Single Player Climate Action
If you want to change the world, start off by ....
👋 Hello to 62 new readers! Now, we are 274 climate-curious friends. It slowly starts to get cozy over here.
Greetings from Malmo, Sweden where I’ll attend The Drop conference tomorrow. If you are in town, let me know, and let’s chat 🇸🇪
By Art Lapinsch
I have spent the better part of this year writing positive essays about climate and energy.
Never have I worked on a problem where (a) friends were unanimously excited for me to be doing it and (b) random people thanked me for the work. Folks seem to intuitively grasp that climate is the greatest game.
Usually, they also tell me something along these lines: “I know that climate change is a massive problem but I don’t know where to begin… So I end up doing nothing.”
Let’s kick this feeling of impotence straight in the nuts, shall we?!
From Helplessness to Empowerment
I believe that most people are inherently good people.
When they see a problem they are usually willing to help. Yet, most of us are really bad at untangling the complexities of the modern world. Evolution prepared us to hunt and gather in small groups but it didn’t ingrain a primal intuition to solve abstract problems in a hyper-connected world.
Climate change is a complex systems problem and so we freeze when we’re confronted with it:
No wonder people are overwhelmed.
Single-Player Games vs. Multi-Player Games
In simplified terms we can divide our life into two games:
Multi-Player Games: You need others to finish the game. You compete against others. Think of tennis, advertising, and conversation.
Single-Player Games: You can finish the game on your own. You compete against yourself. Think of running, art, and meditation.
I fully internalized this distinction when I was still running a remote company. The risk is that team members on the other side of the planet are trying to complete a task in multi-player mode while their colleagues are asleep. Multi-player is all nice until it isn’t.
My friend Andi described the goal of remote team management as “optimizing for single-player mode” → giving every team member enough guidance and permission to finish on their own.
If the ways of working are not properly managed, you are still left with hidden upstream risks that bring work to a standstill. Don’t manage people, manage the process instead.
On the contrary, the single-player mode gives every individual a sense of self-direction and accomplishment. The big idea: Being in control of your own destiny.
What works in remote team management also works for climate action.
The Simple Beauty of Single-Player Mastery
Once you realize that choices matter, you become the architect of your own fortune. Decisions become actions, actions become habits, habits form an identity, and eventually, your identity impacts your entire life.
Admiral McRaven perfectly explained this idea during a commencement speech at the University of Texas:
Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that's Navy talk for bed.
It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
In short: Small things add up.
The Onboarding Manual to Single-Player Climate Action
Austria’s Federal Ministry of Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology just published an energy-saving checklist for citizens 🇦🇹
Seems like we got lucky and someone just dropped a cheat sheet to the first level of our single-player climate action game.
While they are certainly no masters of naming, their Mission11 project is quite clever. It is an attempt to incentivize citizens to save 11% of energy in the coming winter. Why?
Energy prices are going through the roof
Each euro spent on Russian fossil fuel imports is funding Russia’s illegal war effort
The energy usage in an average Austrian household can be broken down into 50% heating, 30% mobility, 10% warm water, and 10% electricity. The numbers in the recommendations below are based on figures from the Mission11 website.
To paraphrase a famous proverb: “Give a man a utility bill credit and you help them for a winter, teach a man how to optimize their energy usage and you help them for a lifetime.”
What the Federal Ministry did was effectively share real-life cheat codes for citizens’ energy consumption.
Heating Recommendations 🥵 (50%)
If there’s one 80/20 move, then it’s to improve how you keep your home warm. Heating is the name of the game.
The Federal Ministry gave 7 recommendations:
Keep the Heater Unobstructed: Hot air needs to circulate through the room and shouldn’t be trapped by a wet towel.
Insulate Windows: Poor insulation leaks warmth to the outside. A quick fix is insulating doors and windows with insulation strips. Doesn’t break the bank and keeps your home cozy.
“Stoßlüften”: I love the German language because it is very precise. The word “Stoßlüften” describes opening a window completely so that there can be a quick exchange of outside air with inside air. The goal is to keep the duration of airing relatively short to avoid cooling the walls.
Close Doors: Keep doors closed if a room is unheated.
Use a Smart Thermostat: If you can afford it and/or have the ability to install a smart thermostat then do so. It adapts to your daily waking and living patterns and adjusts the temperature accordingly while minimizing energy usage.
Humidify the Air: My girlfriend would say that ‘plants are our friends,’ and she’s right. Not only is it pleasing to the eye but plants also increase the humidity of a room. We perceive humid air as warmer.
Release Air from Water Heater: Before starting the heating season it is recommended to release excess air from your water heater’s pressure valve. This allows for more effective heating.
These seven tips will give you the biggest bang for the buck 💥
Warm Water Recommendations 🚿 (10%)
Heating up water is one of the other energy-intensive tasks in every household. These four tips can help:
Shower. Don’t Bathe: On average, a full bath uses twice as much water as a single shower. Besides, you won’t look like a shriveled raisin.
Install an Efficient Shower Head: There are ultra-efficient shower heads that reduce the amount of water used while increasing the “feeling of wetness”.
Reduce the Temperature: Colder water is better for the skin and better for the wallet.
Use Cold Water: For other tasks like brushing your teeth or washing your hands, you can use cold water. I usually keep the handle of my faucet at the “100% cold” position.
I had to adapt my habits since I love taking long and hot showers. But given the current situation, I am more than happy to adjust. Besides, colder showers make me feel like a badass.
Electricity Recommendations 🔌 (10%)
Electricity usage can be a bigger factor now that more people have shifted to remote schooling and working from home.
Respect Your Washing Machine: Only run full loads and use the eco setting. Fewer wash cycles mean less energy expenditure.
Use LED Lights: Modern LED light bulbs use 90% less energy over the entirety of their lifecycle compared to incandescent light bulbs.
Use Smaller Devices: This is a tough one admittedly. Purchasing cycles are not as frequent for larger appliances and devices, but if you can, get smaller devices. One example in my setup is switching to an Apple-Silicon-powered MacBook Air M1. It is significantly more energy-efficient.
Avoid Standby: Consider using a power chord with a master on/off switch to turn off all devices when you leave the house.
Cooling Recommendations 🧊 (~%)
Your fridge is hungry for energy. A few tricks are enough to reduce its craving.
Fill your Fridge: By keeping more products in the fridge, each product contributes to cooling every new addition to the gang. Otherwise, you’re primarily cooling air, which escapes when you open the fridge door.
Freeze Minimally: Keep your freezer at the first setting (e.g. -18°C) below the freezing point. You won’t really notice whether something is frozen or extra frozen.
Avoid Heat Sources: If possible, avoid heat next to (e.g. oven) or inside of the fridge (e.g. Tupper ware with freshly boiled hot pot soup).
Mobility Recommendations 🚃 (30%)
This section will have the largest variance I believe. Urbanites can benefit from closer distances and public transportation while people living in the countryside depend on their vehicles.
Use Public Transportation: Quickest win if you can do it. Taking public transportation can save up to 78% of energy.
Use Bicycles: In urban areas, 19% of all car trips are shorter than 2.5km. Such distances are perfect for our two-wheeled companions 🚲
Slow Down: You can save up to 24% of fuel by reducing your top speed. Less speed means less drag on your car’s frame.
Pool your Trips: Carpooling is cool. Do it if you can.
Check your Tire Pressure: Each 0.5 bar reduction of tire pressure means a 5% increase in energy usage. This is a quick fix.
All of these are simple cheat codes for the onboarding level to the Single-Player Climate Action Game.
Playing Single-Player Climate Action
The correct question to ask now is: “What can I personally do?”
Everyone’s life is different. No context is like the other and that’s fine. My climate buddy Lars phrased it as “personal utility curves look very different for different people”.
To make this a tad more concrete, I’d like to share my high-impact activities with y’all:
Art’s Personal 80/20 (Low Effort | High Impact)
The Personal 80/20 is something that all of us should do. If it’s low effort and high impact then it’s a no-brainer.
These were mine:
Switch Utility Providers [Effort: 1-2 hours]: One of the quickest ways to signal your intent to the market is by letting your money speak. In practice, this means changing your gas and electricity utilities to a clean energy provider. Earlier this year, I switched our German utility contracts to green options.
Reduce Meat Consumption [Effort: Low]: The meat industrial complex is a massive contributor of greenhouse gas emissions - beef being the major culprit. In the past, I used to eat meat two to three times a day. No more. Luckily, for my health, my wallet, and the environment I cut down meat consumption significantly a while ago. I would count it as low effort since veggie or synthetic meat options are super tasty if you know how to work with spices.
Reduce Shopping: Living in Berlin, you start to realize that everyone in this city looks like a clown. Thrifting is a status symbol. It’s cheaper, it’s better for the environment, and you won’t be judged for wearing clothes that were fly in the 80s.
As outlined in my essay “Democratic Dominoes” there are three distinct levers of systemic change. As individuals, we have a direct impact on the market (i.e. economic lever) and policymakers (i.e. political lever). We vote with our money and our voices.
Most activities from our “Personal 80/20” falls into this bucket.
Art’s Worthwhile Efforts (High Effort | High Impact)
In this category, I would group all high-impact activities which have a significant impact on your life. It ain’t easy, but it’s so worth it.
Personal Activism: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed me down the green rabbit hole. First via security policy, then via energy policy, and eventually via climate tech. Now, I’m writing to hundreds of readers who are interested in similar topics. I’m putting a lot of effort into these essays. I hope it pays off.
Personal Career Change: One step beyond activism was my decision to shift my career from tech entrepreneurship to climate law. I’m going back to school to master regulatory environments and identify where I can have the biggest impact in the bigger game. Please ping me if you have any ideas 🙌
One of the biggest things on my to-do list is to reduce how much I fly. This has a massive impact, but there’s just no way to take a train from Berlin to San Francisco whenever I go back for Thanksgiving with my in-laws. Yet, every time I’m doing shorter trips (e.g. Berlin to Zurich) I try to take a train instead.
Many Levels of Single-Player Climate Action
Conserving energy in your own home is a fun level to begin with, yet there are so many more things we can do.
Probably the best cheat sheet I’ve seen for single-player climate action is Erika Reinhardt’s “Data-Driven Guide to Effective Personal Climate Action”. Check it out once you’re ready to take on new challenges.
I hope that by now you have a sense that regardless if you are an individual or a business owner, there are two types of games: multi-player games and single-player games.
Think for a minute and see what it is that you can personally do.
If you want to change the world, start off by ………….
What will it be?
As always, if you want to reach out to me, just reply via mail or ping me on Twitter.
Whew… quite a few more of y’all than last time around. I’m super grateful for everyone who’s gifting me their attention.
If you liked this piece, please let me know what resonated.
If you hated this piece, tell me what I can do better.