We never recognize the good ol’ days until they’re gone. In recent years, America has begun the transition toward a zero energy society. In 2015, almost 10% of new residential housing units were certified under the ENERGY STAR Homes program. Many businesses and organizations have made it their goal to include making all new homes and buildings zero energy or zero energy ready. There is a growing movement to make all new construction achieve zero energy standards by 2030. California officials set their target for residential buildings ten years sooner at 2020. The sale of electric vehicles has grown steadily and the supporting infrastructure is growing. The US Department of Energy announced plans to support electric vehicles, including electric charging station corridors totaling 25,000 highway miles across 32 states, and is promoting a move towards renewable electricity generation to supply carbon free electricity to homes and vehicles.
The zero energy movement has gained much momentum, and the looming uncertainty of the incoming Trump Administration threatens to blunt that momentum. Fortunately, not many people truly believe that any President or any Congress can stop progress. The pace may slow, the steps may change, but we will move forward with or without the assistance of the Federal Government. In fact, the Cabinet choices of the Trump administration seem to be making it even clearer that progress to a zero carbon society is up to all of us. That leaves much work to do. Here are a few thoughts about the road ahead and how each of us can push forward.
It’s always tempting to lament a setback and feel as if the odds are against you. Instead, decide what’s next and take action however you can. Reduce energy use in your own life: at home, at work and as you travel. But don’t stop there. Each one of us can exert influence on the situation around us. For some, the radius may be small: your family, a few friends or a community group. Others may have greater reach with connections on a city council or in a state agency. See our “zero energy advocacy” guidelines for taking action at the local level. In several cities, such as Bend, Oregon and Cambridge, Massachusetts, it only took a small group of dedicated activists to get climate resolutions passed. And, thankfully, not everyone at the federal level thinks that climate change is a Chinese hoax. You will find allies at all levels.
Polls say that most Americans believe climate change to be real and see it as a major threat. Now is the time for the American people – every one of us – to take action. Whether you are a homeowner, a renter, a home buyer, a car buyer, a builder, designer, realtor, or business owner, there are steps you can take to get started on the path to zero in your own life and business. In addition, you can be an ambassador for zero energy by sharing information with friends, neighbors, clients, customers, and employees. And you can challenge fake science whenever it is presented.
Remember these wise words from Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Join with Others
Expand your radius by joining others that share your commitment to a better future. Local environmental groups are a good place to start. Also, join forces with national groups, such as the Zero Energy Project, Net Zero Energy Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. They can be powerful advocates. If you can do nothing else, send a few dollars to the organization of your choice. Non-profit organizations will play an important role in filling the vacuum created at the national level.
For our part, The Zero Energy Project works to help home buyers, builders, designers, and real estate professionals take meaningful steps towards radically reducing carbon emissions and energy bills by building zero net energy homes and near zero energy homes. We do this through a variety of means including outreach, partnerships, education and community building. Your contribution to the Zero Energy Project will enable us to continue to communicate this crucial message to everyone involved in reducing carbon emissions and energy use – in other words, to every one of us.
While “fighting fire with fire” may seem psychologically satisfying, it can lead to even greater destruction. There is little to gain in the long run by adopting the same tactics of fear, disinformation and self-interest displayed in the recent election. Focus on real facts and support them with evidence. Confront fake facts by demanding evidence. Pursue activities that genuinely benefit average citizens and find ways to help them see these benefits.
Keep these ideas in mind. Saving energy is conservative. It’s difficult to argue that waste is a good thing. Listen thoughtfully to opposing points of view. They often reveal areas of agreement. Where appropriate avoid terms that have taken on a negative meaning for some, such as “green,” “sustainable,” “global warming” and even “climate change.” Energy efficiency has many benefits, like saving money, increasing comfort, and reducing waste. Focus on immediate financial benefits, rather than some future “payback.” Similarly, zero energy buildings improve quality of life, so it’s better to focus on those appreciable benefits than on less tangible expectations about avoiding climate impacts.
It appears that the White House and Congress will rollback support of energy efficiency and renewables any way they can. But many areas of the country strongly support these ideas and can fill the void. State and local governments can promote sensible energy practices, strengthen building codes and buy efficient equipment, including electric vehicles. And, as mentioned, more and more communities are passing climate change ordinances that will put them on the path to zero. Every new school building should be zero energy, have tons of natural light and use only non-toxic materials.
Focus on Business
Expect the focus to shift from government to the private sector. More and more large corporations recognize the business opportunities in clean energy development and sales. Apple now operates in a carbon-neutral fashion. Google, Amazon, Tesla, and Walmart are building zero energy facilities, and dozens of others have made a commitment to the 100% renewable energy goal. Throw your support to these companies by giving them your business.
Bill Gates recently announced a $1 billion fund “to build companies that will help deliver the next generation of reliable, affordable, and emissions-free energy to the world.” The Breakthrough Energy Coalition will fund basic research forming a foundation for the next generation of clean energy technologies. Forward-thinking businesses recognize that what’s good for the climate is good for the bottom line.
If you’re involved with a small businesses, you may want to take positive action, but feel that you don’t have the resources. PACE loans can give you access to the capital you need to improve operations without a hit to cash flow. If you’re involved with a local housing agency, you may already exceed minimum codes when developing new projects. With some careful thought and commitment you can reach new heights of efficiency. If you’re a builder or private developer, you may want to join the growing ranks of those building zero energy homes or developments. It helps that energy efficiency measures and most renewable energy systems are fiscally sound investments, and if loans are structured properly, can lower the cost of ownership from the very first month. Seek out lending that targets efficiency improvements.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi showed, it takes resolve and persistence to make change. When you stand up, remember that there are millions of Americans that agree with you. When you speak up, you support them too. Rational, thoughtful perseverance will make all the difference..
One of Donald Trump’s emerging tactics is distraction. When there’s too much talk about an uncomfortable topic, he tweets something outrageous. While it’s easier to spread fiction than fact, energy activists must develop truthful countermeasures. We need to cut through the disinformation, fake news and distractions. We must create clear messages and pound the drum relentlessly. Those messages must be concise and powerful. They should appear on bumper stickers, billboards, and social media posts. The movement needs to stay focused on the long-term zero energy goal by taking effective near-term actions that propel us forward.
The zero energy movement needs every one of us. Join the conversation. Let’s talk about ideas for building the zero energy movement. Visitr the Zero Energy Project Forum and post your thoughts.