Happy Earth Day!
It’s amazing to me how long we’ve been talking about the importance of the environment and things rarely seem to change. Last month, I wanted to show my kids an example of great physical comedy, so I found a clip of Fire Marshall Bill (Jim Carrey) from In Living Color. He comments on the kids’ “Save the Planet” artwork. It’s hard to believe this was roughly 30 years ago:
A little more recently, I’ve been writing about Earth Day since 2009. Before that, I was writing about the environment in one-off articles, usually in a push to get people to adopt Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs because LEDs were new and too expensive. That’s still twelve years ago.
Last year I tricked you by using the song lyrics of Jack Johnson’s environmental anthem of All At Once to make it seem like I was writing about COVID-19. A few years before that I wrote about our four years of solar panels.
We’re up to 6 years of solar panels now. We’ve generated 56.2-megawatt hours. According to our Enphase panel we’ve produced the equivalent of 1016 trees saved.
Since this is a personal finance blog, let’s get to the financials, shall we? The cost of a kWh of energy in Rhode Island is 21.73 cents. Thus the 56,200 kWh we’ve generated would cost us $12,212.26. (This makes the assuredly false assumption that the price was a consistent 21.73 cents over the last 6 years. With that caveat in mind, let’s continue the analysis anyway.) We spent $16,000 on the solar panels. As I predicted when we got them, they’d pay for themselves in about 8 years… after that, we’ll enjoy savings. It is likely that the cost of energy will just continue to go up. It seems like we save around $2000 a year in electricity costs.
Now that I’ve covered just about every environmental topic except for the title, let’s get to my main Earth Day thought for 2021:
Climate Change is like Personal Finance
There are a couple of overarching principles in personal finance. One school of thought is that if you do a few of the really big things well, you’ll be fine. Examples of these include getting a high-paying job, not spending too much on house/transportation, and investing early.
Another school of thought is that if you can reduce a lot of the small, often repeated costs, you’ll be fine. Some examples of these include brewing coffee at home vs. the coffee shop and bringing your lunch to work.
Many personal finance bloggers will say that it is one or the other, but I’m a big fan of both. It’s possible to not buy a McMansion and avoid Starbucks. I had no problem bringing my lunch to work in my 10-year old car. Yes, you can walk and chew gum at the same time.
What does this have to do with climate change and the environment?
If you do a lot of the little things to help the environment they add up. This is the famous “reduce, reuse, recycle”:
(You had to have known that I was going to sneak Jack Johnson into this article, right?)
What about the other side, doing a few of the really big things? Unfortunately, many of those things are controlled by governments and big corporations. As individuals we have a vote, at the ballot box or with our wallets, to put leaders in power to create policies that will make big differences. In my town, there was a long, long fight to ban plastic bags at the grocery store, because the plastic bag lobby (who knew this existed?) inserted itself into the town’s politics.
In the end, the winning formula for personal finance or the environment is to do the little things AND the big things. Don’t get discouraged if it seems like the progress is going too slowly. Every little bit helps, neither is all or nothing.