Phrases like "climate crisis" and "tipping point" are scientifically sound descriptions of our current moment. But, such talk can also overwhelm us and lead to despair. It's tough to muster an appropriate sense of urgency and yet still maintain hope.
We founded Sustainable Newton determined to reject helplessness and convinced individual actions matter immensely, as we've stated elsewhere on this website. As board members, we've been sharing personal resolutions for 2020 this week. We're not asking you to emulate us, but we do hope we've encouraged you to find your own ways to make a difference. Happy New Year!
By Maurice Carter, Sustainable Newton President
My resolutions for the new year focus on two areas: food and transportation. The first is a common theme for nearly everyone come January 1. The latter carries over something I started this year. Let's tackle that one first...
Transportation: More Miles and Smiles per Gallon
In mid-December, circumstances put me in the market for a new car for the first time in 22 years. I was keenly interested in an all-electric vehicle (EV) to cut my carbon emissions to zero, so I talked with friends who'd made the transition with great results. But, I wasn't sure I could live within the mileage range most EVs provide between charges. With more time to investigate, I'm confident we could have made it work. But, needing a new car quickly, I compromised by choosing a hybrid.
Cars like my new Honda Accord Hybrid have a traditional gasoline and an electric engine. The vehicle engages one or both as needed to accelerate, climb, and maintain speed. There's no power cord, but the batteries are charged with excess power generated by the gasoline engine and by coasting, slowing, and braking. The net effect is dramatically improved fuel efficiency.
My Accord is rated at 49 MPG city and highway, which is a substantial improvement over the ~20 MPG of the 2004 vehicle I was driving. My fuel cost savings will be substantial. But, increased fuel efficiency also translates directly into lower CO2 emissions. On the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, you can estimate annual CO2 emissions for your mileage driven at various fuel efficiency levels. For 10,000 miles a year, the amounts are:
My Accord has three engine settings: EV, Econ, and Sport. EV means running the car in all-electric mode, which is only feasible for short trips. As you can imagine, Sport is not the most efficient way to travel. So, I'm mostly keeping it in Econ mode, which so far has been "sporty" enough for me.
However, it still matters how I drive. The car's dash display shows in real-time whether I am running on battery, gasoline, or both. It shows also when I am recharging the battery, and it gives a running tally of MPG achieved on every trip. It's been easy so far to stay around 45 MPG or better, but hitting 49+ will require focus. And THAT is my resolution: to focus on consistently achieving the maximum fuel efficiency possible. Do that, and I'll be taking two metric tons of carbon out of the atmosphere for every 10,000 miles I drive.
As for that other resolution.. It's Only One Day a Week
I've long admired my vegetarian and vegan friends. For some, it's been a life-long choice determined by religion and/or culture. In other cases, it's a decision they made for health or ethical reasons. But, increasingly, people are choosing to avoid meat and embrace a plant-based diet to save our planet.
Project Drawdown is a research organization that reviews, analyzes, and identifies viable global climate solutions to direct policymakers and advocates in choosing the most impactful actions for reversing climate change. In their ranked list of solutions, plant-rich diet is the fourth most promising change we can make. You can read more about the science on their website.
Considering the environmental impact and health benefits, I see my vegetarian friends and wonder what more might I do? But, as a carnivore with 60+ years of experience, it's hard to change.
Thankfully, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. A program called "Meatless Monday" offers those wanting to reduce their carbon footprint and improve their health a realistic roadmap to make small dietary changes. I've had friends older than me quit meat cold-turkey (no pun intended!). But, resolutions need to be realistic and attainable, so I'm starting with one day a week. And, from there, who knows!?
I'm just glad New Year's Day falls on a Wednesday. That beef tenderloin looks might tasty! <Insert sheepish grin and slap on wrist.>