Please help keep this Site Going

Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet

The IRA is changing what individual action means for climate change - The Washington Post

The IRA is changing what individual action means for climate change – The Washington Post

Almost 10 years ago, a solo researcher published a jaw-dropping statistic that changed how many people thought about climate change. Just 90 large companies, he determined, released almost two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions between 1751 and 2010. (Big players like Chevron, Exxon and BP made the list, along with state-owned fossil fuel companies and cement producers.)

The study transformed the discussion about who, exactly, bears responsibility for climate change. For years, environmental groups had resisted the idea that ordinary individuals — people who drive gas-powered cars or heat their homes with fuel oil — were responsible for the warming planet. (Fossil fuel companies, meanwhile, endorsed — and in some cases advertised — the concept of the personal “carbon footprint.”) The study’s finding underscored a clear dilemma: If 90 companies have caused most of the world’s climate change, why bother eating less meat or switching to an electric car?

Now, however, that calculus might be changing. Yes, a large group of giant oil companies are still responsible for most of the emissions to date. But thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act — which includes huge incentives for individuals to buy electric cars and shift their homes away from fossil fuels — ordinary citizens are suddenly in the driver’s seat of America’s energy transition.

According to data from Princeton University, roughly 30 percent of the emissions reductions from the bill expected over the next decade will come from consumers switching to electric vehicles and a transformation in home heating and appliances. It’s true that individuals did not cause climate change. But they may be key to stopping it.

Part of that is due to the gas-fueled nature of the American home. “Many houses are like mini fossil-fuel power plants,” said Leah Stokes, a professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “They have a gas furnace, a gas water heater and a gas stove. And then out front, the power plant has a gas-powered car!”

The numbers are staggering. The United States has almost 104 million privately owned cars on the road; of those, only about 1.7 million are electric. Then there are the country’s 56 million gas furnaces, 58 million gas water heaters, 5 million oil furnaces and another 5 million furnaces that run on propane (another form of fossil gas). Not to mention America’s 35 million gas stoves, which have suddenly found themselves as an unexpected front in the culture war.

How to make your home more energy efficient — and get a tax break too

“All of these things are fossil fuel machines,” Stokes said. “And we have power over them as individuals and households.”

That’s why the Inflation Reduction Act includes huge sums of money to help households move away from those oil and gas-fueled machines: $7.5 billion in electric vehicle tax credits, $24 billion in credits to electrify homes. (Individuals can get up to $7,500 off an electric car, $2,000 off a heat pump, and more.)

If Americans take full advantage of those programs, the results could be profound. According to researchers at Princeton University, in the next 10 years consumer actions like buying EVs or cleaning up home fossil fuels could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 336 million tons of CO2 — or around 30 percent of the total emissions reductions expected from the bill. (These projections also assume that the U.S. electricity grid continues to shift over to cleaner sources like solar, wind, geothermal or nuclear.)

Meanwhile, as Stokes points out, that funding isn’t capped — meaning that the more people take advantage of the tax credits, the more money the U.S. government will spend, and the more the country will cut fossil fuels. “It could be almost a trillion dollars,” Stokes said.

That’s not to say that the systemic changes aren’t important. Developers need to build solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear power so that all of those new electric appliances are running on low-carbon electricity. Companies need to start building low-carbon cement and steel and researching cleaner aviation fuels. But the country cannot fully move away from fossil fuels unless the country’s 142 million homes do, too.

At the same time, as things stand, not everyone has the ability to change their homes or their vehicle. Over a third of Americans live in rented homes or apartments, making it difficult to replace their furnace or hot water heater. And if the tenant pays the bills, landlords don’t have an incentive to sub in more efficient appliances.

“It’s a huge issue for a lot of folks,” said Jonathan Foley, the executive director of Project Drawdown, a nonprofit working on climate solutions.

Lower-income families also might not have the tax liability to claim the credits; they will have to wait until the U.S. government rolls out an upfront rebate program, slated for later this year or 2024. And, while EV prices are starting to come down, they can still be more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts.

Still, Foley says that anyone can do something: whether that’s changing how they commute some of the time, eating a little less meat or if they have the means, retrofitting their home. “The idea that we don’t need individual action — it’s just materially and scientifically incorrect,” he said.

The system, he added, is still rigged toward fossil fuels; it’s easier for most people to buy another gas-powered car or put another, identical gas furnace in. Foley argues that people need to both hold corporations and policymakers to account for those structural barriers and feel capable of doing things to help the problem themselves.

“I want to make sure people don’t feel guilt-tripped,” he said. “Maybe they feel a bit of an empowerment trip — like hey, I get to do stuff as an individual.”

Sign up for the Climate Coach, delivered every Tuesday and Thursday to your inbox


Please help keep this Site Going