By Emily Hsiang, Student at Haverford College
We’ve all heard it before: Save the polar bears! Ban plastic straws! Climate change is real! Reuse, Reduce, Recycle!
Many of us have been desensitized to these slogans–that is, if there ever was a point at which they successfully distracted us.
What weight would trendy calls-for-action hold if, instead, they shared the whole picture? For example, save the polar bears because their livelihood relies on sea ice but polar ice caps are currently melting at six times the rate they did in the 1990’s, effectively reducing by more than seven tons in the last decade.
Granted, that whole description would make for a much less catchy phrase–but it’s true that many people fail to take personal responsibility without an understanding of how their individual actions contribute. And how can we “save the environment” before we understand what we are saving?
As a specific example, Philadelphia has pledged to use one hundred percent renewable energy by the year 2035. This pledge is doable, but it is dependent on the contributions of many community members around the Philadelphia area. Unfortunately, despite the importance of this pledge, many people will not know what this entails.
So why not start here, and prove the power of education in mobilizing efforts towards clean energy? Here is your beginning lesson.
What is renewable energy?
In brief, renewable energy is energy powered by natural sources, including common examples such as sun, wind, biomass, or water. Think of solar panels or windmills.
On the other hand, nonrenewable energy sources have historically dominated the industrial scene, including common examples of coal, crude oil, and natural gas, which are considered fossil fuels.
Not only does nonrenewable energy place strain on the environment by depleting the supply of these resources; fossil fuels are problematic in their release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases then trap infrared heat, ultimately contributing to global warming.
This is the trouble we are trying to escape in converting to renewable energy which, in contrast, releases minimal amounts of greenhouse gas and naturally replenishes.
So, what does the switch to renewable energy entail?
Led by the Sierra Club and the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability, Philly’s clean energy campaign relies on small-scale, individual changes to add up and achieve the goal in sum.
Many different projects are currently in motion, including the revision of electric vehicle bills and the installation of solar panels in large corporations like the SEPTA train line and the Philadelphia Water Company. City universities, including Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, have also agreed to contribute. Evidently, it will be a gradual process, but businesses like these are paving the way for more positive changes to come.
What can you do to contribute?
If you can afford it, it is possible to power your own home or business with solar energy, water, wind, etc. Many utilities already offer the choice to use renewable power for a slight additional cost. You can even purchase portable air-source heat pumps, which effectively heat and cool spaces without the use of electricity.
And if you don’t have the time to power your house by bicycle all day…there are still many renewable energy-powered household items to be purchased online, from decorative string lights to phone chargers! Scientists have shared that even items such as laptops and grills will be solar-powered in the foreseeable future. So, next time you shop, practice searching for a renewable energy-powered version of the product you want to buy. These products would even be handy in a power outage or on a camping trip!
You can also be selective in your choice to support companies that pledge renewable energy-use. Use your dollar as your vote and demonstrate preference for environmentally-conscious businesses!
That said, you don’t have to spend money to contribute to the clean energy movement. Preserving energy can be as simple as being conservative with your use of electricity: turn the lights off when you leave a room, open the windows instead of switching on the air conditioning, unplug your chargers and hair dryers when you’re not using them.
Most obviously, in reference to the main point of this article–educate yourself and others! There are many educational websites and articles dedicated to sharing information on sustainable living in Philadelphia alone, such as Green Philly, Greenworks Philadelphia, and Grid Philly. Share this article, re-post informative content on your social media, have those difficult conversations with your family and friends.
We can’t expect ourselves to take on a problem we don’t understand, and the great news is we have all the tools we need to embark on this first step of education.