Baby boomers, like me, have benefited immensely from the great economic boom following World War II. Technological advances gave us an unprecedented life of convenience, comfort, and security. Unfortunately, economic growth was powered largely by fossil fuels that dumped, and continue to dump, vast amounts of waste into the atmosphere for “free,” causing huge impacts on the environment in the form of carbon emissions and extreme climate events, as well as on the health of those exposed to polluted air. We boomers owe a huge debt to current and future generations and now we must pay that debt back, as best we can.

One Way To Pay Our Debt

My wife and I took this responsibility seriously as we contemplated downsizing. We retired to a zero energy home with enough solar collectors to fully power our home plus our two  electrical vehicles and our yard equipment. We are not off the grid. We use net metering so that our excess energy production in the summer goes to our community and our electric utility gives us credit to use in the winter when we produce less energy. We pay nothing for energy for our home, yard, or vehicles. Because our home produces more energy than it uses, it goes beyond zero energy and is a “positive energy” home.

When we downsized from our larger house to a smaller home, we were able to use our equity to pay the extra 10% it took to build an energy positive home — and it was a wise investment. We have a lower cost of ownership, and live in a healthier, more comfortable home that gives us financial stability for the rest of our lives. The return on investment from zero energy is far better than the stock market with essentially zero risk.

For those who need a mortgage as part of downsizing or remodeling their home, the extra cost of the energy upgrades to get to zero or positive energy can be built into the mortgage. Because there will be no home energy bills and no gasoline costs, the amount added to the mortgage each month will be offset by the lower cost of owning and operating both home and cars. They too will have a sound  investment.

Carbon Free at Lower Cost

Energy positive homes are basically carbon neutral because they roughly balance off the embodied carbon that went into the materials and processes needed to build the home by powering vehicles with renewable energy. So the carbon balance on the home and vehicles is zero or near zero. Best of all, the investment pays for itself.

Going carbon-free helps reduce air pollution and climate disruption that affects the prosperity and health of less advantaged people more than anyone. So going zero carbon is also an important step on the path to creating a more just, healthy society for all. Breathing clean air is, or should be, a basic right for all and not just for the more privileged.

Boomers, It’s Payback Time

The best way we boomers can pay off our debt to future generations is to get on the path to zero carbon living and set an example for those who follow. One cool thing about this approach is that there is no sacrifice. This wise investment improves our own lives while it benefits others and the environment. By downsizing to zero, boomers create zero carbon housing stock for future generations. And most importantly we will be paying back our debt.

We all know the climate is already being disrupted. The extent of future climate impacts, and the very livability of the Earth, will depend in part on how we baby boomers decide to live out the remainder of our lives. We must accept our responsibility, make amends as we are able, and set an example for the generations that follow.