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Well, we signed a contract and put in a deposit for solar panels. They say we’ll offset 100% of our annual electric usage. So excited!

Let’s talk a second about climate change and individual action. 1/
This last week brought essays by @MichaelEMann and @MaryHeglar that argued we need to focus on political reform and that individual choices around climate change are less important in the grand scheme. usatoday.com/story/opinion/… vox.com/the-highlight/… 2/
I agree, broadly speaking.

Lots of people got upset about that argument, though. 3/
The objection, to summarize, is that climate change is an emergency and we need to act now now now and that includes reducing high-carbon consumption of things like meat and coal power and gasoline, so make individual changes.

But let’s ponder solar panels for a sec. 4/
I always wanted solar panels. I only recently owned a home, so it wasn’t up to me before. I could get all the other renters to nag our landlord, or join others to push my utility to source more renewable power, but that’s not individual action any more. 5/
Then we bought a house, and adding solar was added to a long list of tempting but expensive home improvements. “We’ll get to that in time, but first let’s paint, install more efficient appliances, etc.” A problem for tomorrow-Josh. 6/
Then a neighbor mentions that his friend just got solar and now he’s gonna get a solar assessment. So I say “hey, while they’re here, can they give us some options, too?” Dumb luck. We might’ve waited years to do it otherwise. 7/
But turns out we can get a system that, netted out over a yet, will produce all the power we use. It’ll take a few years before the reduced utility bill makes up for the lump cost of solar, but we don’t have plans to move. Great! Individual choice, right? Well… 8/
Policy matters! We net out electric usage over a year because in Washington, that’s what the law provides. In summer, we roll back the electric meter, accruing credits from the utility. In the dark winter, we use up those credits. And any excess credits are erased in April. 9/
Because of political choices, driven by activism and advocacy by solar manufacturers and utilities and all sorts of folks, state law creates an incentive to generate solar electricity, but no more than 100% of your annual consumption. 10/
We could’ve installed more panels, but we’d be paying more and seeing no personal benefit. I’m an altruist, but not in that way. So policy constraints individual choice. 11/
One reason solar pencils out economically is that there’s a federal tax credit for 30% of the system’s cost. If we install next year, the credit declines to 26%. The state just created a sales tax rebate for solar, kicking in on July 1. It took a lot of lobbying to get that! 12/
Because of that mix of policies, the same system is marginally cheaper than it would be later or earlier. So we didn’t keep delaying. Again, broad national and state policy constrain or simplify our choices. 13/
We considered a few different panel types. One is made in Washington, and there’s state law that gives certain credits for electricity generated by panels made in-state. We also considered panels made in Korea and China. But, snap!, tariffs create a disincentive to go solar! 14/
Tariffs, production tax credits, sales tax rebates, raising the price of coal power…that’s not individual action. But they shape the choices individuals make. And you don’t need to own a house to affect those policies, which will then help every landlord make good choices. 15/
My solar panels on their own do very little to affect the national or global energy system. But policy that makes it easy for everyone to make that same individual choice absolutely will. 16/
Individual choices matter. Never doubt that. But the scale of the challenge means we need lots of individual choices, and the incentive to act well can’t just be a matter of personal virtue. It has to be easy to do good and hard to do bad, and that means politics. 17/
So here’s my takeaway: make the individual choices that are important to you and easy enough. Think about choices you wish you could make, and what makes them hard. Call on your policy makers to lower those barriers, and demand more and more and more. 18/18
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