Amidst all the horror of the pandemic, one of the silver linings has been the realization that, for millions of workers, it isn’t necessary sit in traffic for 60+ minutes a day in order to be successful in their job. Pre-pandemic, I would commute 1.5 hours round trip from my home in Dedham, outside Boston, to Capital Good Fund’s headquarters in Providence. This meant that my day started at 8 AM, when I left the house, and ended around 6:30 PM, when I got home; after factoring in time for parking, getting settled, grabbing lunch, and packing up to leave, I only got around 6.5 hours of work done during those 10.5 hours.
Over the past 15 months, I have been into the office maybe ten times. Yet instead of being less productive, I have suddenly found myself with an extra two hours a day to get things done, all without the exhaustion and stress of a commute. In fact, during this time Capital Good Fund has grown tremendously, expanding into new states, raising millions of dollars in grants and loan capital, and setting records for loan volume: switching to a 100% virtual workforce has, if anything, improved our productivity.
Had it not been for the pandemic, then, I would almost certainly never have considered moving back to Los Angeles, where both my and my wife’s families reside. But sometime last summer, we started to think seriously about it: having a young child (Richard is 2.5) without the help of family nearby difficult, and it’s also painful for my parents, who are in their 70s, to see their grandson so infrequently. Bianca is a scientist, however, and there aren’t many biotech jobs in Los Angeles. Fortunately, she found a job at Amgen, which is headquartered in Thousand Oaks, just north of LA. And so the big news is that we bought a house and are moving in mid-September!
(I will of course continue to run Capital Good Fund; given that we now operate in seven states, with more expansion to come, a lot of my travel will be to our other markets anyway, and I will also make regular trips to visit headquarters.)
That said, my excitement is tempered by the fact that we are moving to the very frontlines of the climate crisis. Much of the Western U.S. is in a megadrought–the kind scientists have long predicted would be made worse and more frequent by climate change–and “Conditions are especially dire in California.” In 2020, the state experienced fires “the size of Rhode Island” and, in total, “4.4 million acres burned — about 4 percent of the state.” For months, the air was unhealthy to breathe and my parents’ backyard was covered in ash.
As bad as last year was, scientists are predicting that “the outlook for 2021 isn’t just bad, it is quite a bit worse than that…Already this spring, more than twice as many acres in California have burned as had by this point last year.” The situation is also revealing the kinds of positive feedback loops that keep climate scientists up at night. For instance, the smoke from last year’s fires reduced solar panel output by 30% in early September, and “One solar plant in the Central Valley saw annual output drop 6 percent below the average due to fire impacts.” Meanwhile, low water levels have reduced the production of clean hydroelectric power, with some plants projected to have to close in the next few months. As a result, the state will have to burn more fossil fuels to keep the power on–pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and locking in worse wildfires and drought in the future.
Our lovely house, which will boast a 17 kw solar array, 26 kw battery backup system, and high-efficiency heat pump-driven water heater and HVAC system, is located in a high-fire-risk area. Even if the house doesn’t burn down this year or next, it is likely that for at least several months of each year, the air will be so polluted from regional wildfires that it will be unsafe to exercise outside, negating one of the reasons for moving: the temperate climate.
I share all this because while it is easy to read and fret about the future impact of climate change, we have to realize that the crisis is already upon us, impinging on the decisions we used to take for granted, such as where we live and work, and how we travel and consume. It won’t be long before all of us, regardless of where we live, will, to varying degrees, be forced to confront these challenges, though of course one’s income and geography are crucial: some places are harder hit than others, and the wealthy will move or invest in climate adaption.
Nevertheless, I think we should pause a moment to appreciate how sad it is that we have allowed climate change to get to a point where the joy of moving back near family is nearly wiped out by the realization that my new home is located in a place that will become increasingly unlivable. I expect that we will have to deal with annual fire evacuations; rolling blackouts (though our solar-powered battery backup system will help); severe water shortages; having to stay indoors for months at a time to avoid dangerous air; and rising food prices due to crop failures. Even worse, this is the world my son is inheriting; he will not get to enjoy the worry-free childhood I did.
This is the new climate normal; scientists have been predicting these outcomes for decades. It is more clear than ever that we must immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions AND invest trillions in adaptation–especially in poorer countries that contributed so little to the problem and are least able to adapt to it. Though I am moving to the frontlines of the crisis, this is a phenomenon with no borders–we live on one planet, and its fate is in our hands.