Five Radical Steps

October, 2018

Scared by the new report on climate change? Issued this month by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (composed of 91 scientists from around the world), the massive study reports we have just 12 years to limit civilization-altering catastrophe. Believe it! We’re already seeing the effects of global warming in an increase in wildfires, flooding, drought, massive hurricanes, food shortages, rapid ice melt in the arctic.

It’s really hard to be optimistic when you read the panel’s dire predictions--destruction of whole eco-systems, the disappearance of some island nations, unpredictable changes to weather patterns, millions of climate refugees. The report offers a best case scenario, laying out humanity’s last best hope for managing climate change. But it does so against a backdrop of generational failure.

Burning carbon is the problem. It causes carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to build up in the atmosphere, warming the planet. According to the World Resources Institute, the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions are transportation and residential buildings. Next are chemicals (mostly plastics) and methane from agriculture, mostly meat (which alone is responsible for 30% of carbon emissions).

It’s clear that federal and state governments aren’t going to do much about all this. It’s up to cities and individuals, like you and me. Here's what you can do to help:

    • Eat less meat (especially beef), or none at all.

    • Swap your car or plane ride for a bus or train. Bike. Walk.

    • Make energy efficiency a priority. First, change every lightbulb to LED. Then upgrade to more efficient appliances. Retrofit your house to be as energy efficient as possible. If you can’t add more insulation or seal another crack or hole, consider installing a smart thermostat.

         Change your life. A good article by Lloyd Alter in lays out a five-step  philosophy we should all incorporate into our daily lives, starting today. The five steps are: Radical simplicity. Radical efficiency. Radical frugality. Radical decarbonization. And, lastly, but immensely important: Vote. 

Step 1: Radical Simplicity. How much do you really need? Think about it. Since the 1950s America’s economy has been based on consumerism. But we’ve gone too far. Our landfills are overflowing; 99% of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport, and consume is trash within six months (Annie Leonard, “The Story of Stuff”). That should make you stop and think.

Start a program of radical simplicity today. Scale back. Buy only what you need. Use only simple, appropriate technology. Remember, the pace of nature is medium to slow. Embrace mindfulness. Declutter your surroundings. Edit your wardrobe. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

Step 2:Radical Efficiency. First, change every lightbulb to LED. That’s easy. Then upgrade to more efficient appliances. Retrofit your house to be as energy efficient as possible. If you can’t add more insulation or seal another crack or hole, consider installing a smart thermostat.

         Be wary of what passes for “smart technology.” Most “smart home” devices are complicated, break down, don’t get support, or people don’t know how to use them. Keep it simple. 

Step 3: Radical Frugality. It’s a no-brainer. Buy less stuff. Use it up-Wear it out-Make do. Almost everything you buy has embodied carbon. Even buying something made with recycled aluminum increases demand for virgin aluminum, and plastics are basically solid fossil fuels. Consumption may keep the economy spinning, but there is a huge price in carbon. Ultimately, environmentalism stems from acts of doing less: less consumption, fewer carbon emissions, less wastefulness, less carelessness.   

Step 4: Radical Decarbonization—Electrify Everything. We have to cut back on our use of fossil fuels to the point that the oil and gas companies are forced to leave it in the ground because there is so little demand. According to, that means getting our homes off gas, switching to induction ranges for cooking, mini heat pumps for heating and cooling. Switch to walking, bikes, e-bikes, scooters, transit, electric cars.

      In our buildings, we have to use less concrete and more wood. We have to fix and renovate instead of building new. We have to stop using foamed plastic insulations and get rid of PVC.

Step 5:VOTE! In the end this is the only thing that will save us. It’s up to you and me to turn this around. Vote for people who care about climate change and are willing to fight for change. 

      Begin today.

Resource: “How to understand the U.N.’s dire new climate report,” by Robinson Meyer. The Atlantic Monthly, October 9, 2018.

Sources: “Climate catastrophe seen just 12 years away,” by Justin Worland, Time Magazine, Oct. 22, 2018, page 12.

“Five radical steps you can take to combat climate change,” by Lloyd Alter;, October 10, 2018.