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Why the Democrats Plans Won't Matter

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Lily Li's picture
Founder and CEO Hancock Software

Lily has been the guiding force at Hancock Software since its inception in 2004. She is a naturalized U.S.citizen originally from China where she graduated top of her class with a MS in Physics...

  • Member since 2019
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  • Sep 6, 2019

I went on a three day yoga retreat last weekend with a group of very nice folks who all seemed to lean in the direction of support for a fossil free economy as soon as possible.  One conversation in particular highlighted for me the crux of our challenge with our collapsing climate.  Even while promoting her support for Green New Deal policies, one of the other ladies was lamenting the high cost of her aging New England oil furnace and explained why she wouldn't replace it with more modern clean heating technologies this way - they don't plan on staying in the home long enough to offset the cost of replacing aging furnace.

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It's not that she couldn't afford a new heat pump for her home.  She was quite proud of all the money she was putting into savings for her grandchildren's college fund.  How ironic that she was willing to invest in her grandchildren's education, but not in the climate they will inherit!

The Dems all laid out their grand plans to address our climate challenges this week.   But our climate collapse won't be averted by any of these plans.   It's not up to the politicians or the utilities or the Government in general.  It's up to YOU and ME, to leave the legacy of energy responsibility to the next generation. Getting up to date clean technology installed in our homes and small businesses can't be 'voted' in.  It has to be DONE, not talked about.  The green economy and our planet will thrive when the people speak with their pocketbooks and adoption of renewables, storage and clean technology becomes a mainstream obligation.

How do we change the conversation?  How do we shift people's mindset to realize that we must each invest where ever we can when ever we can in measures to save the pending collapse of our climate.  How can I convince my friend to replace her aging oil furnace, not because it will benefit her economically, but because it is the right thing to do?  Until we can answer that question, I fear the grand plans laid out by our politicians this week won't matter.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 6, 2019

Getting up to date clean technology installed in our homes and small businesses can't be 'voted' in.  It has to be DONE, not talked about.  The green economy and our planet will thrive when the people speak with their pocketbooks and adoption of renewables, storage and clean technology becomes a mainstream obligation.

I agree that it's important to vote with your wallet, but there's certainly a lot that needs to come from corporations and large actors and unfortunately many of them will follow their bottom lines to the cheapest solution (which includes fossil fuels in many situations) until they are forced to do otherwise-- whether by carbon pricing, mandatory energy transition, or otherwise. 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Sep 7, 2019

A better question is, "How do we HAVE ANY conversation?" Certainly, fossil energy companies serve fossil energy companies. But businesses come and go. What disturbs me more is the lazy, arrogant, ignorance of most Democrats.

As a Biophysical Chemist getting buried in a "Green" lifestyle, I propose those demanding we obey their (at best) unproven lifestyle theories at least show us by some example.

My wife and I came out of the "back to the land" hippie era. She still participates in bird, butterfly, bee, science. (And all the rest.) We started learning early when we first moved from a University community, and are still learning.

In over 40 years I have found no way, zero, nada to communicate our experience in a devoutly Democrat state, Minnesota. Try your theories, and you will give up or be dead in a month.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Sep 8, 2019

I like many concepts raised by a "Green New Deal." And I'll respond directly to your heating/cooling old house yoga friend. First, some history.

President Thomas Jefferson sent the Lewis and Clark expedition intending to learn a lot of science. They would have died the first winter in North Dakota if not for the extraordinary hospitality and housing genius of the Mandan Indians. I visited the Mandan village as a child and remember their amazing semi-underground house.

Local rural European Americans lament the disappearance of the classic farmhouse. These mail order stick houses were better than sod, but rot and are cold and hot. Your "heat pump" idea is just an expensive semi-underground house. And your yoga friend is probably right about designing a better new house.

We need a huge amount of environment friendly innovaton. There used to be outstanding resources to learn from. Young people need a chance to try build a better future. 80 year old angry politicians ain't the way to do it! We are prosperous, at peace, free, technology galore. You have nobody to blame but yourselves.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 8, 2019

Interesting perspective, Rick. Throughout history there has been an astounding amount of environmentally-friendly energy innovation that has been ignored not because it doesn't work, but because it isn't profitable.

Amateur astronomers know lengthening the tubes of their telescopes with a simple cardboard extension will prevent condensation on the plate of glass on the telescope's skyward end. It works because radiative heat from surrounding structures, trees, and other earthbound objects is prevented from warming the glass, keeping it several degrees Fahrenheit cooler. The same principle was used as a "desert refrigerator" to preserve milk and fresh meat in the Middle East thousands of years ago.

It would never be capable of cooling a commercial refrigerated warehouse, of course, bringing in the other side of the equation: limiting consumption. It's a topic which rings deaf on American ears, ears that have been trained to respond only to economic growth, to equate prosperity with consumption. Technological improvements are a piece of cake, compared to re-programming our drive to consume.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Sep 8, 2019

I could not agree more with your "limiting consumption" statement. And I must thank you for years of informative conversation. (Even though I still know nothing nuclear.) I'll bet you are also a fine amateur astronomer.

The modern world is rich with great people and great ideas and great opportunity. Thanks again, Bob.

The Energy  Mix's picture
The Energy Mix on Sep 9, 2019

Actually, Lily, I think you've pointed to some of the most important steps that any government committed to climate action can take to break down the barriers to individual action.
* If people don't know what to do in their homes or aren't connecting their old oil furnaces to the health, cost, and climate benefits of both reducing their energy use and changing out their technology...that's an issue that can be solved with public education. Look back far enough, and you'll find a time when the U.S. government funded four regional renewable energy centres that had a strong mandate to build consumer awareness and prompt grassroot action. Then--this is an historical note, not intended as a partisan one--Ronald Reagan came to power and swept it all away in one of his earliest rounds of budget cuts.
* If paying for a technology replacement before a family sells its home is a barrier, there's a program for that, too. But from anything I've read recently, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs are making great strides in the U.S. when they're introduced at the municipal level. You won't see them supported by a federal government more interested in propping up a dying coal industry and rolling back methane, fuel economy, and light bulb standards.
An example of PACE programming: and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy is a great source for more.
* So the Dems' plans do matter if they can be brought back to the grassroots, and there are so many people across the U.S. who know how, either because they're doing it now or remember when. A big-picture policy like the Green New Deal also matters because there are aspects of the carbon-free transition that are beyond our ability to control as households or individuals--I've seen estimates that lifestyle changes can get us about 40% of the way to where we need to be, but the rest happens at the level of systems and structures. One of the big benefits of the grassroot work, though, is that it builds a constituency for bigger-picture change--by helping people realize that the sky doesn't fall (quite the contrary!) when we reduce our energy use and switch to clean, renewable sources, and by creating a wider sense that if we've all made our own, personal commitments, we expect our institutions to follow.
Under the heading of changing the conversation, one thing I would caution against is any sense that you're blaming people for not taking action. The blame may be right or wrong--that's situational--but pragmatically, it won't work. No more than if someone were to come along and tell us how heartless we all are to be focusing on climate and energy when there's an urgent opioid crisis going on right now. If some mythical website visitor came after us that way, three things would be true--they'd clearly be in a crisis, they'd be wrong to assume we were heartless, and I'm guessing that not one of us would change our behaviours or our priorities as a result of the intervention. If all of that is do we adapt our own messaging accordingly?

Randy Dutton's picture
Randy Dutton on Sep 9, 2019

Here's a partial solution to resolving the climate crisis that could be resolved fairly easily that would not harm the US economy, nor our assets. Left out of the discussion is 'refrigerant management'. Old refrigerant gases (i.e. CFC-11 and 12) are major contributors to global warming, per molecule they're thousands of times more powerful. China has been found to violate the production ban of CFC-11. Per the nonprofit research group Drawdown, forcing the end of illegal manufacturing of these CFCs and efficiently capturing and destroying the residual CFCs "would help prevent as much as 90 gigatons of carbon dioxide <equivalent> from getting to the atmosphere. This is equivalent to more than 17 years' worth of CO2 emissions in the United States." 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 10, 2019

Thanks for sharing Randy. I've heard of this potential solution before, but never really heard anyone push back against it. If it's so effective, what are the hurdles that are stopping it from being actually implemented?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 14, 2019

"It's not up to the politicians or the utilities or the Government in general.  It's up to YOU and ME, to leave the legacy of energy responsibility to the next generation."

Lily, never in history have individuals prioritized collective good over their own. That's the way human nature is, and always will be. It's why we have governments, to work together for changes which benefit us all. Solving climate change is up to politicians - who take credit for making our country great, but must now take responsibility for cleaning up the mess it left behind.

Your own case in point:

"The green economy and our planet will thrive when the people speak with their pocketbooks and adoption of renewables, storage and clean technology becomes a mainstream obligation."

You could have saved money for an electric car, with solar panels and storage to charge it, but chose to go on a yoga retreat instead. Like your friend, who prioritized her grandkids' educations over installing a heat pump, self-interest prevailed. See what I mean?

Lily Li's picture
Lily Li on Sep 19, 2019

Actually, I drive a Tesla!

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