The midterms are over—but your role isn’t

November 11, 2018

With the midterm elections now over, there’s a good chance you’re in one of three camps: 1) those that are thrilled over a victory, 2) those feeling dispirited about a loss, or 3) those that have already moved on to thinking about Thanksgiving plans. But just because you’ve cast your vote, this doesn’t mean you have to cast aside your civic mindedness until November 2020.

Author and social entrepreneur Sam Daley-Harris put it well in his latest op-ed: “We aren’t spectators in the stands of our democracy—we’re players as much as our legislators are, just with different positions on the field. And so the real question is: What do citizens do who are players and work as a team for our democracy? They get in the game!”

Here are eight ways you can get in the game and make a real impact as an energy citizen, a community citizen, and as a citizen of our larger democracy:

1. Install rooftop solar.

Maybe you start with a small array on your shed and build up from there, maybe you go whole hog and meet your entire household power demand from the start. Either way, you’ll be able to offset some of the cost with rebates and tax credits, generate a zero-risk return on your investment through utility bill savings, and join the many households across the country who are making the concept of local energy a reality. Just how much of an impact could you have in the world? Rooftop solar doesn’t simply reduce home energy costs—it ranks number 10 in Project Drawdown’s list of the 100 most substantive existing solutions to address global warming.

2. Buy an electric vehicle—or commit to having your next car be electric.

Light-duty transportation, which includes cars, SUVs, and light trucks, accounts for 16 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. If you drive a good bit, the one-time act of switching your vehicle from gas or diesel to electric will make a huge impact in your everyday emissions. Not sure if there’s an EV model that fits your needs? This site will help you browse available models (and find applicable tax credits and rebates). We dare you to try and find someone who went electric and regretted it.

3. Adopt a plant-rich diet.

Loading your plate with veggies and grains isn’t just good for your health, but has a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions as well. It’s the number 4 solution in Project Drawdown’s ranking, and for good reason: according to one study, adopting a vegetarian diet could reduce business-as-usual emissions as much as 63 percent. That’s a lot of impact for a transition that most us should probably be considering anyway, for our own mental and physical well-being.

4. Fly less.

Think a couple of plane trips a year won’t make a difference? Get inspired by Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist who decided not to fly after calculating that the two international and six domestic flights he took in one year completely eclipsed his entire year’s worth of emissions from driving, eating, and using electricity. An added benefit of a “staycation”? You get to support your local economy and actually get to know your friends and neighbors.

5. Reexamine your consumption.

Especially around the year-end holidays, we tend to go into consumer overdrive. But might we all be happier if we cut back on the frenzied accumulation of “stuff” and focused instead on a few meaningful actions that really make a difference? For tips on having less stressful holidays with a lighter carbon emissions footprint—including cool ideas for giving “non-material” gifts—check out New Dream’s Simplify the Holidays campaign.

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How about some steps that we can take not just as individuals, but as members of our wider communities? After all, we can greatly magnify our impacts if we work together to push for positive change at the societal and systems levels as well. A few ideas:

6. Support solar schools.

Maybe you have the passion to work with your school district to get solar panels on local school roofs? Already, more than 5,500 K-12 schools across the country have taken the leap. For inspiring examples and a toolkit for getting it done, check out Generation 180’s Solar Schools website and the experiences of Richmond Public Schools and Middlesex County in Virginia.

7. Start or support a “Ready for 100” campaign in your city.

Across the country, people are getting together with friends and neighbors to promote a just transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. Join the Sierra Club’s national campaign to ask mayors, CEOs, pastors, principals, civic and community leaders, parents, and students to commit to solutions that help us achieve 100% clean, renewable energy across the U.S. by the year 2050.

8. Help someone in need.

Find an opportunity to serve your community, such as volunteering at a local soup kitchen or donating to a shelter. Or, you could contribute to a campaign to support the education of girls and women around the world. Why? Educating girls and women is Drawdown’s number 6 solution for dramatically reducing emissions by 2050, because of its direct impact on family size and the global population.

You don’t have to take all or even any of these steps, but you can definitely find a role to play that fits your life. Pick an action that you’re passionate about and that seems most doable for you, then take it from there.

There are 720 days until the next big U.S. election. By intentionally making just a handful of choices that have a big impact, we can make every one of those days count.


It’s time for schools to hop on the (electric) bus

November 7, 2018

When someone says the words “electric vehicle,” a giant, lumbering, yellow kid-wagon isn’t the first—or the slickest—product that comes to mind. You might not have even known that someone, somewhere, was making such a vehicle.

But here’s the honest truth: electric school buses are here, they’re awesome, and the case for schools adopting them is more compelling than ever.

It’s not hard to figure out why electric buses are awesome. Here’s an easy place to start: remember waiting for your school bus and performing that daily dance to avoid the choking fumes churning from the tailpipe? With electric buses, that diesel dance is history.

If that fact alone hasn’t completely sold you on electric buses, then keep reading—we’re just getting started.

A key solution

U.S. school buses transport more than 25 million children each day, traveling a total of 4 billion miles annually along standard routes. While current diesel bus fleets get the job done, they expose young passengers to concerning levels of diesel fumes. Transportation as a whole contributes to a wide range of health and pollution problems and is also the top source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for nearly a third of the nation’s total.

Electric vehicles are a key solution. Compared to diesel and natural gas options, electric buses account for far fewer emissions, even when charged on today’s grid powered largely by fossil fuels. Replacing all of the nation’s school buses with electric alternatives could prevent the emissions equivalent of 1.1 million cars.

Even better, converting school buses to electric will bring us closer to a fully electrified future, powered by 100 percent clean energy. As the grid transitions to higher shares of renewables, we’ll see more and more schools using rooftop solar to charge their fleets of electric buses, providing emissions-free transport to kids nationwide.

A day’s worth of range, a lifetime of savings

A common concern about EVs is their range, or how far they can travel on a single charge. The good news is that today’s electric buses, with a range of around 100 miles, can cover 80 percent of existing school bus routes with a single overnight charge. If they’re also charged at mid-day, they can cover 90 percent of routes. Manufacturers like Blue Bird, Lion Electric Company, and GreenPower already offer models that achieve this range, and as technologies improve, ranges will only increase.

What about cost? On average, a new diesel school bus costs around $110,000, whereas a new electric school bus—plus the necessary charging infrastructure—costs around $230,000. Although the upfront costs are higher, the savings from going electric come over the vehicle’s lifetime. The extra cost is recouped after around 13 years of operation due to the lower fuel and maintenance costs.

Electric buses don’t depend on costly fill-ups, and they don’t need most of the parts that traditional diesel buses require (plus, electric parts tend to last longer). On average, electric buses can save school districts $2,000 in fuel costs and another $4,400 in reduced maintenance costs each year. With additional infrastructure, electric buses can even help schools save on their overall electricity bills, with the bus battery serving as storage that can feed power back to the grid during periods of peak demand.

Extra support for going electric

For some schools, transitioning to electric buses might be possible within the standard budget. But more likely, schools will need an additional boost to make the buses more affordable and to increase the savings.

Some states are applying for funds from the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust—established in 2017 after the automaker was found guilty of cheating on U.S. vehicle emissions tests—which allocates a total of $2.9 billion for projects that reduce diesel emissions. California, for example, plans to spend $130 million to replace eligible school, transit, and shuttle buses with electric alternatives, and Illinois will dedicate up to $10.9 million of its allocation to replace diesel school buses with electric and install charging infrastructure.

 States are also providing their own funds to go electric. California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project offers school districts vouchers of up to $220,000 for each electric school bus they buy and another $15,000 if the school is in a disadvantaged community. The state’s Rural School Bus Pilot Project is among several initiatives helping to deliver dozens of electric school buses to rural communities.

At the federal level, the School Bus Rebate Program is providing more than $9 million to school districts to replace old buses in 2018, or about $15,000 to $20,000 per bus.

A win for Twin Rivers

The case for electric buses might best be summarized by the experience of Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento, California. Thanks in part to proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade program, the district now has one of the largest electric school bus fleets in the country. Its 12 electric buses travel 50 to 70 miles a day on a single charge—with power to spare—and have reduced fuel costs by around 82 percent.

In total, the Twin Rivers district saves an estimated $8,000 to $15,000 a year on energy and maintenance. Cost savings of that scale, paired with the improvements in community air quality and health outcomes, are giving the district plenty of reasons to feel good about its investment. Here’s to hoping its experience inspires school districts across the country to hop on the bus to a cleaner, healthier future.

Want to dive deeper on electric buses? Check out our recent webinar on the topic with U.S. PIRG’s Transportation Campaign Director here.