Reducing Your Home Carbon Footprint Is Easy

This is the story of how Bill and Lenore (a couple living in Ottawa, Canada) were able to reduce their home carbon footprint with one simple choice. Lenore and Bill are climate colleagues and friends. We met a few years back as members of Ottawa. Their story was first published in Medium.

Back when our environmentally-conscious friends were lining up to buy Toyota Priuses and Teslas, Lenore and I went down a different path. To do our part in the fight against climate change we decided to replace our gas furnace with an electric heat pump. With this single action we reduced the greenhouse gas emissions from our home by an astounding 90 percent. And, contrary to everything we were told, switching to electric heat in Ottawa has not increased our monthly costs.

Weighing Our Options

We decided to get rid of our gas furnace after first calculating our carbon footprint. A carbon footprint relates the things we do and the things we buy to the resulting emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases. For the most part, these emissions are the result of burning fossil fuels — coal, oil, propane, and natural gas. Reducing our carbon footprint is the most effective way that we can combat climate change. Ultimately, the goal is to eliminate using fossil fuels entirely.

Fossil fuels are used in just about everything we consume and everything we do. That’s what makes combating climate change so difficult. I used an online tool to calculate the carbon footprint for our two-person household in 2016.

Reducing Your Home Carbon Footprint Is Easy, Below2C
Carbon footprint in 2016 for our two-person household in a 1300 square foot semi-attached house heated with natural gas in Ottawa, Canada. Emissions of greenhouse gases are expressed as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

At 21 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year for a two-person household, our carbon was about 30 percent lower than average for Canada. This reflects our lower-than-average energy use, because our house is smaller than most and we don’t use our car every day.

The largest portion of our carbon footprint, about 15 metric tons per year, is from fossil fuel use that is embedded in the food we eat and the stuff that we buy. This is also the hardest part of our carbon footprint to manage. These emissions are the result of decisions by other people who we rely on indirectly to produce stuff and deliver it to stores, where we buy it. It is nearly impossible for us to know the lowest-carbon options for stuff we need to buy.

The remaining 30 percent of our carbon footprint is easier to manage because it relates more directly to decisions that Lenore and I make about travel and how we use energy in our home. In 2016, home energy use accounted about 18 percent of our total carbon footprint. So, we decided that our first move would be to reduce these emissions.

In Canada, buildings account for about 23 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Heating is the largest source of emissions from homes. For most people in Ottawa this means burning natural gas in furnaces. Burning natural gas is convenient source of heat, but it’s bad for emissions.

One strategy for reducing these emissions is to make our home more energy-efficient. However, we learned that affordable measures to make our 1920’s house more efficient would not take us very far toward the ultimate goal of completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

We also learned that we could have a far greater impact on our carbon footprint by changing the type of energy we use. In Canada, 82 percent of electricity is produced from sources that do not involve burning fossil fuels, such as hydroelectricity, nuclear power, wind and solar. So, we decided to switch from natural gas to electric heat when the opportunity arose.

They Said We Were Crazy

We were spurred into action on the fateful day of Friday, January 13, 2017. It was the coldest day of the year and the day for the annual checkup of our heating system. We were getting dinner ready when the service technician called me to the basement to show me a crack in the heat exchanger. He was “red tagging” the furnace and disconnecting it. The furnace had to be replaced, immediately.

No sooner had the technician packed up and was out the door when the phone rang. It was a salesman from the heating service company. Did we want to buy or rent our new gas furnace? When Lenore replied that we had decided to switch to electric heat, the salesman laughed derisively.

While not particularly effective as a marketing ploy, the salesman’s reaction was understandable. Conventional wisdom is that heating with natural gas is by far the less expensive option. Everyone in Ontario knows that you’d have to be crazy to switch from gas to electric heat. A few months earlier, in 2016, an article in the Toronto Sun reported that switching from gas to electric heat would cost an Ontario homeowner over $2000 per year in higher heating costs.

Reducing Your Home Carbon Footprint Is Easy, Below2C
Heat pumps use a little electric energy to move a larger amount of heat energy from the outside air to heat the air inside a home.

That might have been our fate if we had installed conventional electric heat. However, we went the unconventional route and installed an air-source heat pump, which uses only a fraction of the amount of electricity required by a conventional electric heating system.

The way a heat pump works is fundamentally different from a conventional electric heating system. In conventional electric heating, the electricity is converted directly into heat inside the home, with an efficiency of around 100 percent. An air-source heat pump heats works indirectly by using a small amount of electricity to absorb a larger amount of thermal energy from the outside air and move it inside. As a result, a heat pump can deliver an efficiency of around 300 percent.

Things Work Out Better Than Expected

We could not foresee exactly how things would work out when we launched this project. The furnace salesman was not the only skeptic we encountered. We were confident that converting to electric heat would reduce our carbon footprint. And, we hoped that installing a heat pump would not be too much trouble, and it would keep costs down. But, we could not be certain.

Reducing Your Home Carbon Footprint Is Easy, Below2C
Replacing our gas furnace with an electric heat pump reduced the carbon footprint of our home by 90 percent without affecting total energy costs.

The cost of heating with the heat pump has worked out better than expected. In 2018, the first full year of using the heat pump, the total amount we paid for natural gas and electricity was the same we were paying when heating with natural gas.

It took a over a month to install the heat pump. Most of this time was spent waiting for Hydro Ottawa, the local electric utility, to upgrade our electrical service. We needed to upgrade our electric meter to 200 amps so that we have enough electricity to run the heat pump now and to add an electric car charger later.

The heat pump fit directly into the space left when the gas furnace was removed, and it uses the same duct work as the old furnace. All the contractors we consulted recommended using the Mitsubishi ZUBA air-source heat pump. The ZUBA is designed specifically for a cold climate such as we have in Ottawa, and it is capable of keeping the house warm until outdoor temperatures drop below about -15 degrees Celsius. At colder temperatures, a conventional electric heater works in tandem with the heat pump.

Our total cost was about $20,000. This included the purchase and installation of the heat pump and the electric backup heater, upgrading our electric service, and additional heavy-duty wiring inside the house. Therefore, we have payed about $15,000 more than we would have for a new gas furnace. This amount is comparable to the premium that we could expect to pay for a new high-efficiency hybrid or an electric car.

The upside is that we have achieved a 90 percent reduction in emissions from home energy use. And, this shrank our carbon footprint by twice as much as we could have done by buying a Tesla. The downside is that we do not have a flashy new car sitting in our driveway. Also, unlike electric cars, no one is giving out rebates to offset the cost of installing heat pumps to convert from natural gas to electric heat, at least not yet.

Our heat pump is not going to save the world, but it is a start toward us doing our part. The United Nations climate panel has called for cutting the use of fossil fuels 50 percent by 2030. This is an immense challenge. Our experience shows that taking a first step is not difficult, but you have to be open to the possibility of making different choices. SOURCE


To Decarbonize, We Need To Electrify Everything



Trudeau is betting his entire government on the fight against climate change

Last time, climate change was just one item in a crowded throne speech. Now, it’s centre-stage.

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa. (Chris Wattie/Canadian Press)

Talk is cheap and everything is easier said than done — but a throne speech, by its very nature, can only be measured by its words. And the two most prominent words in the official remarks that opened the 43rd Parliament were “climate” and “change.”

“Canada’s children and grandchildren will judge this generation by its action — or inaction — on the defining challenge of the time: climate change,” Gov. Gen. Julie Payette said, delivering the most striking sentence of Thursday’s 3,300-word speech.

The word “climate” appears 11 times in the speech. It first appears in the first section of the speech — the part that is, by tradition, set aside for the Queen’s representative to offer a few opening thoughts.

If climate change is the defining political issue of the age, Justin Trudeau’s government will be judged by how it navigates the opportunities and risks it presents — opportunities and risks that were laid bare by the recent election and will now play out over the course of this Parliament.

By the measure of its words, this throne speech serves as a sort of benchmark of how much has changed in just six years.

In 2013, in the waning days of Stephen Harper’s government, Julie Payette’s immediate predecessor, David Johnston, delivered a speech from the throne that ran on for more than 7,000 words. It was the longest throne speech of the last 30 years — and not once did it mention the word “climate.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomes Gov. Gen. David Johnston as he arrives to deliver the speech from the throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday Oct. 16, 2013. (Justin Tang/CP)

There was a glancing reference in the speech to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but only at the 4,600-word mark — after long sections on balancing the federal budget, reducing the size of government, creating jobs, expanding trade, developing natural resources, supporting farmers, building infrastructure, cutting taxes, supporting small businesses and “defending Canadian consumers.”

Two years and an election later, the need for a “clean environment” merited its own section in the Trudeau government’s 1,700-word opening statement. But “the environment” still only ran third among the government’s broad areas of concern, behind “growth for the middle class” and “open and transparent government.”

“First and foremost, the government believes that all Canadians should have a real and fair chance to succeed,” Johnston declared on behalf of Trudeau in 2015. “Central to that success is a strong and growing middle class.”

Climate change moves to the political centre

The “middle class” — shorthand for economic security and broadly shared prosperity — was the spine of the Trudeau agenda, a strong foundation that could support priorities like reconciliation, gender equality, diversity, political reform and combating climate change.

On Thursday, climate change was front and centre.

Governor General Julie Payette shares a laugh with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before delivering the Throne Speech in the Senate chamber, Thursday December 5, 2019 in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In December 2019, fighting climate change feels like the overarching cause in Canadian federal politics, the thing that everything else must work toward. It’s not just a moral imperative — it’s a political one as well. Payette reminds parliamentarians they share a ‘space-time continuum’

As the fall’s federal election demonstrated, climate change now defines the gulf between the political left in Canada (who are very eager to do something to reduce this country’s emissions) and the right (who are not).

But the Liberals do not have the left to themselves.

More than 60 per cent of voters in October cast a ballot for a candidate whose party supported a price on carbon, but those votes were split between the Liberals, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Greens. In the short and medium terms, if the Liberals are to advance an agenda through this Parliament, they’ll do it, more often than not, with the cooperation of the Bloc or NDP. MORE


“We would love some action,’ Greta Thunberg says at climate summit in Madrid

Spanish capital is hosting 2-week, UN-sponsored talks on climate change

Activist Greta Thunberg again calls for urgent action on climate change

At a climate summit in Madrid, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg again appealed for awareness, and immediate action on climate change. 1:56

The voices of climate strikers are being heard, but politicians are still not taking action, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said Friday at a summit in Madrid.

“We are getting bigger and bigger, and our voices are being heard more and more, but of course that does not translate into political action,” Thunberg told a news conference during the United Nations-sponsored COP25 climate gathering.

Thunberg, who has sparked a global youth-led protest movement, said asking children to skip school to protest inaction by governments on climate change was “not a sustainable solution.”

“We don’t want to continue. We would love some action from people in power,” she said. “People are suffering and dying from the climate and ecological emergency today and we cannot wait any longer.”

Thunberg said she hopes the two-week annual round of climate negotiations, which opened in Madrid on Monday, would lead to “concrete action” and world leaders would grasp the urgency of the climate crisis.

“Of course there is no victory, because the only thing we want to see is real action,” Thunberg said. “So we have achieved a lot, but if you look at it from a certain point of view, we have achieved nothing.”

The Swedish teen arrived in Madrid on Friday to a swarm of media cameras and microphones at the Spanish capital’s northern train station.

In an ironic tweet, Thunberg said she had “successfully managed to sneak into Madrid.

“I don’t think anyone saw me…,” she said. “Anyway it’s great to be in Spain!”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, from Sweden, attends a news conference before a protest march in Madrid on Friday. (Sergio Perez/Reuters)

The two-week UN summit is aimed at streamlining the rules on global carbon markets and agreeing on how poor countries should be compensated for destruction largely caused by emissions from rich nations.

The talks came as evidence mounts about disasters that could ensue from further global warming, including a study commissioned by 14 seafaring nations and published Friday predicting unchecked climate change could devastate fishery industries and coral reef tourism.

Thunberg paid a surprise visit to the venue of the talks and joined a group of some 40 teens staging a sit-in there to demand real action against climate change.

Greta Thunberg

I successfully managed to sneak into Madrid this morning! I don’t think anyone saw me…
Anyway it’s great to be in Spain! 

QuickTake by Bloomberg


LOOK: Teenage climate activist @GretaThunberg arrives at a Madrid train station in Spain for the Climate Action Summit #COP25.

She traveled back to Europe from the U.S. via catamaran to promote sustainable travel

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Holding hands, the teens sang a version of John Lennon’s Power to the People and displayed banners with the logo of Fridays for Future, the global climate movement inspired by Thunberg.

In the presence of dozens of media cameras and curious summit participants, the protesters exchanged chants: “What do you want?” “Climate Justice” “When do you want it?” “Now.”

Thunberg did not appear unsettled by the commotion surrounding her.

“It’s absurd. I laugh at it. I do not understand why it has become like this,” the 16-year-old was quoted as saying by Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, whose reporter rode with them in an electric car in Madrid.

“I don’t like being at the centre of the focus all the time, but this is a good thing,” she told Aftonbladet. “As soon as the media writes about me, they also have to write about the climate crisis. If this is a way to write about the climate crisis, then I guess it is good.”

While Thunberg seemed bemused by the attention, her father Svante was startled, saying it was “total madness.”

“I have never seen anything like this,” he told Aftonbladet.

The study commissioned by seafaring nations says climate change could cause hundreds of billions of dollars in losses by 2050, adding limiting global warming would lessen the economic impact for coastal countries, but they also need to adapt to ocean changes.

Thunberg meets with participants at the UN-sponsored COP25 summit on Friday. (Juan Medina/Reuters)

The authors said fish will migrate to cooler waters as oceans heat up and become more acidic, jeopardizing some fishing communities. While regions near the equator will suffer fish stock declines, the report forecasts increases in Arctic and Antarctic Oceans

Demands for greater action by non-governmental organizations and a whole new generation of environment-minded activists were expected to take the spotlight with the presence of Thunberg in Madrid.

Past appearances have won her plaudits from some leaders — and criticism from others who’ve taken offence at the angry tone of her speeches.

Activist cross Atlantic aboard catamaran

An advocate for carbon-free transportation, Thunberg travelled by train overnight from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, where she arrived earlier this week after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States by catamaran.

That became necessary after a sudden change of venue for the COP25 summit following a wave of anti-government protests that hit Chile, the original host.

British professional yachtswoman Nicola Henderson, yacht owners Elayna Carausu and her husband Riley Whitelum, with their son, and Thunberg dock earlier this week in Lisbon, Portugal, after crossing the Atlantic. (Horacio Villalobos/Getty Images)

Separately Friday, an alliance of American states, cities, academic institutions and companies opened its own venue at the UN climate talks, aiming to show that despite the federal administration’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord, many Americans remain committed to the treaty’s goal of curbing global warming.

Elan Strait, who manages the “We Are Still In” initiative for the environmental conservationist World Wildlife Fund, said the movement is “a short-term band-aid not only to get those carbon dioxide emissions down but also to encourage policymakers to lay the ground for further achievements.

“And that, regardless of the colour of the government that is in power,” Strait said.

Over 3,800 organizations and corporations representing 70 per cent of U.S. economic output have joined the coalition, organizers claim, amounting to roughly half of the country’s emissions.

The U.S. Climate Action Center is hosting Mandela Barnes, lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, Pat Brown, chief executive of non-meat burger company Impossible Foods, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and others.

The venue is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, a charitable organization founded by billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is now seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2020 U.S. presidential election. SOURCE


Finland Is a Capitalist Paradise

Can high taxes be good for business? You bet.

Credit…Mustafah Abdulaziz for The New York Times

HELSINKI, Finland — Two years ago we were living in a pleasant neighborhood in Brooklyn. We were experienced professionals, enjoying a privileged life. We’d just had a baby. She was our first, and much wanted. We were United States citizens and our future as a family should have seemed bright. But we felt deeply insecure and anxious.

Our income was trickling in unreliably from temporary gigs as independent contractors. Our access to health insurance was a constant source of anxiety, as we scrambled year after year among private employer plans, exorbitant plans for freelancers, and complicated and expensive Obamacare plans. With a child, we’d soon face overwhelming day-care costs. Never mind the bankruptcy-sized bills for education ahead, whether for housing in a good public-school district or for private-school tuition. And then there’d be college. In other words, we suffered from the same stressors that are swamping more and more of Americans, even the relatively privileged.

As we contemplated all this, one of us, Anu, was offered a job back in her hometown: Helsinki, Finland.


Finland, of course, is one of those Nordic countries that we hear some Americans, including President Trump, describe as unsustainable and oppressive — “socialist nanny states.” As we considered settling there, we canvassed Trevor’s family — he was raised in Arlington, Va. — and our American friends. They didn’t seem to think we’d be moving to a Soviet-style autocracy. In fact, many of them encouraged us to go. Even a venture capitalist we knew in Silicon Valley who has three children sounded envious: “I’d move to Finland in a heartbeat.”

So we went.

We’ve now been living in Finland for more than a year. The difference between our lives here and in the States has been tremendous, but perhaps not in the way many Americans might imagine. What we’ve experienced is an increase in personal freedom. Our lives are just much more manageable. To be sure, our days are still full of challenges — raising a child, helping elderly parents, juggling the demands of daily logistics and work.

But in Finland, we are automatically covered, no matter what, by taxpayer-funded universal health care that equals the United States’ in quality (despite the misleading claims you hear to the contrary), all without piles of confusing paperwork or haggling over huge bills. Our child attends a fabulous, highly professional and ethnically diverse public day-care center that amazes us with its enrichment activities and professionalism. The price? About $300 a month — the maximum for public day care, because in Finland day-care fees are subsidized for all families.

And if we stay here, our daughter will be able to attend one of the world’s best K-12 education systems at no cost to us, regardless of the neighborhood we live in. College would also be tuition free. If we have another child, we will automatically get paid parental leave, funded largely through taxes, for nearly a year, which can be shared between parents. Annual paid vacations here of four, five or even six weeks are also the norm.

Compared with our life in the United States, this is fantastic. Nevertheless, to many people in America, the Finnish system may still conjure impressions of dysfunction and authoritarianism. Yet Finnish citizens report extraordinarily high levels of life satisfaction; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked them highest in the world, followed by Norwegians, Danes, Swiss and Icelanders. This year, the World Happiness Report also announced Finland to be the happiest country on earth, for the second year in a row.

But surely, many in the United States will conclude, Finnish citizens and businesses must be paying a steep price in lost freedoms, opportunity and wealth. Yes, Finland faces its own economic challenges, and Finns are notorious complainers whenever anything goes wrong. But under its current system, Finland has become one of the world’s wealthiest societies, and like the other Nordic countries, it is home to many hugely successful global companies.

In fact, a recent report by the chairman of market and investment strategy for J.P. Morgan Asset Management came to a surprising conclusion: The Nordic region is not only “just as business-friendly as the U.S.” but also better on key free-market indexes, including greater protection of private property, less impact on competition from government controls and more openness to trade and capital flows. According to the World Bank, doing business in Denmark and Norway is actually easier overall than it is in the United States.

Finland also has high levels of economic mobility across generations. A 2018 World Bank report revealed that children in Finland have a much better chance of escaping the economic class of their parents and pursuing their own success than do children in the United States.

Finally, and perhaps most shockingly, the nonpartisan watchdog group Freedom House has determined that citizens of Finland actually enjoy higher levels of personal and political freedom, and more secure political rights, than citizens of the United States.

What to make of all this? For starters, politicians in the United States might want to think twice about calling the Nordics “socialist.” From our perch, the term seems to have more currency on the other side of the Atlantic than it does here.

In the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are often demonized as dangerous radicals. In Finland, many of their policy ideas would seem normal — and not particularly socialist.

When Mr. Sanders ran for president in 2016, what surprised our Finnish friends was that the United States, a country with so much wealth and successful capitalist enterprise, had not already set up some sort of universal public health care program and access to tuition-free college. Such programs tend to be seen by Nordic people as the bare basics required for any business-friendly nation to compete in the 21st century. MORE

Trump bizarrely declares war against ‘flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times’

Image result for Trump bizarrely declares war against 'flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times'

President Trump is taking “no obstruction” very seriously.

Trump is apparently sick of flushing toilets, the world unnecessarily learned on Friday. In some unknown place, some unknown people are cursed with “flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times” before everything goes where it needs to go, Trump said in a White House tirade against environmental protections.

“We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers, and other elements of bathrooms,” Trump said, perhaps hinting at toilet paper or even hand towels. “You turn on the faucet, you don’t get any water,” Trump said of these places where there are “tremendous amounts of water.” “They take a shower, the water comes dripping out. People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times,” Trump said of this mystery population. “So the EPA is looking at this very strongly,” Trump reassured the nation’s stressed-out flushers.

Kyle Griffin


Here’s the video, via WaPo, of Trump discussing toilet flushing: “We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers, and other elements of bathrooms … You turn on the faucet and you don’t get any water … People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times.”

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Earlier in the same rant, Trump complained about the energy efficient lightbulbs that are apparently giving him an “orange look,” which he does not want. Kathryn Krawczyk SOURCE