Summary of Prashant Pathak Address at Climate Action King AGM

Feb 17, 2022

Prashant Pathak On Local and Global Climate Action

At the recent Annual General Meeting of Climate Action King, Prashant Pathak, Chair of the Kingsbridge Innovation Hub was featured as the keynote speaker.

Prashant gave a thought-provoking discussion on the need to more thoroughly analyse the impacts and consequences of our climate change ambitions and actions.  He highlighted three provocations for consideration:

Look at all 3 Cs:  Conversion, Conservation and Consumption.

There is a tendency to focus on just one part of a problem rather than taking a more complete evaluation.

For example, the adoption of Electric Vehicles.  There has not been any systematic thinking on how to move forward, so that the whole change in conversion to EVs is in energy balance.  The discussion should not just be about conversion, but should also include conservation and consumption.

Market driven innovations will not yield a solution to problems that have been caused by the market on issues of environment, sustainability or the planet.  Market participants generally have a short or medium-term view and will always take that view and try to influence the status quo for market benefit.

A market-based approach will focus on conversion, but a holistic approach will recognise that conversion is one aspect of the problem.  We must also include the aspects of conservation and consumption.

Look at the 3 Rs:  Reasonableness, Rigorousness, and Rationality

  • What is the reasonableness of the innovation?
  • What does a rigorous analysis show about the total ecological impact or energy impact of the innovation, solution or process change?
  • What is the rationality of that?  Large issues need to have a macro level analysis, but then you must also get down to the micro level to check and see how these solutions are going to fit into the supply chain, consumption patterns and handling patterns.

The King Township Climate Action Plan is good, but should go beyond greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions).

Instead of just looking at GHG emissions which are just about the impact of the fossil fuel industry, see what other issues need to be addressed.  Brainstorm ideas that will also address conservation and consumption issues.  There are easier challenges to tackle that are not beholden to rate and scale of adoption or require new infrastructure.

Prashant on LOW HANGING FRUIT:

  • Heighten awareness about idling and vehicle heating and air conditioning in vehicles which requires the burning of additional gas or uses energy from the battery of an EV.
  • Simple things like motivating people to use nitrogen filled tires which increases the life of tires and performs with better fuel efficiency.
  • Convert the high energy buildings in the Township to something with distributed generation like geothermal or solar.
  • Audit local carbon sequestration.  Find out if King Township grows its tree canopy while simultaneously reducing transportation emissions if we would be better able to meet emission targets.

Prashant on SINGLE USE PLASTICS:

At a high-level, the problem is that we are unable to be efficient users of those plastics.  At the community level, it’s a behavioural game.  We need to drive awareness, reduce inconvenience, and develop a closed loop chain to separate these items in a solid waste program.

Some communities have banned single use plastic bags, but without figuring out what the alternatives are.  If the alternatives are paper, cloth or denser plastics and people are using them in the wrong manner, you are actually worse off, because you’ll have to use that paper bag several hundred times and the reinforced plastic bag several thousand times in order to get the same footprint as the single use plastic bag.

The Danish government did a study on this issue and determined that single use plastics were a waste handling problem.  It was the habit of throwing away the plastic that was leaving a bigger ecological footprint. They tried to replace single use plastic with paper, but the problem was that the re-use was low and that it shifted the problem up the value chain putting pressure on water and wastewater.  The solution did not take into account the different environmental impacts through the whole life cycle.

Prashant on REWARDING BEHAVIOUR FOR CONSERVATION EFFORTS:

While admirable on the face of it, you must be certain that you are achieving the desired effect to reduce consumption.  Studies have found that reward-based interventions actually create disincentive in the market providers to search for efficiencies.

Collecting recyclable bottles for cash helps with recycling, but it also creates a pricing mechanism that rewards people for consumption.  A UK study found that separating out the costs of waste-water on a water and sewer bill was most effective at driving behavioural change to conserve water.

Rewards need to be more nuanced.  You don’t want to reward people because they feel it’s environmentally and economically better than the alternative, because we don’t want to increase consumption.  Our biggest problem is consumption.  You don’t want the reward to be to consume things, because an action is environmentally or economically sound, because that just rewards bad behaviour.

Prashant on HEATING HOMES:

Heating is an energy balance equation.  Electric heating is less than 30% efficient through loss of energy in transmission lines.  There is much less loss in a natural gas pipeline.  However, the question is whether there are distributed energy sources that are equally efficient?

Distributed generation without transmission means you are creating power at source which is much more efficient.

From a distributed installation perspective, the key is how to heat and cool homes more efficiently both in energy use and economically.  One home, in one community with one user is good, but can King Township go to a developer and design an economically viable system (e.g. using heat pumps) for an entire community?  Then you start to make a real difference because you are doing it at scale.  The adoption and transmission of these benefits really happens when you start doing them at scale.  Implementing new technology and approaches at scale drives behaviour for widespread adoption that moves the needle in advancing climate action.

The 10% that are aware have to drive the 90% that are not aware.