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The Liberators

My 15% Solutions For Reducing My Impact On Climate Change (And That May Inspire You As Well)

On a recent trip to Switzerland, my wife (Lisanne) and I ran into an impressive art installation by Yann Mingard that showed a huge number of graphs that offset the growth of consumption and population against effects on the biosphere of our planet. It wasn’t pretty.

Although this is certainly not a new insight for me, it emphasized very clearly that we’re on the verge of disaster. But instead of the usual defeatism and skepticism I feel in the face of these depressing facts, I felt empowered to look at what I can change in my own life. What are 15% Solutions I can make, starting today, to reduce my impact? In this post, I share the five that I can commit to. And who knows, they may inspire you as well.

But first: Am I actually contributing to it?

Based on my research of what scientists have to say about this; Yes. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that our planet is warming up rapidly. Between 95–99% of papers published on climate change by geologists, climatologists, biologists, and other scientists point at human activities as the culprit. In particular, our increasing emissions of greenhouse gasses (like CO2 and methane). These gasses act like a blanket around our planet, keeping the heat radiated by our sun inside our atmosphere instead of reflecting back into space. This causes temperatures to rise all over the world faster than has ever happened before. This rapid rise can only be sufficiently explained by human activities — not changes in solar activity, cosmic rays or a global conspiracy of scientists. Many different lines of evidence — from ice cores to tree rings — show that climate change is caused by us (and thus ‘me’).

Temperature data showing rapid warming in the past few decades, the latest data going up to 2018. According to NASA data, 2016 was the warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The 10 warmest years in the 139-year record all have occurred since 2005, with the five warmest years being the five most recent years. Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory.

So what?

With our planet heating up, we will start seeing some pretty dramatic effects — most of which are already happening. Weather will become increasingly extreme and unstable, oscillating between heatwaves and cold spells. Many plants, animals and insects will perish, unable to adapt quickly enough to the unnaturally fast-rising temperature.

Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

Ice sheets, glaciers and large areas of land ice are rapidly melting, causing water levels to rise. Coastal regions will experience increasingly severe flooding. And with glaciers holding 69% of the freshwater reserves that fuel our rivers and lakes during Spring and Summer, we can expect severe (freshwater) droughts and drying up of farmland as the water-level lakes and rivers eventually drops.

These effects will manifest in our lives as rising food prices, higher energy costs, increasing property damage due to extreme weather, lack of freshwater and conflict in areas where people are forced to move due to flooding and droughts. So that’s a pretty bleak future.

Now what?

There are many ways to respond to these sobering and, frankly, depressing facts. Here are some of my initial responses:

  1. Hide behind skepticism. Although I always believed that we had an impact on our climate, I was skeptical about the degree. I noticed an awkward relief whenever I read something that seemed to support that skepticism, like Climate Gate or individual studies that seemed to conclude that things weren’t that bad. I picked single observations that supported my inaction, but ignored the overall pattern that certainly wasn’t;
  2. I can’t make a difference even if I wanted. One persistent thought I had was that any change I could make would be negated by countries like Russia, India, and China that continued to heavily invest in polluting industry (like coal plants and mines). Not to mention the growing population in countries like China and the pollution that would cause. I convinced myself that my own actions didn’t matter in the big picture;
  3. Future technology will save the day. A more positive reason I found myself using is that I believed — and still do to some extent— that future technology will help avert or deal with the effects of climate change. Take the proliferation of solar, wind and hydro-energy. Or the transition from fossil fuel to (green) energy for electric cars, trains, and even airplanes. Or how we can use advances in gene editing (like CRISPR-Cas9) to modify plants and animals to adapt to our changing climate when they can’t;
  4. Feel annoyed by green fanatics. I often found myself annoyed by people with a radical perspective on what we (or I) needed to change. Their strategy seemed to be about making me feel guilty. Stop eating meat, stop traveling by car, stop flying, stop using dairy products, stop using plastics, stop showering twice a day, stop ordering online, stop going on vacation to faraway destinations (and the list goes on and on). And doing some, or a bit of some, wasn’t enough. To me, it sounded like ‘stop having a life that is also fun and comfortable’. Although I was sympathetic to the message, I used the delivery of the message as an excuse for not doing anything;
  5. I don’t even know where to start... I often found myself unable to decide what I could feasibly do. Climate change is so large and overwhelming. Where do I even start? Also, a lot of suggestions— like installing solar panels, recycling plastics and not eating meat — seemed plausible until I read something that made me question it. Instead of doing something, I remained stuck in doubt;

Ultimately, I found myself pushing my personal responsibilities away. There is certainly truth in some of these reasons. But if everyone reasoned like me, nothing would ever change and things would only get worse. I realized that even if things wouldn’t turn out as bad as expected, it wouldn’t hurt to be more considerate of what I eat, use and do. As it turned out, many of the things I can do actually have other benefits as well.

My 15% Solutions

I found inspiration in a Liberating Structure called 15% Solutions. The idea behind this structure is that BIG change in systems results from many small changes. Instead of focusing on the incredibly hard and difficult ‘100% Solutions’, it's more helpful to focus on small steps — ‘15% Solutions’. These are the things I can commit to without needing support or permission from others or resources I don’t have access to. For me, my 15% Solutions turned out to be:

1. Eat less meat

Animal agriculture and meat, in particular, are huge contributors to the emission of greenhouse gasses. Estimations range between 13% and 18%, making it the second-largest contributor after energy production (64%). Holding livestock and producing meat, in particular lambs and cows, requires a lot of land, water, and fertilizer.

One simple thing I can commit to is to eat less meat. Although I like meat and love the flavors it adds to my cooking, I feel comfortable committing to eating smaller portions on 2 days a week instead of the 4–5 days a week I do now. I already exclusively buy biologically produced meat, but I will also prefer chicken over beef from now on.

Greenhouse gas life cycle assessment for common proteins and vegetables (EWG 2011).

An added benefit from eating less meat is that research has shown significant health benefits from it as well. And with my wife preferring to eat vegetarian anyways, it will make our cooking easier. Finally, it is a good opportunity to explore different dishes and recipes.

2. Switch to green energy

With energy production being the largest contributor to greenhouse gasses, switching to green energy is a huge gain. Initially, I was worried that this required expensive solar panels and wind turbines on my home. But as it turns out, our current supplier (GreenChoice) already offers green energy that is produced with wind turbines and burning biomass (like woodchips). Not perfect, but certainly a step in the right direction.

Although not a 15% Solution, we are considering solar panels as well. Not only is this self-produced green energy, but it also saves a lot of money each month after the initial investment.

(Postscript: The roof of our house is now covered with solar panels. 100% of our energy comes from the Sun during most days.)

3. Don’t fly

Of all the things I can do as an individual, flying is certainly one of the most polluting. The IPCC estimates that aviation is responsible for 3.5% of the temperature changes we’re seeing, likely climbing to 5% in the coming years as the number of flights increases.

Estimated carbon emissions for common activities. J. You / Science for the graphic. Data is from Wynes, S. & Nicholas, K.A., Environmental Research Letters(2017)

Now, this is a hard one as I occasionally fly for The Liberators. For example, 2019 and 2020 saw 15 flights. With our purpose of unleashing organizational superpowers all over the world, some travel seems necessary.

Thankfully, Barry Overeem and I recently decided to restrict air travel. From 2021 and forward, I will restrict my flying to a minimum altogether. We also travel by train whenever possible. CO2 emissions of trains are tiny compared to flying and driving. Our recent trips to Bern, Hamburg, and Berlin were all by train. Although the trips are certainly longer — between 5 and 9 hours by train compared to 1 and 2 hours by airplane— we find it a more relaxing way to travel anyways. And spending several hours on a train is a great way to get more writing done. We also compensate for our travel — regardless of type — by planting trees through Trees for All. Again, not perfect. But a step in the right direction.

Aside from work, I am happy to stop flying for personal reasons altogether. This year, Lisanne and I agreed to travel exclusively by train to our holiday destinations. This year was Switzerland. As I don’t have a drivers license, my day-to-day travel already consists mostly of cycling, trains and trams and the occasional trip with Lisanne in our (small) car.

Also, note the uncomfortable truth that is evident from the chart; putting more humans on the planet eclipses other contributors. I find it interesting that this is hardly a topic when it comes to climate change. It seems like an inevitable truth that our planet — at least with our current technologies — can’t sustain an ever-growing population.

4. Recycle plastics, paper, and other materials

One major side-effect of our growing population is the amount of waste we produce. Of all this waste, plastic seems to have the largest impact on climate change and CO2 emission. One part of this is that plastic is made from fossil fuels. Another is that plastic decomposes into harmful microparticles that animals (including us) ingest.

A simple ‘15% Solution’ I can commit it is to recycle plastics and other waste products like paper and greens. In addition, I will avoid buying products wrapped in plastic wherever possible. It's also easy to bring my own bag to the supermarket and to use paper bags for fruits, bread, and other fresh products.

5. Talk about it

A final ‘15% Solution’ I can commit to is one I am putting into practice by writing this post. If I keep finding reasons not to take at least some personal responsibility for what is happening to our climate, things will go from bad to worse fast. I’m dreading a future where I have to explain to future generations why I didn’t act when I could, instead of waiting for politicians, leaders, companies, and governments to do it for us or finding other reasons to remain inactive in the face of imminent ecological disaster. Even if things don’t turn out to be as bad as what scientists predict, it seems to me that my 15% Solutions are beneficial nonetheless. And by sharing this with others in terms of what I do with it, and encouraging others in whatever humble way I can, we can maybe change the system together.

Closing Thoughts

In a way, writing this post was more personal for me than others. I obviously care deeply about Scrum, Agile, Liberating Structures and software development. But in the face of what we’re doing to our planet and the future that holds for us, they also feel unimportant. So I felt that — as an exception — I could dedicate a post to this important topic.

In this post, I shared five ‘15% Solutions’ that I can commit to right now to help reduce climate change. None of them are difficult. None of them are perfect. But they don’t have to be. Instead of waiting for others to do something, each of us can change our planet by making small steps.

I’m eager to learn about your ‘15% Solutions’? What are the small changes you can make to reduce your impact on our climate? What other ideas do you have?

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Christiaan Verwijs

I liberate teams & organizations from de-humanizing, ineffective ways of organizing work. Passionate developer, organizational psychologist, and Scrum Master.