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A Cure for Sleepless Nights

Sometimes it's easy to lie awake during the wee hours and wonder how we will cope when the seas rise and the electric grid fails. In general, I find I can push things to the background during the day, but they return at 3 a.m. During sleepless nights, the dire warnings of doomsday prophets and panicked climate scientists mingle with worries over government gridlock.

A friend said to me recently, "You do realize that nothing you do as an individual is going to change a damn thing." Well to me, that's just an excuse to throw one's hands in the air and give up. I may not change the world, but I do know I feel a whole lot better if I'm at least trying to make things right. So maybe the reason I'm losing sleep has more to do with my personal inaction than the state of the planet.

A message from the universe arrived one day in the form of a PECO energy letter. You know, the ones that say we are bad people because we're using more electricity than our neighbors. How can that be? I'm constantly running around turning out lights like a mad woman. I turn the heat down to the point that we're wearing jackets inside the house. When the kids come over, they wear coats and moan: Why is it always so cold in here?

It's cold in the house because I'm saving electricity AND preparing for a possible future failure of the power grid. We had a taste of this during a cold snap over Christmas last winter. It lasted for three days. But I don't say any of this out loud because I don't believe it would be well received. I don't say: Look what happened to Texas just last year. Okay, sometimes I do say it.

If I allow myself to spend too much time down this particular rabbit hole, sleepless nights pile on, and I end up being not much good to anybody. And when I'm really, really exhausted, the only remedies I can think of involve either eating cookies or buying shoes—so not good.

I've noticed that people in my life have several methods for dealing with the climate crisis.

They choose to either:

1. not deal with it, inserting their heads in the sand and living as if it's not a thing,

2. believe climate change is coming, but we have 100 years to make a course correction, or

3. rail at (read alienate) everyone around them who does not live by a particular code.

I would like to propose a fourth way. What if we acknowledged the reality of the science and the evidence on the ground? What if we discussed it with one another and set goals for ourselves to do better?

So, after receiving the you're-wasting-electricity letter from PECO, I went on a social media community group and investigated energy assessments. As it turns out, PECO has a very reasonably priced service starting from $24 for a virtual visit. I paid $49 for an in-person assessment.

Richard Kinback, friendly and efficient, came out and analyzed our most recent electric and gas bill as he toured the house. He identified the electric baseboard heaters as our primary electricity-guzzling culprits. He also found two old light bulbs we'd overlooked and replaced them with LEDs—at no cost. By the end of the day, he emailed me a report with recommendations and a list of contractors for larger projects.

So here's our list:

- evaluate whether we're using the most competitive green-energy provider for electricity,

- install a ductless heat pump in the house,

- get a smaller hot water heater,

- and my own addition to the list—buy an electric vehicle when I need to replace my hybrid.

All of this should be great, but the problem is that in two months since our assessment, I've only managed a few baby steps toward these goals. My usual contractor doesn't do heat pumps, and I'm not sure a second smaller hot water heater is going to be worth the expense. But shouldn't I at least get the estimates?

My mother used to say, "Do something even if it's wrong." (Usually this was in reference to homework) These words often come back to me when I get stuck because Mom was right, of course. Now Fridays are my climate-task days. During lunch I schedule a little time to get estimates on work or make political-action calls. These small actions offer a bit of a cure for sleepless nights.

And while I'm remembering my mother, another of her sayings comes back to me. "Rome wasn't built in a day." It's a good reminder that our adaptations are more like a marathon than a sprint.

Maybe during these times we also need to be kind to ourselves as we try create new ways of being. And maybe we're already doing some good things. So, do you carpool or take public transportation? Do you avoid single-use plastics (like those water bottles and grocery bags so many seem addicted to)? Are you keeping a mostly plant-based diet? Whatever it is, I hope it helps you sleep at night.

And one more thing, I'm planning future blog posts related to: big carbon ticket items such as food and air travel, resources for carbon budgeting, and the preservation of wild spaces. I am curious to know if there are other topics you would like to suggest. Please let me know. Thanks!

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