In late August, Climate Change Activist and co-founder of Nest Labs, Larry Gussin, came to Ada’s to talk about Technology at the Core of Climate Change Mitigation. Larry’s dense, hour-long presentation began with briefly outlining the affects of climate change and the harrowing future being shaped by our present policies and practices. The majority of his talk, however, focused on the ways in which different countries and companies are already working towards climate change mitigation. He broke this down into five different campaigns currently being championed by climate change activists around the world.
Following is an outline of the five campaigns Larry discussed:
1. A campaign against oil and gas
What has become a familiar opposition to the continued dependence upon fossil fuels. Larry focused on sustaining opposition to exporting coal. While one can make an economical argument in support of coal exports, another case can be made for the destructive result of using coal for fuel (which is the central driver behind reduced usage of coal in the U.S.). Larry pointed out how sending U.S. coal overseas would necessitate massive industrial infrastructure (which is costly and adversely affects climate), and enable what could be viewed as irresponsible energy policies outside of the U.S.
2. A campaign for a smart power grid
A smart grid of sensors and long transmission lines facilitating constant communication and regulation of energy use is not only increasingly possible, but could be the integral factor in effectively mitigating climate change. Larry identified DESERTEC as one company working hard to make a smart grid a reality by working towards a large network of thermal and solar capturing power plants. Larry also showed the vision of a Smart Home (below), which is far from being a campy vision of the future that could be and is instead an example of the future that is.
A Smart Home from AT&T
The most exciting component of a smart power grid (or any smart power regulation) is the possibility of more efficiently using energy. Moving resources from a place in surplus to a place in demand as needs fluctuate throughout a day, a month, a season, etc, whether that within a country, a neighborhood, or a home.
It was during this section that Larry highlighted one particularly complicated road-block against climate change mitigation–utilities. Traditionally, the focus of most utilities is providing reliable, affordable power, which does not always coincide with efficient, renewable energy models. Fortunately, however, there are utilities that are shifting their focus towards low-carbon energy systems, and adding mitigation goals to their mission statements.
3. A campaign for efficient energy
A campaign for efficient energy is one that starts with the individual. While personal choices about how much energy one uses (when to drive versus walk, how many lights one has on, how often one does laundry, etc.) may seem miniscule, they add up and are significant, not only in cutting energy use, but in promoting a paradigm shift in the way in which we treat our precious resources. Personal changes, however, are only the beginning. The real work is done at local, state, and federal levels, where significant changes in energy use can resonant throughout the country.
Larry shared DSIRE, an online resource where one can track the energy efficiencies being pursued in their own state. As co-founder of Nest Labs, Larry was on the ground floor for the development of the learning thermostat, an example of one way in which smart technology can help facilitate better energy efficiencies in homes.
Nest Labs learning thermostat in action.
4. A campaign for renewable energy
In discussing the employment of renewable energy sources, namely wind, solar, and geothetrmal energies, Larry showed the U.S. in contrast to Germany and England, highlighting the wasted opportunities for capturing and using renewable sources in the U.S.
Wind farm in Germany, coming soon to a U.S. state near you?
While at one point using or depending upon renewable resources was not cost effective, the paradigm is shifting. The image below shows states with a commitment to renewable portfolio standards. While not to the same caliber of countries in the EU, it’s a start.
Renewable Portfolio Standard Policies, 2013, from DSIRE
Larry also pointed to the lack of involvement in the tech industry as one reason why the U.S. is lagging behind in renewable resources. However, that’s not to say that there is zero involvement. Nest Labs is one example of a company workings towards smarter energy use; TerraPower (endorsed by Bill Gates) is another. The recent breakthrough at Lockheed Martin on compact fusion is to many one of the most exciting changes yet. But again, these companies are only the start.
5. A campaign for smart power policies
In regards to smart power policies, Larry pointed to the UN Kyoto Protocol—a globally minded initiative that outlines specific steps to mitigate climate change. Despite the U.S. previously refusing to ratify the protocol in 1998, there will be another opportunity in 2015, spurring a movement throughout climate change activism advocating for U.S. support. It appears the main problem with policies that reduce emissions by limiting fossil fuels and increasing renewable resources is economic. Large companies have long-standing investments in fossil fuels, and present infrastructure is established. The short-term cost of making changes has yet to fail in face of the long-term benefits.
Larry finished his presentation by outlining ways in which individuals can get involved in smart energy activism within our own region and how regional change is the key, first step to facilitating a larger paradigm shift. A great example of this happening here in Washington is the Pacific Coast Collaborative Agreement, a coalition working together to develop policies for a sustainable future.
For more information about changing energy use and smart energy activism, check out this article on Clean Technica. For more information about Larry and to get involved in climate activism, check out the Climate Reality Project and 350.org.