Leave It Better Than You Found It
- Jan 28, 2022 3:57 pm GMT
It’s a value that my father instilled in me at an early age. He has always loved the outdoors – camping, backpacking, fishing, boating and generally communing with nature. Some of my favorite family vacations involved camping in the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite. One time when we broke camp, I remember finding a small pile of glass bottle caps and cigarette butts in the area we parked the cars. I knew that no one in the family drank from glass bottles or smoked cigarettes and thus I felt excused from cleaning them up. My dad saw this and took the opportunity to remind me that we had a responsibility to keep pristine places clean. Even though we weren’t responsible for the litter, we were responsible for making sure the next group of campers had a chance to enjoy nature as it was intended to be – free of contamination. “Always leave the campsite better than you found it,” dad told me.
Fast forward 15 years. I’m graduating Arizona State University with my degree in chemical engineering. I was looking for my first job in my new career and had an opportunity to work with the State of Arizona protecting air quality.
“Leave it better than you found it” was one of the most significant drivers in my decision to pursue a career in air quality and public service. It gave me a sense of purpose, adding personal meaning and satisfaction to my work. In the 18 years I worked for the State of Arizona, I had a direct hand in improving air quality throughout the state, improving visibility at the Grand Canyon, protecting people from the health effects of air pollution, solving some of Arizona’s most challenging environmental problems, and generally improving the quality of life for millions of Arizona’s citizens.
Fast forward to today. Thanks to the Clean Energy Commitment APS made two years ago this week, I have another chance to leave the world a better place than I found it.
As a chemical engineer, I studied the laws of science. The Law of Conservation of Mass says that materials in a chemical reaction are neither created nor destroyed; they only change form. When we burn fossil fuel, it creates CO2 which just sits in the atmosphere and accumulates.
Think of the problem like a plugged sink with the faucet turned on. For a while, there is room in the sink to collect the pouring water. After a time, the sink fills up and unless we take action, we risk water spilling and making a big mess. The first action we need to take is to simply stop adding water to the sink – turn off the faucet. This solves the most immediate risk of water spilling and sets the stage for the next important challenge - addressing the water that has accumulated in the sink. We can either wait for nature, and let that water evaporate – a process that will take a long time - or we can unplug the sink and let the water drain out.
Since we don’t yet have a way to drain the proverbial sink of CO2, APS’s Clean Energy Commitment is the most important step we can take to combat climate change – turning the faucet off. We do this by relying on our current clean energy sources like nuclear and renewable energy, investing in more clean and renewable energy generation and energy storage, and, as my colleague Daniel Haughton has articulated, partnering with customers to reduce demand. All of these actions reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. But we can’t ignore the challenges. Unreliable energy quickly becomes a public health problem in Arizona. We need air conditioners to work when it’s 115 degrees outside. Unaffordable electricity creates a similar problem, forcing customers to choose between staying cool and other basic needs such as medicine and food.
So, I hearken back to the life lesson my father gave me. Leave it better than you found it. Today, I have an opportunity to transfer that lesson to help our company achieve its goal of a 100% clean, carbon-free electricity by 2050, while helping our customers keep their air conditioners on and the electricity rates affordable. We have a long way to go to fix the whole problem, but I’m excited for the chance to be a direct part of the solution and leave the world a little bit better place for those who come after me.
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