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This weekend, the social justice committee of our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will be holding a retreat to set our social justice agenda for the next year. I would like to sway our committee toward actions that will address climate change, as this is, in my opinion, the most pressing social justice issue of our times. But what can a relatively small congregation do to affect change in this arena? We are currently engaged in Inter-faith Power and Light's "Cool Congregations" program, attempting to help congregants reduce theirs and their families carbon footprint, and advance knowledge and understanding of the issues. As one might expect, a UU congregation is largely already engaged and active in this endeavor, so no big results are expected.
We also use the EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager to track the utilities for our buildings. We've been awarded the Energy Star designation as a result of these efforts and plan to continue energy efficiency efforts for our facilities.
I am developing a program to train congregants in basic weatherproofing for houses. This program will engage volunteers to train, then work together to make improvements to folk's homes that may not be able to do it themselves. If successful, I hope to take the model to a larger community, through an inter-faith coalition, to train more volunteers and create teams to make improvements for more folks in our area.
So, we are doing some things, but as we meet to set our priorities, I'd like to have additional ideas to present for consideration- what we can do to move the ball in regard to climate change in a social justice context. The purpose of this diary is to pose this question to the mighty minds of the community. What are your suggestions for action we can take to make a difference?
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    “Nature uses as little as possible of anything." -- Johannes Kepler

    by Syoho on Thu Aug 07, 2014 at 09:18:20 AM PDT

  •  No ideas... (0+ / 0-)

    but I am curious as to how you define "Climate Social Justice".

  •  Climate change is a social justice issue- (0+ / 0-)

    The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect those least able to deal with it.

    “Nature uses as little as possible of anything." -- Johannes Kepler

    by Syoho on Thu Aug 07, 2014 at 09:49:28 AM PDT

  •  Weatherization Barnraisings (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Home Energy Efficiency Team ( has resources to help you with your weatherization efforts.  They've been doing public weatherizations barnraisings for years now and have a workbook to help others do the same.

  •  If congregation or members own stocks, divest (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    from fossil fuel corps and invest in a well managed clean energy fund.

    Fossil fuel investments are financially irresponsible, since it is now clear that most of their assets in the form of proven reserves of oil gas and coal, which they are counting as worth trillions of dollars, are unburnable, therefore worthless.

    Many of the people at greatest risk from accelerating extreme weather are the poorest and least responsible for greenhouse emissions.  So transferring investments from fossil folly to clean energy promotes social justice.

    There's no such thing as a free market!

    by Albanius on Thu Aug 07, 2014 at 01:18:43 PM PDT

  •  What about solar? This is a power source (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that has been suppressed in favor of fossil fuels. Your church building and your homes could all benefit which would significantly lower your carbon footprint. Perhaps as a group you can do more than any of you could do individually, even if the group is small.

    Your use of solar could be an example to the community and you might even facilitate others to use solar for at least some of their energy needs.

    "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

    by Lily O Lady on Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 01:46:03 PM PDT

  •  You might want to talk to (0+ / 0-)

    remembrance who is very active with her synagogue congregation in working on climate-change-related action, and posts about it often here. You can often find her Kibitzing at the Kitchen Table

    if you don't think there's a difference between the parties, then fuck you and go away. --Kos--

    by dsb on Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 01:51:27 PM PDT

  •  Instant HW heaters (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'd encourage your group to set up a revolving loan program (not dependent on income level). There are several areas that can be addressed to reduce energy / utility use. The first step should be an energy audit which in the simplest form would be figuring energy use over the year of each utility: water, electricity, gas. Also come up with the square footage so numbers can be normalized. Truly, you should use cubic feet but square feet should be close enough and it's easier to understand.

    Typically, there are three easy first steps: basic weatherization (sealing walls, doors, and windows), reduction of water use and heating with low flow fixtures, and reduction of electricity with CFL or LED bulbs. I think CFL's are the better investment.

    After those steps there are several good things you can do with a loan fund: increasing insulation levels, replacing a hot water tank with an instant hot water heater, and upgrading or replacing the heating system. These are all points where you should call in professionals or have very experienced volunteers. Increasing insulation and the general air-tightness of a house can cause mold or other condensation problems that are fairly easy to avoid. My favorite advice on this is to remember that ventilation needs to be fairly constant in a space; heating or cooling are different functions from ventilation. They can be complementary but you shouldn't only rely on your heat system to introduce fresh air. But increasing the R-value of walls, floors, and ceilings can bring significant cost savings and are worth it, especially if it can be affordably done. Replacing water tanks with instant hot water heaters will introduce another significant cost savings but a system can cost a couple thousand dollars. Same thing with a new heat system. With forced air heating, the increased efficiency of the units has been huge and an investment can be quickly returned in these systems. If more money is available, replacement can even be considered for the whole system.

    Regarding the replacement of systems it becomes super important to have people who know about different systems and aren't out to sell one to you. Geothermal, solar panels, solar hot water, forced air, radiant systems all have good things about them but usually only one is really the right fit for a retrofit and you need really good advice. No one who supplies a system will ever admit that his system isn't the best solution. It's simple human nature, not just greed, but something to be wary of.

    Glad to see your group doing this. I hope this work will be extended to all in your community once you have upgraded your UU communities' places.

    Best of luck.

    •  A very nice list of suggestions! One caution, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Replacing water tanks with instant hot water heaters will introduce another significant cost savings but a system can cost a couple thousand dollars.
      I'd note, though.

      I have the impression, including from your comments, that many consider instantaneous (tankless) water heaters to be a direct substitute/interchange w/ a traditional water heater w/ a tank. My (somewhat limited) experience is that most instantaneous water heaters attain their enviable hot water production by having a pretty large burner--such that their fuel supply requirements are often considerably higher than the tank water heater they replaced.

      In my experience in a natural gas utility, I've seen meters and pressure regulators--even main taps and customers' service lines and house piping--needing to be upsized to properly serve the vastly (and often-unknowingly) increased load. It's certainly not an insurmountable obstacle; it's just the kind of thing that can floor you when you're finished...and make you wonder why it doesn't perform as advertised.

      It's just one more thing to check on upfront and, as you say... need really good advice. (emphasis added)

      "Push the button, Max!" Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate, The Great Race

      by bartcopfan on Mon Aug 11, 2014 at 10:33:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  hadn't heard that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I have a tankless and recommend them to people and hadn't heard that concern before. My experience has been positive, my gas use went down noticeably. The basic issue with water tanks is they heat hot water when you are pulling on the system so what happens is: I use 5 or 10 gallons out of 40 gallons, the system heats 40 gallons back up to 120 degrees F, the system sits for several hours, losing a lot of heat, even if well-insulated, then when I draw on it again it reheats the water, starting the cycle over again. That's a pretty inefficient loop.

        One caveat, people who sell a particular system will be able to tell you chapter and verse about what is wrong with other systems and right with theirs. Keep your eye on what is the desired outcome and what has the shortest payback. Installing a tankless heater for someone who frequently uses a tub is a bargain. Someone who's water use is very low (like 10 gallons a day) might not realize a payback for years and years. The classic trade-offs: time, cost / money, and quality. If I want it faster, I'll pay more, quality will suffer, or both. Same for the other combos.

        •  I've included a couple of links to show the (0+ / 0-)

          differences in "Input Btu" of tankless water heaters compared to traditional water heaters w/ a tank. (FWIW, I picked the Home Depot website just because I figure it's well-known and natural gas water heaters because they're common and more familiar to me.)

          When I looked through the tankless models, the smallest input Btu I saw was 150,000 Btu/hr, while the typical 40-50 gallon home hot water tank was in the range of 36,000-50,000 Btu/hr.

          This means the instantaneous water heater will have at least 3x the instantaneous load--meaning it could overload one's piping while it's on, esp. when one has other loads on at the same time. Excessive pressure drop in one's piping system would easily lead to underfiring (the water heater, stove, heating system, or other loads) and subsequent underperformance of the unit(s), i.e. it doesn't deliver as many hot gallons as expected or the gallons delivered aren't as hot as expected.

          As the father of 3 teenagers, I assure you I understand the efficiency gains permitted by instantaneous water heaters; my caution is simply to check the sizing on one's piping/fuel supply system to be sure the unit will receive adequate supply and, if not, include the upgrading of the fuel supply system in the upgrade of the water heater. Otherwise, one could find oneself doing the plumbing equivalent of putting a Ferrari engine in a Model T--and wondering why it's not great.

          "Push the button, Max!" Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate, The Great Race

          by bartcopfan on Mon Aug 11, 2014 at 04:21:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Another UU here. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    What are your suggestions for action we can take to make a difference?
    I'm active in our Sustainable Living Organization (SLO) at our church. Something we're going to investigate (probably for next summer; we've essentially missed the boat for this one) is time-of-use (TOU, aka time-of-day (TOD)) electrical billing.
    [Apologies in advance for the coming sidebar explanation--I assume there might be people unfamiliar w/ the term(s).]

    This uses so-called "smart meters", which record not only electrical usage, but the timing of that usage, for the purpose of allowing "peak" and "off-peak" rates (prices) to be used. In our local electric utility's residential TOU program (which I have used personally for years), the peak pricing is up to about ten times more expensive (~$.50/kWh) as compared to the off-peak pricing (~$.043/kWh). This is a strong incentive to reduce usage during peak hours (2-7 pm during (non-holiday) weekdays) in the utility's program.

    The utility informs me that I've personally saved about $100 per summer by using the program (and, IIRC, over 90 percent of their other customers save money under the program). Of course, the summer-peaking (=air conditioning load) utility benefits by lowering their peak generating and/or power purchase requirements/costs and avoiding construction of costly new power plants and/or transmission lines.

    In conjunction w/ good insulation, double-pane windows,  a programmable thermostat, strategically-placed fans, and other (legal) means, I use the "cheap" pre-peak-price electricity to pre-cool my home such that it can go the 5 peak hours w/o the A/C coming on (much) and still keep the comfort acceptable. Once 7 pm arrives, so does the 'cheap' electricity and my A/C.

    OK, enough sidebar!

    Our church, like many others, typically doesn't have a lot of activity during these peak-priced times, such that we expect we could not only net some savings on our church's monthly bills, but generate some societal benefits and promote our mission as well.

    I'll report back any results of our further investigation (and implementation) as I'm able.

    Good luck to you and others--I'm anxious to read others' suggestions and experiences as well!

    "Push the button, Max!" Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate, The Great Race

    by bartcopfan on Mon Aug 11, 2014 at 09:57:18 AM PDT

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