A new tool tracks your personal impact on climate change and shows what you can do about it
One of the challenges of fighting climate change is that the things you, as an individual, can do to help seem small in comparison to the enormity of the crisis.
Somehow, when you’re contemplating a climate apocalypse that destroys civilization as we know it, turning your water-heater down a notch doesn’t feel like you’re doing much.
That’s where you’re wrong, say the creators of the Sonoma Climate Challenge, a new website — sonomaclimatechallenge.org — designed to show how you can fight climate change by changing how you live your daily life.
“Forty percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from actions at the household level, and that’s what this new tool was created to address,” said Brant Arthur, community affairs specialist with the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA).
The RCPA was formed in 2009 to coordinate climate protection efforts among Sonoma County’s nine cities and multiple agencies. In July 2016, it produced a regional plan called “Climate Action 2020 and Beyond,” which called for greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050.
The problem is 2020 is just six months away, and none of the cities in Sonoma County are anywhere close to reaching this goal.
The folks at the RCPA hope The Sonoma Climate Challenge will help change that by putting the tools people need to understand their contribution to the climate crisis and the actions needed to solve it, into an appealing, easy-to-use website.
The first step of the challenge involves setting up an energy profile for your family that will be used as a baseline. To do this, you answer questions about your house and what kind of car you drive. With your permission, the website can also link into your PG&E account to give an exact accounting of your home energy use.
The website offers a list of 67 actions that you can take to shrink the amount of energy you use (and therefore the amount of weather-deranging carbon you release into the air). Then the site shows you the effect of those changes on your family’s energy profile.
In addition to tracking changes in your personal energy consumption, the Sonoma Climate Challenge site also allows you to create or join groups or teams, which compete against one another to see who’s using the least carbon.
Cloverdale Mayor Melanie Bagby is the town’s representative on the Regional Climate Protection Authority. She and her husband Jeff have signed up to do the climate challenge.
“We’re considering doing some of the basics around the house that we’ve been putting off, like weather stripping and new windows,” she said.
Bagby said she’s also planning to swap out her gas water heater for a high-efficiency electric one, since you can rack up a lot of points by switching from natural-gas-powered appliances to electric. Natural gas has four times the green house gas impact as electricity, so by using electric appliances you can dramatically lower your greenhouse gas emissions.
In creating your energy profile, the Sonoma Climate Challenge site also takes account of things you’ve already done.
“I’m kind of ahead of the game because we already have two electric cars,” Bagby said.
Plus she got credit for subscribing to Sonoma Clean Power’s Evergreen program, which provides 100% renewable energy from local sources. It’s more expensive than Sonoma Clean Power’s usual program, but for $15 to $30 more a month, you can have the satisfaction of knowing that your power is renewable, clean, and local, she said.
The RCPA’s goal for 2019 is to have 500 households in Sonoma County participate in the Sonoma Climate Challenge.
With 500 participants, an RCPA press release notes that “we could collectively reduce our emissions by 500 tons of CO2 by 2020. This would be the equivalent of 588 acres of forests capturing and storing carbon over one year.”
Unfortunately, thus far, only 150 people have signed up countywide to take the challenge.
In Petaluma, the group Daily Acts has taken on the Sonoma Climate Challenge as one of their projects and has signed up dozens of users. In the rest of the county, however, few people seem to know that the Sonoma Climate Challenge even exists.
Bagby just thinks it’ll take a little time for the news of the challenge to filter out.
“It just launched in May,” she said. “I find that it takes awhile for things to catch on. It takes a couple of times to get people’s attention and get them involved. I think it’ll build as time goes on.”
Bagby thinks the time is ripe for actions like the climate challenge.
“There’s so much movement right now around the issue of climate change,” she said. “I don’t hear much climate change denial anymore. What I hear more is ‘Climate change is so big I can’t do anything.’ And the fact is, that isn’t true. What you do in your everyday life makes a huge difference,” especially when multiplied by other people making changes in their lives as well.
“We have 10 years to address and curtail our greenhouse gas emissions,” Bagby said, “But if we mobilize now and work together we can do it. This is how we won the Second World War. There’s precedent for this.”
Check out the Sonoma Climate Challenge website at sonomaclimatechallenge.org.