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Sunday, February 11, 2024

You Cannot Conserve Your Way To Net-Zero

Why a literal (and figurative) power shift is required for a future free from fossil fuels. 

You can turn down your thermostat on your natural gas-powered furnace and drive a hybrid car and these actions will have a minor impact on your CO2 footprint. However, even when used frugally, these are fossil fuel-based energy sources. Even modest use still perpetuates the industries that exploit these resources. No matter how frugal you are with them, you can never have a zero emissions result. 

"But I'll use carbon offsets," I hear some of you proclaim. More than 90% of carbon offsets are scams. Paying someone to not cut down tree A is great, but if that just means tree B is cut down instead, then fundamentally, nothing has changed.

Continuing to use fossil fuels is like the old joke, "Since I Lost One of My Lungs, I’ve Cut My Smoking In Half." Energy deprivation is futile and it reduces quality of life. We need a better answer.

Electrify All The Things

Rather than reduction and deprivation to minimize fossil fuel usage, a new energy system is needed. One that is based on renewable energy. Solar, wind, hydro... these generate energy in the form of electricity; which means, we need the machines that perform our labors to run on electricity rather than liquid fuels. We need cars, trucks, semis, trains, planes, boats... all to be electrically powered. For some of these, we have solutions today, others are emerging, and for some, another score of battery technology advancements will be required, but the transition must occur. Furnaces will transition to heat pumps. Gas stovetops will give way to the superior experience of induction cooktops. 

If we electrify our homes, offices, transportation, and more; and power these devices with renewable energy, then we can lead an energy-abundant lifestyle rather than an energy-deprived lifestyle.

Here's how we should proceed: 

Today, right now, we should deploy the renewable energy technologies that we have. Solar, wind, batteries, EVs, protein fermentation, induction cooktops, heat pumps... There's no need to wait for the next big breakthrough to move the bulk of our energy use to electricity. Wind and solar are complementary and once installed, incremental production is very affordable.

Every sunny rooftop should have solar panels. Every highway on-ramp clover leaf should have a solar field. Every parking lot should have solar canopies. Wind turbines onshore, offshore, running the ridgeline... 

Every substation should have banks of batteries for filling in the intermittent gaps, energy peak shaving and valley filing. Every vehicle on the road should have a big battery and no tailpipe. That big battery can double as home energy storage and demand shifting. 

Protein fermentation allows massive acres used for meat farming, grazing, and feed crops to be reclaimed, allowing more space for wildlife and human expansion.

Turning down the thermostat and getting a little better fuel economy are not enough. We need a better way. It's time for a phase change. We need a literal and figurative power shift. We need to live regeneratively.

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