Whoa. It is absolutely December, coming up on a year since I started invading your inbox. I hope you’ve been enjoying it. I have! I mean, I’ve been enjoying some of it. Writing, as any honest writer will tell you, sucks for about 80 percent of the time. (The other 20 percent is that addictive flow state that keeps us coming back.) But the research and interviews have been one-thousand-million-trillion-percent amazing.
I’ve spent most of the past year learning. And as I’ve read and talked and listened and thought, I’ve developed some points of view about our individual contributions to the larger sustainability effort. Some of these are pretty easy to nod at. We should all compost. Any dissenters? The resolution passes, infinity to none.
Some opinions, though, don’t go over as well—even from friends who walk the sustainable talk. As I wind down the year, I figured I’d share some of my least popular beliefs. Because why not.
Maybe they’ll make for good dinner-table banter; maybe they’ll give you something to contemplate during your holiday travel marathon. Or maybe you’ll just shout wordlessly at your phone and throw it out the window, vowing to unsubscribe from this crummy newsletter as soon as you dig that thing out of the snowbank. All fair reactions. Hey Siri, locate phone.
I’m focusing observations that contain kernels of action in them: stuff that might be uncomfortable but might also change the game at scale. Because the easy stuff is… easy. And while one5c is all about the power of small actions, it’s never a bad moment to consider doing a little more.
1. Cars should be slower
I don’t care what you drive, whether it’s a new Tesla or a beat-up old Ford: It never needs to achieve its top speed. No car sold in America should be able to drive faster than the nation’s highest speed limit, which is 85 mph. Which, by the way, is too high. Slow it down, Texas.
I don’t hate fun. In fact, I love driving fast—and my driving record only recently recovered from the high-speed infractions of my teens and twenties.
It’s just that the faster you push something through the air, the harder the air pushes back. And that uses a lot of energy. Previously, on one5c: “Most vehicles will lose 12-16% in fuel economy for a 10 mph increase within the speed range of 50-80 mph.” Limiting every car on every road to 65 miles per hour could save millions of units of energy in a year. And whether you drive a gas-guzzler or an efficient EV, saving energy while driving will ultimately result in fewer fossil fuels burned.
Why limit cars instead of just relying on people to slow down? Uh. Yeah, anyway onto the next opinion.
2. We should pay by the pound for our trash
We throw too much stuff away—and by “we,” I mean Americans. According to a study from the research firm Verik Maplecroft, “the U.S. represents 4 percent of the global population but generates 12 percent of global municipal waste.” Each of us makes 1,704 pounds of trash every year. Whether it’s food waste or non-recyclable plastic, it piles up and/or chokes out our oceans and waterways.
So much of what we toss could be re-used or repurposed, composted, or in some cases, recycled. Yet we don’t. We waste 30 million tons of food per year in our homes, and most of that ends up in landfills. We toss most of our plastic in there, too—only 5 percent of the 309 pounds of plastic trash each of us generates in 12 months gets recycled.
Sure, systemic moves could improve our situation: municipal composting programs, more effective recycling, bag bans and so on. But one incredibly effective and completely free way to cut down on the amount of waste we create would be to cut down on the amount of waste we create. If we had to pay for every pound of garbage in our cans, I’d put green money on those cans getting lighter. Immediately.
3. Rooftop solar is an energy con
This stinker almost got me uninvited from my town’s Climate Smart Communities Task Force. And I should be clear: Solar is good. Rooftop solar makes sense for some people, particularly those who live off-grid, need energy resilience, or do not have access to centralized renewable electricity.
But from a sustainability perspective, it raises a question: Why is this on us? I say this as someone who firmly believes in individual climate action.
We absolutely need more renewable energy in America. We need to get off fossil fuels and shore up our grid with distributed power generation sites. But it doesn’t make sense that homeowners should have to fund the transition. Nobody asked you to pay for the local gas plant; why should you have to take out a 15-year loan and be responsible for the maintenance, repair, and eventual safe disposal of solar panels that feed your utility’s grid?
The sales pitch says that the cost of the installation will be comparable to your electric bill. Between incentives and the surplus they generate, the panels will pay for themselves in a decade, after which point you’ll have free power for as long as your setup lasts—which could be another 15 or even 20 years.
Maybe. Here’s hoping you stay put long enough to reap the benefits. The average home gets a new owner every 13.2 years. And more to the point, I just can’t get over how this is basically saying “our grid sucks, so you should pay for and install solar on your house to fix it.” Here’s an idea I like better: Utility companies can rent our rooftops for their photovoltaic installations, taking full responsibility for maintenance and upkeep, and giving their rooflords free juice as payment.
I’m a big fan of community solar, which lets you rent or buy capacity from a large, localized solar installation. We’re lucky to have that option in our town, and we’ve been happy subscribers for more than a year. If there’s one where you live, sign up. It’s a much more equitable, cost-effective, and efficient option.
4. Nobody should fly first class
I don’t care who you are or what you do for a living, you don’t need to nap your way across the country in an airborne BarcaLounger. Here’s the pro-premium argument that I personally used to spout all the time: I need to land refreshed so I can crush that meeting. 😬 If the meeting is so important, why not just get there a day early? Or Zoom?
I vote that we rip the first- and business-class cabins out of planes and spread every flight’s carbon load across more travelers. I got into the numbers about a month ago, and am going to shamelessly quote myself:
According to a study [PDF] by the World Bank, flying business has about three times the footprint of flying steerage. This is due to the additional space each passenger takes up, the weight of the fancy seats, and 30-plus pages of other factors. First class is NINE TIMES as intensive.
5. I’m not even going to talk about pets
I’m not a monster.
Am I? Do you hate me now? Wanna tag that unsubscribe button? Or would you rather just talk it out? I disabled comments a while back because of some persistent trolls who didn’t like my opinions on meat. Maybe they’ve forgotten about me by now. I’ll open the commenting section back up and look forward to hearing from you.
I hope you can point out the ways in which I am completely wrong or angles I’m not seeing. We need to push each other. This kind of conversation is a crucial part of figuring out how to protect our world.
Take care of yourself—and the rest of us, too