Bethesda Friends Meeting

What shall we Do?

Called to share in the Stewardship of our Earth, what exactly do we do?  How can we help?

How can we find the best use of our limited time and energy? 

 The links below offer practical suggestions for ways to lend your strengths and put your love into action.

Click on a topic below for more ideas


Climate change presents us with enormous challenges. The use of fossil fuels has altered our atmosphere, heated the planet and posed threats to our planetary future that are appearing sooner than climate researchers had anticipated. In coming decades, the threats from temperature rises include melting of glaciers and rises in sea levels that may be measured in feet.


The response to the threat has been frustratingly slow, but an international response is taking shape.  In October 2016, enough countries accepted the Paris Climate Agreement for the agreement to take effect -- 55 countries representing 55% of emissions, including former holdouts China, India, and our own U.S.A.

While international agreements hold out promise that reductions in fossil fuel pollution may slow the effects of climate change, to many climate change feels overwhelming, and we as individuals can at times feel helpless. But there are steps, significant steps, we can take, as individuals, families and communities to do our part to reduce our contributions to atmospheric carbon and to promote vital change, to mitigate the effects of climate change and to help save this small planet.

   Strategies & Carbon Calculators:  

  Where best to focus?  

A good overall strategy is to simply "follow the carbon" by asking which of our activities, individually or collectively, burn the most of it. Baltimore Yearly Meeting has explicitly requested Friends to calculate our carbon footprints, and provides a fact sheet with extensive guidance, including a calculator for congregations. A carbon calculator can be a great way to understand how activities around your home contribute to global warming. These sites allow you to enter info from your own house and life, then they calculate your carbon footprint (which in turn, implies a proportional climate impact).  The graph below illustrates contributors to the footprint of an average 4-person household in the United States. 

The first thing to notice is the enormous quantity of CO2 we generate: about 16 TONS of CO2 per person per year.  That is a lot of gas! 

The second thing to notice is the sources: travel is the biggest category, followed by home, then food, and finally purchases of goods and services.  Car fuel consumption is by far the largest component -- though families that fly regularly will have a much larger air travel component than this chart might suggest.  Home electricity use is the second largest category.

So now we know where to look first for efficiencies: our car and our home energy use, followed by our food consumption.  How can we do better? Are there ways we can reduce our footprints without sacrificing the joy of life?

Average Carbon Footprint for a 4-Person Household in the U.S.

source: Berkeley CoolClimate Network


Our Car

We can reduce the footprint from our car in two fundamental ways: driving less, and using more efficient cars (more miles per gallon, or for electric cars, a similar measure per electricity). 

Driving less could involve bundling of errands into a single trip, car-pooling with friends, or using other transportation such as walking, train, bus, or bike.  Most Americans would be healthier with more exercise, so for many, driving less enables a double benefit. Many such strategies involve public transportation and walking.  Families with over-scheduled kids enjoy especially rich car-pooling opportunities. The advent of on-line shopping has provided another opportunity to save both time and energy, especially when we bundle multiple purchases into a single order.

In terms of more efficient cars, we live in a time of exciting opportunities.  Since 2000, hybrid cars have offered higher gas mileage than conventional vehicles.  The leading hybrid model, the Toyota Prius, is rated at well over 40 mpg.   Since 2011, plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt have offered even higher efficiencies, beyond 60 mpg. With a hybrid, you can choose to use less gas and more electric, which is more efficient. In theory, if you recharge your electric car using electricity generated from wind or solar (see below for switching your home to clean electricity), then you are a precious wonder of the road, a sustainable driver!   

2011 also saw the introduction of the all-electric Nissan LEAF, rated at the equivalent of 99 mpg.  All-electric options have rapidly improved since then.  In the luxury market, the Tesla Model S has become the top seller in the United States.    The middle market will soon have at least 2 offerings providing long range at moderate cost.  The Chevy Bolt, with a range of 238 miles, will be available for about $38,000 by the beginning of 2017.  The Tesla Model  3, at about the same price, is expected to reach full production during 2018.   At the low end of the electric car market, a used Nissan LEAF can now be purchased for less than $10,000. 

One common question is whether the large amount of energy involved in manufacturing a car outweighs the efficiency benefits available from buying a new one.  While making a car certainly requires a lot of energy, CoolClimate indicates that fuel consumption far outweighs the production footprint.  Therefore, switching vehicles is likely to cut your overall footprint if your new car gets higher mpg or has electric drive.

Links to More Information about Environmentally Friendly Cars

-       Green Car Reports


Long Distance Travel and Vacations

 Our culture knows the thrill of speedy long distance travel and especially air travel, an ancient human dream realized. Many of us must fly among distant cities for our jobs. Jet airlines have been around for long enough to seem normal, but they contribute an outsize climate impact (described  here), due to altitude. Moreover the large energy requirements make it unlikely that widespread jet travel will become sustainable soon.

Therefore adjusting our lives and culture to no longer hold flying-for-pleasure as normal and benign, becomes a candidate for a gift we can give the earth.


Home Energy Audit

Here’s a quick place to make a difference and potentially save hundreds of dollars a year. It largely involves tubes of caulk, other inexpensive sealing materials for doors and windows, and attic insulation..


Many companies, municipalities and the US Department of Energy offer  home energy audits for about $300- 400. Some municipalities offer subsidies for low-income households.  Maryland PEPCO customers can request a free ‘Quick Home Energy Checkup’, where an energy analyst spends about an hour at your house.


An energy audit is conducted by someone who has completed a certification process (important to ask before contracting someone.)  It involves walking through your home, often with a thermal-gun, looking for drafts, the tell-tale clues that your home is wastefully losing energy. They look at fireplace flues, windows, doors, walls, ceilings and floors. They look in your attic and basement. More sophisticated audits involve creating vacuum seals in a room to more precisely measure heat loss. The contractor then draws up a report they send you with their findings along with specific recommendations to make your home more energy efficient. A few hundreds of dollars of simple work can save you as much as thousands the first year. It can also reduce your energy use dramatically, giving you boasting rights with your grandchildren about what you did to save the Earth.


The ideal auditing company is independent of the contractors who may carry out the work, to avoid a conflict of interest. Ask lots of questions, large and small.


Brian’s family had a total of three energy audits, of differing levels of skill, and one conclusion was that it’s better to conduct an audit in the winter when there is a more pronounced difference between inside and outside temperatures. Then, it may be preferable to await the Spring thaw to tackle certain energy-saving tasks such as caulking the outsides of windows, as the caulk does not adhere as well in cold temperatures.


Sealing and Insulating your House

Much of our home energy use goes to heating and cooling.  Sealing and insulating your house will improve efficiency and often improve comfort at the same time.


Perhaps the biggest savings will come with adding blown-in insulation in the attic, which can be done during any season. Brian’s family added 17 inches of insulation atop the old matted down stuff already there, and witnessed a precipitous drop in the energy bill.


Many older houses leak like sieves.  Caulking and weatherstripping around doors, windows, and utility openings eliminates drafts while saving energy. 


If your house has old single-pane windows, consider upgrading to more efficient double-paned windows.  However, this is a relatively expensive upgrade, so should not necessarily be your first step.


Although our modern Western gas-powered culture has made it the norm to maintain buildings at a fixed temperature of perhaps 70 degrees, this consumes a lot of fuel, so it paradoxically destabilizes our climate.

Even a slight change in this accustomed pattern, say, allowing our living rooms to be 5 degrees colder in winter and 5 degrees warmed in summer, could save a lot of carbon.  This is an instance of a relative luxury enjoyed by people in temperate climates that is lacked by most people in the tropics, which is also where climate impacts generally hit the hardest.  This difference among climate areas can be objectively unfair, even though when I sit in my house, I do not feel that I am harming anyone. 

We have an opportunity to help by weaning ourselves, little by little, from this seductive but 

unsustainable expectation. For example, to turn off furnace or AC during spring or fall days when the outside temp is moderate, or set thermostat higher in summer and lower in winter, perhaps compensating with fans, windows, sweaters, blankets, etc.

Furnace, water heater, AC, etc.

Companies today make very high-efficiency gas furnaces, which require retrofitting new intake and exhaust pipes. Some double as hot-water heaters. They generally claim about “95 percent efficiency.” Old houses that use electricity for heating and air conditioning can often benefit greatly (both reduced footprint and save money) from modern upgrades. Generally, a home that uses electricity for heat, AC and hot water will benefit the most from upgrades.  However, these are expensive projects, costing in the thousands, so it is wise  to speak to several heating/AC contractors to help estimate the cost, benefit, and savings, to determine whether such an investment makes sense.
 Some high efficiency gas furnaces have variable speed blowers that automatically adjust air movement to maximize both comfort and efficiency.  Such 'smart' furnaces can save with both gas and electricity.  After installing a Carrier Infinity furnace several years ago, Keith’s family saw electricity usage during Spring and Fall drop about 30% -- these savings may be unusually large, because it replaced an old and poorly maintained furnace.
But as any home energy auditor will point out, it doesn’t make sense to consider such an investment before the vastly simpler step of properly sealing up the house.

Other High-Efficiency Appliances

Efficiency standards for many major appliances have improved greatly in recent years.  If you have an old appliance, consider replacing it.  Refrigerators and front-loading washing machines in particular have gotten much more efficient.

Choosing your Source of Electricity

Since the electrical utilities were deregulated several years ago, several companies have offered an electricity supply that is 100 percent wind power. As more wind farms are built, the cost of wind power has been slowly dropping, but in 2016 is still several percent over the price of coal-based electricity. Pure wind power it costs more, but it also encourages the vital economic shift toward clean energy. . Contract prices for wind power change every year or two, so  it’s wise to check around for the best rates.

Utilities have a challenge with wind power: unlike burning coal, which is easy to control, the wind is controlled by God (or Nature), and it rises and falls, sometimes dying on a still day, sometimes making so much electricity that a part of the grid may be locally overwhelmed and unable to use that power (since no one has yet developed a good way to store it!).  This is  the "intermittency problem" that complicates both Wind and Solar.

Actually, there is a no-brainer deal available from Arcadia Power. Any home in the US can switch today to Arcadia's Free 50% Wind plan, replacing half of their electricity with Wind Power at no cost. For anyone whose home is currently using only the standard (coal- or gas-based) electric service, this is a simple way to make a big difference at no cost.

For 100% Wind, Brian found that another company, Groundswell, was, in October 2016, offering the best rates in the District of Columbia (DC). Here is a summary of Wind Energy Options in Maryland (the options in DC are similar).

Four easy ways you can start saving home energy today

While some energy saving steps require either a contractor or a liberal dose of elbow grease, there are a number of quick ways to start saving energy without either.  Here are a few:

1.  Switch your lighting to LED.  Last century's incandescent lighting (as inefficient as it was hot) gave way to "CFL" (compact fluorescent, which uses a small amount of toxic mercury), but more recently the clear winner is LED lighting. Prices at stores like Home Depot and Lowes are now less than $2/bulb.  For example, you can currently buy a 16-back of standard bulbs at Home Depot for $28.46. They still cost a little more than older types, but they use so much less power, and last so much longer, that they pay for themselves in less than 2 years.  Because they generate less heat, you’ll also save on air conditioning.

2.  Lower your water heater setting from 140 to 120 degrees F.  This will save energy and reduce the risk of burns, especially for kids and the elderly.

3.  Replace your furnace filters regularly.  Clogged filters make your air blower work harder. 

4.  Use low-flow, 1.5 gallon-per-minute shower heads.  To replace a shower head, just unscrew the old one, wipe the area clean, wrap the threads in teflon tape, and screw on the new one.  Keith’s family has been pleased with the Pfister Eco-Friendly shower head, which provides a pulsing action for good pressure.

Links to more Information about Home Energy Efficiency

     Berkeley Labs Home Energy Saver:


Our food choices can have a real impact on our carbon footprint.  As with Travel, some carbon-intensive habits are also actually opposed to good health, nutritionally. Most Americans could eat healthier, reduce their carbon footprint, *and* save money by one simple change: eating less meat.  Beef and lamb have especially large footprints; eliminating just those two things has a large effect; cheese also has a large footprint.  Reducing meat consumption in general will reduce your carbon footprint.  If you do eat meat, prefer pork over beef, chicken over pork, and fish over chicken.

In terms of health, meat and cheese made more sense in the diet of our ancestors, when they served as human fuel, before fossil fuels took over so much of our work of living. Meat can serve as fuel, but the strength of a deer, horse or ox proves that vegetarians can be strong, too! Today, most meat is produced in confined factory-like operations with artificial chemicals, which raise health and ethical concerns. More humane and healthy meats tend to have a higher carbon footprint. Healthier diets tend to be plant-based, and some well-known people have spoken in support of a vegetarian diet (Pythagoras, Buddha, Thoreau, Franklin, Tolstoy, etc.).

Links to More Information about Food

   Government & Commercial Engagement   

Changes at the individual and family level are important, but most of the climate disrupting emissions are from commerce and industry.  Those emissions are produced partly to serve you. As long as there is economic demand, companies will try to profit by meeting the demand. Along with individual changes, it is important to be strong advocates to government, and to stores and corporations, for changes in policy that consider the earth and reduce carbon pollution.  This becomes particularly important in view of the recent changes in governance of the United States and the likely weakening of environmental regulation in this country. One effective economic tool we hold is Divestment. Money talks! When many people move their money and business away from fossil fuel investments and towards green and sustainable enterprises, impacts can be profound. (see more by googling fossil fuel divestment or visit

Many local and county governments hold public hearings where citizens can speak concerning key council votes and initiatives,. Most government offices receive citizens' phone calls and emails, and actually reply to written letters. While it is hard to measure the effect of these actions, they usually get counted and probably make a difference, especially when many people deliver the same message.

Groups that lobby for restriction of carbon emissions and for use of safe energy  sources (e.g. no fracking, no tar sands) include

Bethesda Friends Meeting

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 30152, Bethesda MD 20824

Our Meetinghouse is on the campus of the Sidwell Friends Lower School at the intersection of Edgemoor Lane and Beverly Road in Bethesda, Maryland

We are a member organization of the Religious Society of Friends
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