December 21, 2019

Many thanks to all who came to our December meeting yesterday, and especially to Stephen Leftly for an engaging and informative presentation on what it would take for the US and individual households to go carbon neutral. For the US as a whole, promises of carbon neutrality by 2030 will likely be broken. If we are to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, an effort on the scale of the mobilization for WWII would be needed.

There were many interesting points raised for those wanting to become more versant in our energy system. Among them, everyone should recognize that electricity and liquid fuels are both part of our energy system (see the awesome energy flow diagram here:, and decarbonizing will require addressing both. Converting our electricity system to use carbon-free production sources (solar, wind, hydro, or nuclear) would require an enormous increase in both the physical systems and the space they occupy. Some liquid fuel uses can be converted to electricity (e.g., electric cars and electric HVAC systems), but others currently have no alternative solutions (e.g., airplane flights longer than 100 miles). Any change in our energy sources will entail social opportunities and costs, especially in places that have a huge economic reliance on coal (e.g., Appalachia and Wyoming).

Personal decarbonization is a little more feasible because the scale is smaller. There is a federal tax credit for installing home solar systems, but that credit is phasing out starting in 2020. There is also a tax credit for buying an electric or plug-in hybrid car. Less energy usage can be accomplished even without major lifestyle changes through home improvements like LED lighting and increased insulation, and through transportation improvements like adequate car maintenance and more fuel-efficient cars. Decreased energy needs that entail more significant lifestyle changes include traveling less, sharing transportation (public transit or carpooling), and setting thermostats a little colder in winter and warmer in summer.

The meeting finished with a discussion about what IGSV can do to help move policies along to help put the US on a path toward carbon neutrality. We discussed asking Congressman Malinowski to work on extending the renewable-energy tax credits that are phasing out, working with Christina Russoniello to support our local youth that are part of the Sunshine Movement, and demanding that our politicians at every level of government talk honestly about what targets are feasible and what it would take to get there. There are also indirect issues we could push on, including supporting a robust safety net for people in coal regions and championing efforts that decrease the influence of big money on politics.

The file for the presentation is here:

Our next meeting will be January 18 at the public library in Flemington. We will be discussing NJ politics, focusing on the underlying issues that led to the Jeff Van Drew mess in NJ2. We will also continue our walk/run meetings on the third Saturday of each month at the Columbia Trail in High Bridge. In 2020, we’ll start these a little later, at 9 am, to allow for more people to attend.