Reducing My Carbon Footprint with Negawatts and Geothermal by Camille Minogue

My house was uninsulated and had oil heat, I drove a gasoline powered vehicle, and I was flitting all over the globe on exotic vacations. At the same time, I claimed to be concerned about the environment and climate change. Yes, there was something wrong with this picture.

Inspiration to change my ways finally came a few years back, when I attended the 2009 Reinventing Fire Symposium of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in San Francisco. There I met some of today’s most inspirational thought leaders in the clean energy and environmental movement, including Amory Lovins and Paul Hawken. From them I learned about the “negawatt”, which is the energy you don’t use by taking measures to use energy more efficiently, how the electric car really is a viable alternative to a gasoline-powered one, how free-market pricing does not account for harm done to the environment or to human health, and how stewardship of the environment and capitalism are not necessarily incompatible.

Newly inspired to make negawatts, I insulated my house and installed Krypton triple-pane windows. I felt I was on the right track; I would use less heating oil. But then came a heating oil bill for $800. Despite cutting oil use, my heating costs were rising. To make matters worse, I learned from doing some research on the Internet that my oil furnace produced an astounding 16,000 pounds of carbon emissions annually. I began to look at my options.

Ultimately I was taken in by geothermal; it was everything I wanted – no carbon emissions, immune to the price of oil – but there was the initial cost challenge. It would require drilling three 200-foot holes for the pipes in addition to the new furnace, and it had a total price tag that was more than double that of simply converting to gas. “It just doesn’t pencil”, my best friend advised. “Just get gas. It’s cheap”, my dad weighed in. But using my own special calculus, geothermal did pencil, hands-down. I figured in the peace-of-mind value of having much more certainty in my future heating costs and the psychic benefit of knowing that my heating solution produces minimal carbon emissions.

With the success of the geothermal project, I am now even more inspired to further reduce my impact on the earth. I’ve committed to slowing down on the globetrotting, and to buying carbon offsets when I do, saving around 4,000 pounds of carbon emissions per year. In 2013 I plan to switch to an electric car, shaving off another 6,000 pounds annually. (I’ve settled on the sleek Tesla Model S Sport Sedan.) After that I’d like to tackle rainwater harvesting and solar power. A much prettier picture is coming into view.

Camille Minogue is an enthusiastic advocate for the environment. She currently enjoys an empty nest with her husband, Dan, and is the chief actuary for ICBC.

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