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Green consumerism is no longer enough to save the planet. What we really need to be is green citizens. Justin Gillis is here to share what it takes to become a green citizen. Justin is an award-winning journalist with four decades of experience explaining complex issues and making that digestible in simple language for major daily newspapers such as The New York Times. In this episode, he chats with Corinna Bellizzi about his new book with Hal Harvey, The Big Fix. The book outlines an ambitious yet feasible guide for how America can lead the global solution to the climate crisis. He identifies the seven key steps to conquer this goal with actionable tips you can implement today. Learn all about how to become part of the solution by tuning in.
About Justin Gillis
Justin Gillis is an author and consultant working with co-author Hal Harvey on “The Big Fix,” a book about how to solve global warming. He spent a decade as a reporter for The New York Times covering environmental science, with a special focus on climate change, and is now a contributing opinion writer for the newspaper. He previously worked at The Miami Herald and The Washington Post. He has been a Knight Science Journalism fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, and a fellow at Harvard. He is a native of Georgia.
Additional Resources Mentioned:
‘Temperature Rising’: Will Climate Change Bring More Extreme Weather? – https://www.npr.org/2013/03/21/174019103/temperature-rising-will-climate-change-bring-more-extreme-weather
Jens Molbak On Building A Better World Through Tri-Sector Innovation – https://caremorebebetter.com/jens-molbak-on-building-a-better-world-through-tri-sector-innovation/
Sustainable Investing: Fighting Climate Change One Investment At A Time With Zach Stein, Carbon Collective – https://caremorebebetter.com/sustainable-investing-fighting-climate-change-one-investment-at-a-time-with-zach-stein-carbon-collective/
02:38 The Big Fix and the seven areas we can personally affect change
06:32 How we can get there quicker
09:53 It’s not too late
12:23 The most effective ways to get involved
16:04 What is a political economy?
19:20 Unintended consequences of reducing emissions
23:08 Why lifestyle changes are not enough
27:59 Best case outcomes from the Congress
30:36 Ways of carbon offsetting
33:29 What else we can do to push for change
37:10 Why heat pumps are critical
47:03 Conclusion and contact information
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Practical Steps To Save Our Planet With Justin Gillis, Co-Author Of The Big Fix, Released On 9/20/22 By Simon And Schuster
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In this episode, we are going to cover an audacious topic. As we cover seven practical steps to save our planet with Justin Gillis. He is the co-author of The Big Fix, a new book that will be out on September 20th, 2022. Justin Gillis is an Award-Winning Journalist with four decades of experience explaining complex issues and making that digestible in simple language for major daily newspapers including the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Miami Herald.
As the lead reporter on ClimateScience at the time, for nearly a decade, he won the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism for a series of front-page articles exploring the basics of the climate crisis. He’s a graduate of the University of Georgia and a fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. Justin, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Corinna. It’s good to be here.
It’s so good to have you here. Isn’t that often that you get to connect on such an audacious laid-out plan to save our planet? I want to quote here something that I saw on the liner notes for your book. This is from Al Gore about this work. He says, “Full of illustrative stories and compelling evidence, The Big Fix outlines an ambitious yet feasible guide for how America can lead the global solution to the climate crisis.” Those are his words but ultimately, this is something that got me fired up. We haven’t been leading the charge the same way we had been. Let’s start from there. What are these seven areas that we can affect to change positively and save our home?
In the interest of time, I’ll run through them pretty quickly. When I do so, it’s going to sound to the audience like, “There’s not much I can do about that and the other one either,” but that’s wrong. Maybe we can circle back and discuss some examples and what people can do. Step number one in our plan to make a difference in climate change is to clean up the electric grid. The reason we need to do that is the electric grid becomes the basis for supplying a lot of other energy services that are supplied by burning things. If we have a clean grid, for example, then we get more for the buck running electric cars on that grid so we need to clean up the grid.The heart of the problem is that it's all taking too long. Click To Tweet
The second thing we need to do is clean up transportation. I mentioned electric cars. Probably a lot of your readers are already at least curious about electric cars, which are a way to cut emissions. There are lots of other things we need to do to clean up the transportation system. We need to clean up our buildings. That means we need to get gas out of them. Everybody out there who has a gas stove or a gas furnace needs to be thinking, “When am I going to get rid of this thing? What am I going to switch to?” The magic technology there is called heat pumps. We all need to be making plans to switch over.
We need to clean up our industry. Things like steel, cement and chemicals are big sources of emissions. We need to build better cities. Historically in America, we’ve had this building pattern of suburbanization that’s very costly in terms of emissions, land, damaging wildlife and so forth. There’s a big political move to try to reverse that. We all need to throw our support into that movement. We need to clean up our food supply and the way we use land. We need agriculture that’s more conscious of the environment and climate. Consumers have a say in what they buy.
The seventh part of this plan is what we call invent the future. By that, we mean that we need public support for investments designed to create the technologies that we don’t yet have but we’ll need in the next years to solve the climate crisis. We’ve got what we need to get well over halfway there already but we need more. We’re going to have to invest as a country in inventing those things. How Hal Harvey, my coauthor, and I have done in this book is laid out ways that the public can help with all seven of those big tasks.
Audacious on all fronts. I have been making those strides to clean up my electricity but as many here in California will understand, it’s not always our choice, even with something like solar panels installed on your roof. I’m still connected to the grid and PG&E will shut the power off for sometimes days at a time because of fire hazard conditions. If it’s too windy and dry at the same time because our grid has not yet gone underground, it can spark fires and dry forests. It feels like it’s taking too long. I wonder what your thoughts are about how we can get there more quickly and if there’s anything that we can do or even through legislation to help that move forward.
Every bit of this is taking too long. There’s no question about it. The heart of the problem is that it’s all taking too long. The way to speed it up is through public pressure. The fact of the matter is we have not had in the United States any particularly strong political demand on climate change up until 2022. We went for decades with the climate scientists warning us about how serious this problem was.
The political response was almost nothing, except in a handful of places. California was out early and a few other states but on a national level, not very much at all. We’re in an emergency. Whereas you say, when bad things were starting to happen, we’re all starting to see it with our eyes. Entire towns are burning down in California. Massive floods are disrupting people’s lives. We truly are in a crisis here. What we can do as citizens is ramp up this set of demands. That has started.
The 2020 election was the first election in which people managed to force any presidential candidate to take this problem seriously and make promises related to it. We do have politics of climate change and a movement, especially a young people movement but we need more. That means citizens getting in the faces of their elected representatives and making demands.
There are all sorts of ways to do this. I’m sure we’re going to talk about some of those but it’s true, not just in Washington. This isn’t writing your Congressman and then, “You’re done,” is the answer. A huge amount of what needs to be done is at the state level and the local level. The opportunities for people to intervene are often as close as their city hall or local school board. What we need is much more citizen demand.
One of the things that are very hard for people is it may already feel like it’s too late. They look at the whole of the enormity of the problem that is climate change and feel like, “What can I do?” Even sending an email or approaching your congresspeople from a lobbyist’s perspective may seem like, first of all, not enough and perhaps a little too late in the game. What would you say to those people that might feel like the cards are already stacked against us?
It is true that we’ve already bought ourselves a lot of damage with the emissions level that we’re at. There’s a huge amount of inertia in the system as well. If we ramp up our political demands and policies, it’s still going to be decades before we get fossil fuels out of the economy. There’s no way around that. I understand when people feel a little bit hopeless about this problem. If you do that, you’re falling for the tricks of the fossil fuel companies in a way. They want us to feel disempowered and hopeless about the situation because they want to keep making money selling fossil fuels.People need to understand they actually can still make a difference. We can speed this up, and to the degree we do, we are benefiting ourselves and future generations. Click To Tweet
The truth is, as long as there is 1 pound of coal left in the ground not to burn or a barrel of oil left in the ground not to drill and burn, we could still make things better. We’re fighting at this point to limit the damage. One has to be honest about that. It’s a little hard to inspire people with the battle cry to limit the damage. I’ve written in the past. It’s not to the best deal as a battle cry but that’s where we are. People need to understand. They can still make a difference. We can speed this up. To the degree we do, we are benefiting ourselves and future generations. My message for people is pretty simple. Don’t despair. Throw yourself at this problem with what time you have available.
In your opinion, what do you think are the most effective ways to get involved at this particular time?
Let me give you some examples of things that people don’t think about. One is every parent in America puts their kid on a school bus every morning to go to school. That school bus burns dirty diesel fuel, which is making the climate problem worse. In addition, on a hot day, the kids are going to roll down the windows and you get dirty diesel fumes blowing into the faces of these young people in a country where we already have a problem with asthma and that problem is getting worse.
I don’t understand why every parent in America is not marching down to the local school board saying, “Excuse me. When are you going to change these out for clean buses because clean buses are available.” They are relatively new and still expensive but the cost is falling. If you look at the total lifetime operating costs of these electric buses, it’s already pretty good compared to fossil-burning buses.
This is something parents aren’t thinking about. School boards listen to parents. If a few parents went down and said, “When are you going to make a plan on cleaning up the buses?” You get an audience. We know this is true because this is already starting to happen around the country. It’s happened in a few places. A few school boards have made big important commitments already. We need more people involved to do that.
Another example is a lot of people don’t realize that the electricity system in their state is controlled by a government agency. Every state has one. It’s usually called a public utility commission or a public service commission in a few states. These are court-like bodies that usually operate in the state Capitol. They tell the power companies what they can build, how fast they can build it and what they can charge for it. They’re in complete control of the whole power system.
By law, these boards have to listen to the public. Many people don’t even know they exist. You flip a switch and your electricity comes on. You never think about where it comes from or who’s in charge but there are people in charge of it. They’re required to listen to you. We’ve seen examples already where the public has made a lot of difference by going down to either testifying in favor of clean energy at these boards. You could even do that. You don’t have to leave your house. You can do that over a webcam and make a virtual appearance.
You can put comments in the record of these boards as they consider what their electric companies ought to be required to do. That’s another way. They’re a bunch of examples like this where there are what we call in the book secret levers that people can pull. Their secret is only in the sense that most people don’t know about them. They’re not state secrets or anything like that but there are a ton of these levers where a little bit of democratic action can make a difference. That’s what we’re asking people to do.
I think about the political economy, the situation that we’re in. This is a term you talk about in the book too. Can you describe for our audience what a political economy is and how we can ultimately leverage its power?
This is an old term that fell out of favor. It used to be that economists understood that politics heavily influenced economic possibilities. In a country, for example, your political options are constrained and influenced very heavily by what laws are on the books. Have you got a government that’s competent and willing to enforce private contracts, for example? What’s your country doing in terms of trade agreements with other countries? Does it have high barriers or low barriers to trade?Don't despair. Throw yourself at this problem with what time you have available. Click To Tweet
That’s the term political economy. It’s unfortunate that it fell out of use and economists went off down this rabbit hole of thinking, “We’re all rational actors making decisions in a pure free market,” which is ludicrous. We like the term political economy because it signals something important to people about the energy transition namely the government. Somewhat unbeknownst to the average citizen has this huge role in what our economic possibilities are.
Let me give you one example there. You may live in a state where there are lots of electric cars on the market and you have your choice of 25 or 30 models at this point. There are some other states where there are virtually no electric cars on the market and getting your hands on one is extremely difficult. What’s the difference? The difference is whether, in the case of State A, the great likelihood is that the state government has followed the lead of California and adopted California’s emission standards, which compels the carmakers to put a wide range of clean cars onto the market in that state.
Colorado did this within the last few years. Lo and behold, many more models of electric cars are becoming available in Colorado. In states that haven’t done that, which is about half the states that have not endorsed the California emissions standards, they’re getting the scraps of the electric car market because there’s no law in the books that says you have to sell electric cars there at all. That’s a big difference that affects what you’re able to buy that’s being determined by the actions of your state government. Most people don’t know that happens. There are a bunch of other examples like this where the rules that are going on in the background matter what our options are.
As somebody who has fallen into a fair number of rabbit holes as it relates to some climate solutions including electric vehicles, I’m curious about what your perspective is on them as part of a solution for our transportation needs and reducing emissions. At the same time, we have to mind these rare earth minerals and some ecosystems that are somewhat questionable.
For instance, potentially melting permafrost in Greenland to get those rare precious metals or drill into our seabeds. Both of which can disrupt the ecologies of the space and have unintended consequences that we may not necessarily be able to determine. What are your thoughts about that as a whole?
There’s a hierarchy here where it is certainly the case that not driving is better than driving. That’s true, whether we’re talking about an electric car or a gasoline car. Riding a bicycle is better than driving. If you do drive, if you do have a car, driving fewer miles is better than driving more miles. Combining trips and not taking unnecessary trips is better. Buying an economical car even if you buy a gasoline car. Buying a Honda civic is better than buying some big gas guzzler.
Electric cars are cleaner than any gasoline car out there. The last overall driving, the better. The more we can persuade people or create the conditions to allow people to live in denser urban environments, where they can walk to places or bicycle to places or where the grocery store is down on the corner, that’s all good. We’ve got an entire chapter in The Big Fix where we talk about building better cities.
Electric cars are an imperfect solution to a very large problem. It’s a much better solution than the one we have, which is fuel-burning cars. It’s true that we’re going to need a huge amount of minerals. Electric cars are more intensive in terms of some types of minerals than gasoline cars are. They need lithium batteries. Lithium is a difficult mineral to mine. It’s dirty. The ponds that are used to draw the brine and produce lithium are dirty. There’s no question there’s going to be environmental damage that comes from all this new clean energy stuff.
The difference is we are at least talking about that and aware of that early in the life cycle of these new technologies. Whereas in the past, we got way down the whole of using fossil fuels before we became remotely conscious about the environmental consequences. We’re going to need very careful recycling of the minerals that we’re talking about, the metals and the minerals in these electric cars. We’re going to need policies and incentives to make sure that we don’t create whole new waste streams of disused solar cells and so forth. The time to think about that is when these things are still young. Let’s get the laws and the policies in place. We need to do it as cleanly as possible.
You’re getting back to the root of another question I wanted to explore with you, which is the rule of lifestyle changes that we can make. Things like having a greener transport system and cities that are more mindfully arranged would have better public transit, even if we get to a space where public transit is destigmatized. We have some class issues related to public transit in the bulk of America. It’s not like everywhere is New York or San Francisco.A lot of people don't realize that the electricity system in their state is completely controlled by a government agency. Click To Tweet
There’s a component of these lifestyle changes that we can each choose to make. For instance, an individual living in New York City and their carbon footprint, even though they’re living in an environment that might be more toxic because there’s more pollution but on a per capita per basis, each individual is producing less waste. It’s important that we consider these things. I’d like to get a purview into your view on how our lifestyle changes, perhaps eating less meat, consuming less, keeping that vehicle longer. What role is that going to play in solving the climate problem?
Our position is that all those things are important for a couple of reasons. They’re a gateway to thinking about the broader issues and reporting in their right as a direct contribution to reducing emissions. With that said, our position in the book is that lifestyle changes alone are not enough. A lot of people, when they learn about this problem, they feel despair. The problem feels so large. Many people say to themselves, “I’m one small person. What can I do about a problem this big?”
The answer they come up with is, “I do at least have control over what I consume and buy.” The path that people find their way through is the green consumer path. “I’m going to try to be the greatest possible consumer I can be, recycle diligently and do all these things.” That’s all fine but we are saying to people, “What we need you to do is to be a green citizen.”
We would even put being a green citizen ahead of being a green consumer. The systems we’re talking about are enormous. We’re talking about very large-scale energy systems, food systems and water systems, all of which need to be reformed. That’s not going to happen without public policy, laws, new state rules, new city ordinances and all these things. To make it happen, the public has to get behind that and push more assiduously. That has been the case in the past.
Still, the lifestyle stuff is important. Among the biggest levers that people have are what they eat. Incremental change is good there. Not everybody has to become a vegan to make a difference. Although, being a vegan is good if you can do it but cutting down on meat is good. If you’re going to eat meat, the least carbon-intensive of the common meats is chicken and the most emission-intensive is beef. To the extent, you can give up beef and move down the food chain. Chicken is good. If you can go for meatless Mondays, that’s good. Cutting your meat consumption is a good thing to do.
Flying less is a good thing to do. Flying has a very large emissions footprint. Even cutting back 1, 2 or 3 plane trips a year compared to your past patterns, you’re making a real contribution there. Probably the third biggest thing that people can influence is where they live and how much that forces them to drive. If you can live closer in and take care of some of your business by walking, bicycling or electric bike, which is a big booming thin, that’s all good. We do think the lifestyle stuff makes a difference but the green citizen is more important, honestly.
You’ve alluded to a couple of things that are considered from earlier episodes that I’ve hosted at this show. One I will point our audience to is the interview with Jens Molbak who created this new company called simply New Impact. They are at NewImpact.Care. They argue that we need to take this new tri-sector innovation approach, which involves the public sector or the private sector. Also, the social sector and that’s people. That’s all of us coming together. You’ve alluded to this by talking about the need for government to have certain regulations and involvement in this. Where do you see us in the future? Some precious things are happening in Congress that could change but what’s the best-case scenario?
There’s a big climate deal being discussed in Washington. Let’s hope it will have passed by the time your readers are reading this. Let me back up. President Biden has committed to the rest of the world that the United States will cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from our peak level in 2005 and 50% by the year 2030 on our way to trying to cut them out entirely by 2050. That 50% cut by 2030 is the big American promise to the rest of the world.
If the deal in Congress passes as it’s being discussed, that will get us probably about 40% of the way on those emissions cuts. We’ve still got a gap there. The plan we outlined in The Big Fix is the public can help to fill that gap by pushing their local governments and state governments and for that matter, continuing to push Congress to go still further. If we can pick up ten extra percentage points of cuts, then America will keep its promise to the rest of the world. It will not be climate hypocrites, which we don’t want to be.
I once conceived a book that I wanted to write called The Accidental Hypocrite. I’m putting the idea out there because I may still write it but I believe that many of us, even as well-intentioned as we are often become accidentally, hypocrites. We go out to get a cup of coffee and while we might want to use our reusable cups, COVID hit and we could no longer do that. Certain things span outside of our control and that way too.Politics heavily influence economic possibility. Click To Tweet
One thing that you said a bit that I want to touch back on relates to air travel. I used to travel at least twice a month by air to multiple spots around the globe. Since COVID hit and a few lifestyle changes in my space, I have taken on average about three trips a year. One of the things that Google did, which you’ll also see on some other air travel sites, is they show the most carbon resource smart options.
If you fly direct, you can see the difference between what it would take in the way of emissions to fly direct versus having to stop off in those two other cities on your way. While you might save a buck, your impact on the environment is worse. I love that feature. More people should be aware of it. My next big trip is going to be across the country from San Francisco to Philadelphia. I’ve made that conscious choice to travel direct.
It means I’m getting up earlier than I want to and perhaps leaving a little later than I might want to on the way back. Ultimately, it’s something that I am more comfortable with. Something that Paul Hawken in his work Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation recommends is that we offset those flights with 2 to 3 times the carbon offset. That’s a practice anyone in our audience could employ if they do go on air travel. Look to ways to offset the carbon expense that you’re putting out there.
If you google carbon offsetting, there are a million options out there. This is called the voluntary carbon market or the voluntary emissions market. If your airline is giving you the emissions for a flight, you can offset those or multiple of those if you want to. It’s not dirt cheap. It’s some tens of dollars to buy the offsets for a flight but it’s a possibility.
Let’s talk for a minute about some things that we can do to push forward a little bit more quickly with this clean energy perspective. What are additional things that we might do to help limit our usage and also push for change?
We need the public to think about and work on the problem of buildings. We have millions upon millions of leaky, old, inefficient buildings in America. A lot of people who might be reading probably have a house, a condo or something that is not as efficient as it could be. There are two approaches here. One is along the lines of lifestyle change. You can fix your place up. What you need there is called an energy audit. It will tell you to what extent you’re wasting energy and what the steps are that you can take to cut back on that.
As people are doing that, they need to be thinking about and planning once the gas furnace goes out in this place, if you do have a gas furnace. Are you going to install another one and lock in another 20 or 30 years of emissions from the burning gas or look at this new-fangled thing called a heat pump that can do the job instead and do it with clean electricity?
A lot of people have bad taste in heat pumps but that technology has improved radically in the last decade. People need to take another look at it. That’s the personal track. “What can I do in my life?” At the same time, we need people supporting public policy relating to buildings. A lot of towns are out of date on their building codes. The model building codes on which cities base their local building codes keep getting better, getting more buildings and getting more efficient if they are built code.
We need people demanding that their cities and counties stay up to date on the building codes, which is going to mean that the housing stock that’s being constructed new in those places is cleaner and uses less energy than the old houses. Last but not least, some towns, especially in California have adopted outright bans on new gas appliances and buildings.
In 55 or 60 cities in California, you cannot build a new home and put a gas furnace in it or a gas stove. You have to go with a heat pump and a very fancy, beautiful thing called an induction stove as your way to cook. We need people to support those policies. We need to support those policies beyond California. It’s happening in California. It’s spread a little bit to other states but we need a national movement to ban gas so that we stop digging the hole deeper. We’re still putting up new buildings that have gas appliances in them. That needs to stop.There's no question there's going to be environmental damage that comes from all this new clean energy stuff. The difference is we are at least talking about that and aware of that early in the life cycle of these new technologies. Click To Tweet
Let’s talk for a moment about what a heat pump is. This came up on an episode as well when I interviewed Zach Stein who runs a company called the Carbon Collective. They’re ultimately working to use investments to make wiser choices and be green investing, which is something that’s rising in the field of economics. He talked about the fact that he made that choice to go ahead and install a heat pump and then we’d get the added benefit of essentially a temperature control in the way of air conditioning or something instead of air conditioning. How do heat pumps work? Why are they so critical?
We quote a guy in our book, a guy named Nate Adams, who’s an expert on describing heat pumps. He says, “Heat pump is a bisexual air conditioner. It goes both ways.” That’s a pithy way to remember what a heat pump is. A heat pump is simply a device that can move heat from one place to another. Everybody reading this already has a heat pump in their house, at least one. That would be your refrigerator.
What your refrigerator does is pull heat out of the interior. If you’ve ever stuck your hand behind there, you’ll feel it’s warm behind the refrigerator because it’s pumping that heat out the back. A home air conditioner is a one-way heat pump. It pulls hot air out of your house and pumps it outside. The result is that your house cools down. A heat pump of the sort we are advocating is an air conditioner that’s able to go in both directions.
It could cool your house in the summertime but it can turn around and essentially reverse the flow so that it heats your house in the wintertime. A lot of people find it hard to believe but it’s true that even when it’s cold outside, a heat pump can pull heat out of that cold air and push it inside your house so that it warms your house up. A refrigerator doesn’t stop working because it’s already cool in the interior. It keeps pumping heat out even though there’s not a lot of heat in there. This is the magic trick. Heat pumps use electricity to heat and cool, whereas air conditioners are using electricity to cool. You’re going in both directions with electricity.
Historically, electricity was more expensive than gas as a way to heat your house but natural gas prices are up so much. Those economics are changing rapidly. In addition, when people install heat pumps, they need to tighten up their house, seal all the air gaps and put new insulation in. When you do all that, you cut the cost of operating a heat pump. It’s becoming a reasonable and economic option for people. The price is coming down. The costs are falling.
Everybody, have this in mind as your next move when your gas furnace goes on the blank. It’s especially economic if you need to replace them both at the same time, which sometimes people do because you’re pulling out 2 appliances and replacing them with 1. It’s economical and new construction because instead of putting in 2 appliances, you’re putting in only 1 that can do the job.
I can say this from an air conditioning perspective. We do have an air conditioning unit here, which makes the hottest parts of the year more bearable but it’s very loud. Is a heat pump loud?
Heat pumps are quieter. They operate a little differently than what people are used to. You’re used to a furnace coming on and blowing hot air at you. Sometimes people like to under that vet and warm up if they’ve been outside. Heat pumps operate for longer. They don’t cycle on and off as much. They tend to continue running. They run very quietly. You don’t hear the noise that you tend to get with old-style air conditioners or furnaces.
It’s lovely because, in one that’s set up properly, you have total control not just of the temperature in a house but of the humidity level as well. The most comfortable houses I’ve ever been in are with well-done heat pump installations where you simply don’t notice the heating and cooling because you’re in a comfortable environment at all times.
I saw a recommendation come through from the electric companies saying that we should put our new comfort setting in our homes to 78 degrees in the summer months, instead of putting it at 72 to 75. This is part of a measure to get consumers to use less energy because at the same time that we have increased demand for doing things like recharging our electric vehicles, they also have increased demand for air conditioners in the summer months. It can put too much stress on the grid at the same time. How would a heat pump compare to that? I’m trying to help people understand the difference. If it uses less electricity continually and keeps it more comfortable overall, then theoretically, you’d be using less energy overall. Is that correct?Lifestyle changes alone are not enough. Click To Tweet
It does vary house by house. A highly efficient modern heat pump can indeed use less energy. It probably would use less energy than the air conditioner you’re replacing. This is what people need to understand. You put 1 unit of electricity in and a heat pump gives you 2, 3 or even 4 units of heating or cooling for every unit of electricity you’ve put in. I do mean that. It means that the thing is 200%, 300% or 400% efficient, which is a little hard to believe but the reason is you’re not making heat. You’re moving heat around. You can do that with less electricity.
To your point about 78 degrees, that’s a whole lot more comfortable if you’re controlling the humidity, which a modern heat pump does. A lot of people are running air conditioning, not because the temperature is uncomfortable but because it’s clammy if you don’t. You get sweaty. In a good modern heat pump installation where you’re controlling the humidity as an independent variable, it’s a lot more tolerable to set your thermostat up at 77 or 78 degrees. You’re using less energy that way.
Thank you for the in-depth explanation. It’s helpful for people to understand as they consider these new potentially large expenses. I’ve seen tickets in the realm of around $10,000 to do a heat pump. It varies by your house, the square footage and all of that jazz but it’s something I’m considering as our next big step too.
It can be pricey, depending on the condition of the house. Can you reuse the old docs or do you need new docs? There are full retrofits of some houses that can even run $30,000 or $40,000 in some cases, depending on what you need. One thing for people to pay attention to though is it cuts energy use and moves us toward clean energy so a lot of the more progressive utilities are offering pretty big incentives for people to switch out with heat pumps and people to go all-electric in their houses.
Corinna, I don’t know where in California you live but if you were in the territory of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which is that big area around Sacramento, they’d be offering you up to $20,000 in incentives, maybe a little more in 2022 to make these changes. In the bill that’s under consideration in Washington, we hope it passes or will pass by the time people know this, but there are pretty big tax breaks for people who make these changes as well. While the project can sound expensive, you may be in a position. If you look at all the state and local utility incentives, people can sometimes offset half or more of the cost of these projects by using other people’s money, essentially.
That’s part of what helped to drive more electric vehicles onto the road here. We had tax incentives of a $10,000 rebate and a little extra and being able to go into the diamond lane during non-commuter and commuter hours. All of that helped with the adoption of electric vehicles. We also saw that even PG&E here in our local environment gave a $500 rebate if you were installing an electric car vehicle charging point. We need to look at all of these things as we continue forward.
I’ll be keeping an eye on that bill too. I’m hoping that it does pass and will have passed. I’d like to invite you to share the best way to connect with you. Your book is on Amazon for pre-order and directly on Simon and Schuster’s site.
Some people don’t necessarily like buying from Amazon so we tend to list 3 or 4 different places that people can buy. That would be great. For connecting with me, I would urge people to go through my Twitter account, which is @JustinHGillis. I keep my direct messages open on that account at all times. Anybody can message me. If they’re obnoxious, I’m going to block them. Anybody who’s civil will get a civil reply. I’m delighted to connect with people. By the time your audience is reading this, we will have a web page up about the book. That’s going to be called BigFixBook.com. That will also have ways to reach both me and Hal Harvey, my co-author.
Thank you so much, Justin, for joining us on the show. I’ve so enjoyed this conversation. We’ve provided our readers with some actionable tools and some hope, which is critical at this time.
I’m glad to be here.
As we close this episode, I invite you to consider how you might change your approach to our shared planet. How will you affect these seven practical steps? I encourage you all to pick up a copy of The Big Fix. It is sure to help you get creative and get those juices flowing so that we can collectively drive more positive energy in the right direction. If you have questions for me or Justin, I hope you’ll send me a note directly to Hello@CareMoreBeBetter.com.
As Justin said, you can find him on Twitter @JustinHGillis. Please, reach out to him as well. All you have to do if you want to leave me a voicemail is to simply go to CareMoreBeBetter.com and click that microphone icon in the bottom right-hand corner. You can record a message and send it on through. You can even review it before you do so you’re sure it says exactly what you want it to say. Thank you, readers, now and always for being a part of this show and community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more and be better. We can even regenerate the earth. Thank you.
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- Carbon Collective
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