Peter Kalmus Talk: Low-Energy Living is Fun!


On Sunday, March 29 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm climate scientist Peter Kalmus (our guest on episode 39 of the Root Simple Podcast) will share his experiences as he and his family journey toward a lower carbon footprint, focusing on how using less fossil fuels turned out not to be the burden one might expect . . . in fact, he’ll show how it has made life even better.

The second (optional) part of Peter’s presentation will guide the audience to calculate their carbon footprints, and discuss concrete ways to decrease their impact on the planet. Please bring a pencil, calculator, and information about your driving, flying, and consuming habits, including a gas and electric bill, to get the maximum from the workshop. If not available, Peter will show ways to guess-timate your usage. More info can be found at

The talk will take place at:
Throop Unitarian Universalist Church
300 S Los Robles Ave, Pasadena
Sponsored by Transition Pasadena

Leave a comment


  1. The only way to lowering carbon emissions worldwide is to drive up the cost of carbon. As it is now each individual who voluntarily uses less simply frees his/her portion to be used by someone else. The virtuous merely subsidize the profligate. If carbon were more expensive people everywhere would use less of it.

    Mass voluntary simplicity is tough since there will always be people who are happy to soak up the goodies that are intentionally left by others. And high prices/taxes are a political non-starter in most places.

    This principle is also true within a single household budget. Selling the family car in favor of walking and biking saves money that is then used to purchase something else that involves carbon – eating out at restaurants more often or taking an extra vacation. If the extra money is put in the bank as savings the bank will lend it out to someone else who will probably use it to buy a new car… It’s hard to get everyone to give up everything involving carbon without a universal enforcement mechanism like a higher price.

    • You are right for the masses!
      The only way to have a voluntary lower foot carbonprint is no to have extra money when you have all you need to live.
      It involve to work less and to earn less.

    • John, I completely agree. But I didn’t reduce in order to be virtuous, I reduced because it’s simply a better way to live. I started making changes towards low-energy living (like riding my bike) and I liked the changes a lot so I kept going, wondering what else I could change and then doing it.

      Changing how you live also tells a new story. Once enough people start telling that new story, I believe that system-level change will follow. I think the social system follows the people, at least to some extent. If most folks want to be rich, buy products based on the cheapest price, value convenience above happiness and beauty, and so on… well, you can see the system that results.

      Anyway, I’m also a big advocate of a revenue-neutral carbon fee, which would fix the market failure you’ve pointed out without putting a drag on our economy or punishing the poor. Check out Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

    • Hey Johnnie,
      I have a half-baked theory about this. What you’re describing (and the environmental mess we’re in) is a version of the prisoner’s dilemma. There’s a great episode of Radiolab that features a game show based on the prisoner’s dilemma where one of the contestants came up with a unique solution. Essentially, he steps out of the game, deconstructs the rules and attempts a negotiation with the other participant. I keep wondering if there’s a way (a narrative? a myth?) that would get us to step out of the carbon game and change the rules. Kind of like what good comedians do–get us to think about the interpersonal interactions that aren’t questioned. Of course I have no idea how to do this.

  2. The reason there are no Jain monks/nuns in the US is because they (the real deal monks/nuns in India) refuse to visit other countries outside of India not so much because of carbon footprint, but bio footprint, ie. the number of lives killed from single cell to multi cell organisms air travel can cause. Same reason they don’t travel on any wheeled conveyance either, bio footprint. And when they do walk, they look down to ensure they don’t step on anything they might kill, ie. they’ll not walk on grass, as a foot size ecosystem contains an wide assortment of life.

  3. I come to low energy living honestly, it’s called being frugal, or cheap as I’ve been called.
    It’s also freeing…from trying to keep up in this, open 24 hours/a day, world.
    I never started it to reduce my carbon footprint, but to enable me to work part time and then to allow my husband to retire at 52 and me at 55. So traveling is not on our agenda because,besides being expensive, we hate it and would rather stay home. We also hate shopping and going out to eat.

    I continue to live frugally because it’s the right thing to do, for our planet and for the 90% of the population who live in poverty.
    I cannot change the world, and I don’t really believe at this point that we can save the world but I have to do the best I can to live in our poor battered planet.

  4. Mr. Homegrown,

    I love Radiolab. I see the “prisoner’s dilemma” (a variation on the tragedy of the commons) but I don’t expect any kind of solution per se. Instead I come from the bend-bend-bend-bend-SNAP school of reform. People do what they do because they can. Then one day they can’t do it anymore so they stop. That transition is usually ugly, but that’s how change tends to happen.


    I also prefer to live small (in a 700 square foot one bedroom apartment) in a walkable neighborhood, ride a bike, etc. I just like it better than a big house in suburbia where I have to drive fourteen times a day just to function. But I also love to travel and do other things that are less virtuous. I’ll stop when I can’t afford it anymore – just like everyone else. It would be much better if there were more ways to travel that didn’t involve planes and cars. I’ve taken the electric high speed trains in Japan, China, France, Spain, and England. Those aren’t options in the US. Not that electric rail is a cure all – just much more efficient.

    • Johnny, thanks for the good conversation. I love to travel too. I’m probably lucky that I did a fair bit of traveling to far off places when I was younger. Now I’m quite happy exploring North America, driving around on waste veggie oil.

      Flying is a fast and convenient way to travel the world, to be sure. Of course, you need to realize that it does do real harm to others. That can no longer be in any doubt: burning fossil fuels harms others, both humans and nonhumans; and flying likely accounts for the lion’s share of many westerners’ emissions. I don’t think most people realize this, and I think it needs to be said more, because it’s just flat out true. This is a big part of why I choose not to fly: the knowledge of the harm I’m doing makes the trip feel selfish, dishonest, and in a way surreal to me. This was my experience the last time I flew (to Italy).

      I also personally feel that the commercial airlines make travel less adventurous, turning it into a kind of consumerist ritual, and I think that’s a real quality of life loss. I recognize that few share my opinion here, but I’d jump at the chance to sail across the Pacific on a tall ship, for example.

      To make slow travel feasible, we’d first need to change the hectic pace of society, which I also thing is a terrible shame. What’s the point of our fabulous technology if we have to work more hours per week and more days per year than ever before?

    • Peter, if you find yourself a tall ship, let me know. I’ll book passage with you!

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