do with climate change, solar or wind power, plastic pollution, environmental degradation, wildlife, the oceans and other related topics.