Is a State-scale “Race to Zero Carbon” too ambitious?

Many people think so. Here are the three things they most often suggest we do instead.

chat Posted Dec 04, 2016 by Rezwan | Category : Philosophy Formalizing
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Photo by Tim Foster

Scaling the Race

In the Race to Zero Carbon, the rules are:

The first US State to achieve a net zero carbon economy with the best quality of life, wins.

As soon as some people hear “the first US State,” they stop us to make the three suggestions below:

Forget State v. State…

  1. why don’t you start with something smaller, like on the city level? 
  2. why don’t you just tell me how I can go off grid?
  3. why don’t you just tell me something I can do every day to reduce my footprint?

The good news is, the Race to Zero Carbon incorporates all these suggestions and more. We put all the plays on the table for you to pick and choose.

Fighting for your limitations

The bad news is, If your first question upon encountering a 50 state race to zero carbon is, “how can we make this smaller?” you may have already given up on winning.

As Jillian Michaels says, “If you fight for your limitations, you get to keep them.”

Zero carbon coaches look at why you might be “fighting for your limitations”. What is the limiting belief? 

Luckily, the proposed alternatives are revealing.

Downshifting to a smaller civic or corporate level

On the face of it, the “civic downshift” seems reasonable. But if it is embedded in pessimism, someone is fighting for limitations. Consider:

State v. State? That’s never going to work.

Why not start with something smaller? Like a contest between some cities to see who can get the most solar panels installed.

Use that as a pilot.

If it works out, expand to bigger things.

The amazing thing about the “downshift to a smaller civic unit” players is that they are actually very ambitious. A civic contest is ambitious. These players believe you can organize groups of people to get something done. These are solid team players, strategic thinkers who want to be effective.

And yet they are limiting. Consider another way of looking at it:

State v. State? Ambitious. How would it work?

Tell you what. I’m working on maxing out the solar rooftop plays with a city v. city contest. In a sense, it’s a contest within the state contest. My focus will be on helping organize this particular set of players and plays.

We’ll take the solar rooftop coverage as far as we can.

Which raises the question, how far can that play go toward the total state score?

Let’s look at that State scoreboard and see how big of a dent in state emissions solar rooftop coverage can make.

Same play, same players, but no dismissal of the State v. State race.

How do you feel about that approach? Do you still find yourself holding on to limitations?

Just tell me how I can go off grid

The “Downshift to Grid” players say’

forget state v. state. As long as I get my house off the grid, I’m good, right?”

The “Downshift to Grid” players are also super ambitious. Going off grid is tough!

First, it’s not mutually exclusive. Feel free to go off grid. It will at the least help lower the state average. The only problem with focusing on individuals going off grid is that you don’t win unless the whole State gets to zero carbon.

If a few people go off grid, that’s impressive. But unless the whole economy gets to zero, the planet is toast. Zero carbon is a team sport.

There are resources we’re going to look at that will help you do that.

For the purposes of the race to zero carbon, it’s not about individuals and households going off grid, it’s about the whole grid, the whole economy, getting to zero.

Just tell me something I can do every day to reduce my footprint

Another way resistance shows up is when people say,

Forget State v. State. Just tell me one thing I can do each day, to reduce my footprint.

The “one thing you can do each day” exercise is cool, but if you just focus on that, it might be all you do, and it won’t add up, alas.

We’re not playing around. To win this game, we need everyone to see the whole game, once and for all, and pick their plays. We need a whole strategy and game plan for the whole state to go all the way to zero carbon and beyond.

In a football game, it’s not just about a player gaining an inch a day. Or even a yard.

It’s about a whole team of players coordinating their actions to gain all the yards – to go all the way to the end zone, in a short time.

You have to see the whole field, understand the whole game, to choose your plays. Play by play. It’s holistic AND specific.

What it should look like, when we win this race, is that when you wake up in the morning and go about your day, flipping switches, turning keys, you should be able to do everything with confidence, knowing that everything is part of a zero carbon system. You don’t have to think about it any more. The whole system has been transformed.

To get there, you do have to think about it all, holistically, right now.

We want to front load the thinking. Figure out all our options now. Figure out how to win this game.

Thanks for watching! Don’t forget to like, share subscribe. And See you at the next video where we dive deeper into the rules.

Still holding on to limitations?

There tend to be three reasons why people down-select so quickly:

  1. You think it’s a lost cause. You don’t believe we can go all the way, and the best we can hope for is to reduce some emissions;
  2. You’re focused on one solution. You are already invested in the play you are suggesting (in the example above, urban solar panel installation) and don’t want distraction;
  3. You like to keep it simple. Focus on one thing at a time. The idea of thinking through all the plays for your state seems excessive and overwhelming;

Which one resonates with you the most? Is it:

1. Lost Cause

Do you think getting to zero carbon is a lost cause in general, or for some specific reasons? Are you clear on all the solutions? Have you walked through them all and still feel this way? What does your “solution-scape” look like? What are the obstacles you see? (Coming soon, the Zero Carbon Playbook to put solution anxiety to rest. At least you will know the range of options).

Could it be garden variety “background doom” or “fear of change”? What happened when you took the Tablecloth Challenge? (WHAT?! You haven’t taken it? Now’s the time!)

2. Focused on a Solution Already

In the event you are already dedicated to one class of plays, play on! We admire your focus and encourage you to pursue it. A “city v. city solar panel installation contest” can make a great contribution to the race.

We would classify it as a Specialized Team Play within the scope of the overall Race to Zero Carbon. Let us know how it is going, send us a link, we will direct traffic your way. More about how we work with specialized teams below and in this post.

The Race to Zero Carbon creates a collabortive framework to amplify the synergy of all the players and organizations out there, executing various plays. Our framework is designed to help folks by clarifying and putting all these solutions/plays in context, connecting players with plays, teams with supporters, and identifying gaps to make sure all the plays needed to get to zero are covered.”

About those gaps: It is going to take more than one play to get to zero, and all the plays have to ADD UP for the state to get to zero carbon. It is a good idea to get a clear sense of how your project fits in, as soon as possible. 

3. Keeping it Simple

We think the folks at #2 just skipped a step that would paradoxically simplify and streamline the situation.  The holistic approach seems like a lot of work at first, until you realize that it actually saves time and money by helping you make better decisions, quicker, helping you pivot faster, helping you prioritize collectively.

At Footprint to Wings, we think it’s a lot easier to think through solutions scenarios before acting on them. And we like to front-load the thinking. 
In setting up the Race to Zero Carbon, we don’t want to start by limiting players. We don’t want to pre-select solutions. 

Instead, we are creating a framework for all plays to be considered, all solutions to be evaluated.

The rigorous solution evaluation process (play selection) is a big part of the race. The idea is that with a vigorous process to determine the “plays”, the players will choose a broad portfolio that best fits their interests and pursue them more effectively. 

The Big Picture approach helps you pick your specific plays. 

We don’t pre-select anything for you. We’re kicking things off with an overview of all the plays, we’re getting everything on the table, to help everyone figure out which ones they’d rather deploy, how their play fits in with the other plays, and to match up players with plays.

A lot of these plays are already in motion. “Oh! I didn’t know we could do that.”  “Oh! You’re already doing that. Let me join your team.”


Notes & Related:

Of course, some people don’t scale down, they scale up. When they hear “race to zero carbon” they say, “why don’t you talk to the president or the UN. This “delegation to a higher power” has its merits, but is often a way of avoiding responsibility.

Many people think of the President as the prime player in climate change. We don’t. In case you missed our introductory video on turning the Race to zero carbon into a national pastime, check out minute 2:50. Politicians may be able to make (or block) some big policy changes. But in the end, their impact is incremental.

For our civilization to get all the way to zero and beyond there’s no way around it. A critical mass of us needs to be wide awake, on board, flipping all kinds of switches. Technology will help, policies will help. But without broad based intrinsic motivation, commitment, innovation and action, we’re just killing time on the edge of this problem.

Much as we would all like to ignore it or leave it to politicians, there are no shortcuts.

Of course, politicians have their function. It doesn’t help when they fumble. But before you despair, it’s a good idea to fully understand the game.


If that doesn’t seem reasonable, it might help to remember the planet is in an unreasonable situation. “Team Doom” is dancing in our end zone. We don’t have time to scale back. We need everyone up and running, firing on all cylinders, NOW. Everyone needs to have their eye on the big picture, as they figure out their specific plays.

What is the best way to structure a contest to get a powerful country to Zero Carbon?

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