Submitted by washingtonpost t3_11xvbi1 in IAmA

EDIT: Thanks all for dropping in your thoughtful questions. That's all the time I have for today's AMA, but we will be on the lookout for any big, lingering questions later on.


The Climate Coach column and newsletter host an honest discussion about the environmental choices we face in our daily lives. The Climate Coach digs into data and gives evidence-backed advice and thoughtful analysis about what matters in protecting the planet, the environment and one another.

I've covered a range of topics such as green funeral options, better ways to use your appliances, how to install a heat pump and more. My latest column talks about how Apple's new "Clean Energy Charging" feature previews how we can reach net-zero emissions by using our devices to help manage the electricity grid.

Before joining the Post in 2022, I spent nearly two decades as a reporter and editor covering climate, technology, and economics for outlets such as Quartz and, and served as managing editor of Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post.

Thanks for having me here. What questions do you have about personal efforts to combat climate change?



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dclxvi616 t1_jd4yxqk wrote

Realistically, how much does the average Joe really contribute to climate change such that it could be perceived as appropriate to focus on, "personal efforts to combat climate change," when there exist things like corporate efforts, industrial efforts, governmental efforts, etc.? Why am I the problem?


washingtonpost OP t1_jd53gw2 wrote

Good question but let me reframe it. You’re absolutely right. Any one us don't have an outsize impact on the 36.3 gigatonnes the world emits each year — except perhaps Kim Kardashian and others flying their private jets. But a more useful question is how are you part of a solution. There’s two ways that I can see:

  1. You reuse your own emissions a small, but personal meaningful amount. This has the added benefit of bring your life in line with you personal values (and you may even have more fun)
  2. You’re a walking billboard for how to do things a different way.

I personally think #2 may be the biggest impact you have by shifting norms. Here’s what I wrote in my first column:

"While global problems don’t seem entirely amenable to individual action, that is only part of the story. Human culture and global warming are not linear systems. They are driven by exponential curves, social contagions and threshold effects. They exist at the messy confluence of biology, economics, psychology and physics.

Take solar panels. In 2021, researchers in the journal Nature published a paper studying why people install solar panels on their roofs. Subsidies, geography and policy were all considered. The most powerful factor? Whether a neighbor already had solar panels. There was even a proximity effect. People living within two blocks of homes with panels were the most likely to buy their own. Solar panels, in other words, were contagious. With climate, we must consider social norms as well as policies and incentives."


Other_Exercise t1_jdebvig wrote

To add to this, should we focus more on the small things? It seems people focus too much on stuff that most of us spend very little of our time doing, like air travel, and not things we do lots.


CalClimate t1_jed0bot wrote

More to the point, you're the beta test site. Give feedback on what does and doesn't work. Make stuff work better.


Baldbold192 t1_jd500nu wrote

You might not be the problem, but you certainly have to be part of the solution ;)


bluecat2001 t1_jd8pfkf wrote

Not OP obviously,

Making people responsible for climate change is a clever PR trick.

Most of the collected recyclable materials ends up in landfills or sent / sold to 3rd world countries, where they were dumped, burned or processesed without any environmental considerations.

Mining for rare earth materials, that are necessary for batteries and motors of EVs cause environmental destruction and conflicts, exploitation of poor people.

Textile industry is one of the biggest polluters of waterways and environment in general.

Current Disaster Capitalism and neoliberalism is the problem. And the best thing a person can do is not consuming.


dclxvi616 t1_jd8ta3v wrote

Well of course, that's why my question wasn't really answered, it was "reframed" into a question I hadn't asked. Was also surprised to see him treating solar panels on rooftops as if they're just obviously nothing but a good thing. The Technology Connections guy does a video addressing that topic, but it's from his less polished side channel so anyone interested shouldn't be expecting him to get straight to the point or anything:


bebobbaloola t1_jddyro4 wrote

Exactly, if you tell your neighbor that you don't recycle, they look at you like your weird. Only aluminum, and (in some areas) steel cans have enough value to make economic sense. Even NPR states that only 10 percent of plastic created has ever been recycled.


PeanutSalsa t1_jd52bx3 wrote

How much of a difference does recycling make?


washingtonpost OP t1_jd56qis wrote

Recycling is the number one thing people say they do for climate change. And it’s great. For metals, glass, paper, and batteries in particular, you’re making an impact. But the questions is much less clear for single-use plastic (better to avoid). And other things are more important if you’re prioritizing.

As The Atlantic reports, when Project Drawdown, a nonprofit group, "analyzed more than 80 separate means that could help keep the world from passing the oft-cited threshold of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius of warming, the recycling industry’s projected contributions fell below the median, trailing geothermal power, efficient aviation, forest protection, and dozens of other actions."


bluecat2001 t1_jd8nkk5 wrote

How much of the material that is collected for recycling ends up in landfills?


YoungKillaH2 t1_jd50o5q wrote

In your experience, what are some effective ways to communicate about climate change to people who might be skeptical or dismissive of the issue, and how can we bridge the gap between different perspectives on this important topic?


washingtonpost OP t1_jd55anb wrote

You, like most people, probably know 97% of climate scientists conclude that the Earth is rapidly warming because of human activity. But that doesn’t convince everyone! Yale estimates only 11% or “dismissive” and 11% more are doubtful. So what do we do with this 22%?

I actually wrote about this a while ago, and there’s an excellent Reddit thread exploring this topic more:

So Yale Climate Connections analyzed 66 answers describing the motivation behind people’s conversion from denier to believer. The biggest reason was a slow acceptance of clear scientific evidence. For many, seeing graphs of atmospheric carbon dioxide and overwhelming data supporting the conclusion that humans are rapidly, catastrophically warming the planet was convincing. “It’s just difficult for me to deny it with the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that supports it,” wrote one.

But they have to get there first, and in many cases, people aren't even willing to consider these facts. That's where values come in.

Many people rejected climate science in the first place because of 1) their families 2) personal politics and identity, which were a close second. “Mostly because my family rigorously shot it down whenever it was remotely mentioned,” one person wrote in the Reddit thread. Another writer had grown up “actively and obnoxiously denying climate change because my dad told me it wasn’t real.”

A third major reason was a desire to avoid the enormity of the problem. “I really doubted it for a while, because honestly it scared me,” one poster wrote. “I figured if I just denied it and pretended it wasn’t a thing, it wouldn’t be and it would just go away.”

So how do you change peoples’ minds? Lead with values. Throwing scientific studies in people’s faces is likely to have the opposite effect, putting people into a defensive crouch. People tend to reject the validity of scientific evidence if it conflicts with worldviews.

You can present information in ways that already align with people’s beliefs without triggering emotional, defensive responses. As a good analysis of the research summarizes: "Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what has [been] called a “culture war of fact.”

That gives facts a chance.


Suuperdad t1_jd88ozg wrote

This is pretty telling isn't it? Conservstives are more likely to listen to science from a religious leader or businessman than from a scientist.

This is the core problem.

Businessmen put profits over the environment. And Catholic religion (am a catholic) states that the earth is Man's tool to use and exploit.

So it's a major problem when the only people conservatives will listen to actually have a bias to deny climate science (AND aren't themselves scientists).


ztmwvo t1_jd52203 wrote

For carbon capture, what’s the best tree to plant in Denver?


Suuperdad t1_jd89vfk wrote

I can help with this. I help design ecosystems that minic nature (Canadian Permaculture Legacy on youtube).

Stop thinking about what is the best tree. Planting trees isn't the solution. Trees are fragile. We shouldn't be sequestering carbon using "pines in lines".

We should be planting ecosystems. Trees, bushes, herbs, flowers, groundcovers. Our goal should be to design in as much diversity as possible to attract the most amount of insects, which is food for higher order creatures, and using plants that build soil life. We should use natives (to attract the insects that eat them).

This way, we aren't just planting trees, we are building soils and restoring the food chain.

Pines have very little food for other creatures. Seeviceberries on the other hand may sequester carbon slightly slower, but they attract birds. Lindens support bees. Milkweed brings in monarchs. Yarrow brings in green lace wings. Innoculated logs bring in mycelium, and habitat for insects, which are then food for frogs which are food for snakes, which are food for small mammals. Etc.

Building a robust ecosystems will leverage any benefit from the tree, by building soil, and a resilient web of life that will replicate itself along the edge of the new forest.

We can either plant 1000 trees that will die in 20 years and create a dead ecosystem, or we can plant 1000 trees, flowers, bushes and herbs that will replicate themselves and create a system where birds and squirrels now plant new trees, bees spread pollen, dynamic accumulators build topsoil, etc.


ztmwvo t1_jd8bxxg wrote

Thank you for your comment and this is info I actually already knew. I asked a one-variable question for a specific reason. Had I asked what is the best way to nurture and increase the local environment of flora and fauna, your response would have been brilliantly on-point. Again, your comment was very good.

I am just curious from a scientific standpoint, which types of trees more efficiently capture carbon? I’m not going to plant anything as my yard is 8’ x 10’ and I live in the city. There is a 100 year old maple in the strip between the sidewalk and the street that the city is going to cut down and I was curious what type of tree could occupy that spot that captured carbon more efficiently, if any.


Suuperdad t1_jd9367k wrote

Where abouts are you I'm Denver? If I know what zone I can make a recommendation.

But for example, if purely sequestering carbon is your goal, you would plant hemp and cut it very regularly. It may not make many friends. Or you could plant Paulonia Tomentosa, a nasty invasive, but world's fastest growing tree.

But if you want a more holistic approach, I could give a sample polyculture guild you could use if I knew what zone you were on. For example, NW Denver is almost zone 7, whereas South East Denver is as low as zone 4b or 5a.


MannyDantyla t1_jd83r47 wrote

Not OP but I would say a pondarosa pine. But the long answer would be that you should just plant whatever you want because I think I saw somewhere that the tree needs to be several decades old before it really starts to capture carbon.


ztmwvo t1_jd84s57 wrote

The actual wood and leaves of a tree are made of carbon, so the tree captures carbon the moment it is old enough to sprout leaves or needles.

Also, one has to take into account what happens after the tree dies. Presumably, a percentage of that carbon is released back into the atmosphere and leeched into the soil.


extrasuperkk t1_jda375n wrote

You generally can’t plant conifers in hell strips. I would go to the city of Denver’s forestry dept web page and see what trees they recommend/approve of for these public rights of way, and then from that list, I would choose a native or a near native, like a Bur oak.


Unlikely-Zone21 t1_jd57ik3 wrote

How do you feel about the tonnage of CO2 that is emitted from mining operations for electronic parts not being counted towards the "green"ness of various products, specifically EV cars obviously? I'm not talking about fossil fuel consumption for drilling and transport. I'm talking about recent studies done showing the insane amount of CO2 that is stored in the Earth that is being released due to the mining operations that currently does not go into those green calculations (ie I think it is if you drive an EV for 7 years and 60k miles it's better for the environment than the equivalent ICE vehicle).


ztmwvo t1_jd8566g wrote

This sounds like propaganda. Do you have a credible source for this statement?


MannyDantyla t1_jd5qwn5 wrote

I want to use the tax breaks in the IRA law to get us a (free?) heat pump. But I don't know where to begin. Do I need to find a HVAC contractor that can help guide us through the process,or am I on my own? Or is there a service?

Also I think my partner's recent pay raise is going to put us over the threshold for getting the full benefit. How is that calculated? Is it based on your taxable income? And if so what year?

(BTW, thank you for doing this. The actions we make today will have a huge impact on the future generations.)


yeny123 t1_jd6qjrx wrote

You're asking a lot of good questions, but I'm afraid there's not a lot of good answers right now. An HVAC contractor won't be able to tell you much. The best resource I have found is Rewiring America. Check out this IRA calculator they have.


InvisibleBlueUnicorn t1_jd51qoy wrote

How much is me buying an electric car going to help in reducing global warming?


washingtonpost OP t1_jd55lue wrote

It matters! The transportation sector is now the largest source GHG emissions in the US: 27%. Decarbonizing that is critical. While not perfect, EVs are a necessary step in getting US emissions on track. Of course, it’s best to walk, bike, share, etc. but electric mobility is important, especially as we decarbonize the electricity grid. The one exception?

The electric Hummer is actually worse than many gasoline vehicles.


Afireonthesnow t1_jd5dqa2 wrote

What are your thoughts on America really missing the transition from car centric communities to walk/bike/transit based communities in the distraction of electric cars?

Cars use a TON of energy. They are really really inefficient and the environmental impact of battery production is substantial..

I'm not promoting ICE vehicles either but I hope we can get to a country where a family has 1 or 2 cars instead of 2-4+ even in rural areas... Biking transit etc is just SO much better for land use, concrete production, energy power trip etc. I'm really frustrated that people think they are saving the planet by switching to an EV when they really aren't changing very much. The manufacturing of that EV is a lot of GHG emissions as well =\


InvisibleBlueUnicorn t1_jd52duj wrote

Is having a compost pile for my garden helping the climate?


washingtonpost OP t1_jd56g04 wrote

Couple great things about it: avoid methane emissions in landfill, turbocharges your garden (or someone else's), and you get a much better sense of how much food you're wasting — the biggest source of emission.

Oh, and composting doesn’t have to be hard anymore. I wrote all about it:


Baldbold192 t1_jd52p3e wrote

How bad is traveling by plane compared to owning and driving a new car?


washingtonpost OP t1_jd5948k wrote

It’s helpful to compare where the average person’s emissions come from. Housing is the top source (around a third) and transportation is next (around a third as well). For most people, those emissions vary dramatically. Frequent flyers, especially. Because plane travel is so energy intensive, it often contributes an outsize share of one's emissions.

So even if you drive every day for a commute, flying across the country several times could swamp those emissions. So there’s no one right answer to that except to say that a few long flights equals many, many miles in a car.


str8-shooter t1_jd7f0ep wrote

If climate change is such a crisis, why do you think nuclear energy is always ignored as a potential solution by governments?


Exciting_Diamond_877 t1_jdwgufm wrote

What percent of the rhetoric on climate change do you think is political ? ( ie . Get vaccinations to prevent getting grandma sick , wasn't true)


IAmAModBot t1_jd54s05 wrote

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ember_the_cool_enby t1_jd7jn8d wrote

So you think carbon capture technology is a strong way to become carbon neutral in the future?


Ok-Feedback5604 t1_jd8i25v wrote

What would you like to give some simple tips for a layman to curb climate change problems?(based on your work experience)


True-Godess t1_jdbg17r wrote

How do you deal with ignorant politicizing climate deniers and people who are stuck in the right wing confirmation bias bubble? How do you not get angry at such blatant ignorance when more clearly then ever you can see how climate has changed even if they are too lazy to do research, they can’t close their eyes while massive floods drown whole towns and it got so hot this summer 200 Or probably more like 700 cows died from heat Waves that were never seen before so intense in that area?


Automatic_Bug9841 t1_jdczze6 wrote

Have you ever written about the climate benefits of WFH? I would love to show my employer the average emissions reductions per employee when people don’t have to commute every day.


AnonymusWaterBuffalo t1_jdemenm wrote

I am thinking of starting an online community for people who want to take action on Climate in their daily lives. I have been making sustainable swaps like replacing red meat with chicken and Tofu, and replacing Rideshare with Transit.

But it can feel lonely, and that your actions are just a drop in the bucket. Then I joined a local Climate community and it's been so validating and inspiring now that I can lean on people who, like me, actually care.

It also helped that I could ask people how they were able to successfully become more sustainable in their own lives.

Would people be interested in joining such a community focused on real life action? I feel like everyone who cares about Climate and the Environment should have a support group, wherever they are in their journey.


WarBasic1255 t1_jdr2loy wrote

what’s the dumbest thing somebody asked you? (ie I don’t recycle because they use recycling to mind control us or something)