Partners in Energy: James Wang, CEAQAC Member

April 30, 2021
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One person can make a difference and this series profiles a leader, advocate, or resident who is dedicated to improving energy efficiency and helping the county realize its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2027 and 100% by 2035. Find out more about them in their own words.

This installment highlights James Wang, Takoma Park and a member of the Climate, Energy, and Air Quality Advisory Committee (CEAQAC)

My Green Montgomery: When did you first become interested in energy and climate change? 

James Wang: I’ve had a strong appreciation for nature since I was a child, thanks in good part to my parents, who often took us kids out for hikes in the woods and other natural areas.  I think the teaching of energy issues in elementary school during the Carter administration also made a lasting impression on me.  I first got involved in environmental activism towards the end of high school in the early 1990s, when I was especially concerned about the rapid destruction of unique and endangered natural habitats caused by suburban development in the Los Angeles area.  That led to my majoring in ecology in college, and eventually atmospheric science in grad school.  My grad school advisor was especially influential in my growing interest in the science and policy of energy and climate change.  Since then, I have worked for years in climate science research and in environmental communication and advocacy.  My background and experience has naturally led me to volunteer to serve on the Climate, Energy, and Air Quality Advisory Committee.

MGM: What do you like most about living in Montgomery County?

JW: I’m inspired by the progressive political views of many of the county’s residents, especially in my current city of Takoma Park It’s great that there is already a lot of environmental awareness and sustainable practices, and our city and county are at the forefront of the national and global fight against climate change and other crises.  The ethnic diversity of the county is wonderful too.

MGM: If you could be a renewable energy source, which would one would you be?

JW:Maybe the wind, since I’ve always been a weather geek and fascinated by storms.  Although wind can certainly be destructive, it can also be harnessed to do good.

MGM: What has been your proudest accomplishment when it comes to energy or water savings?

JW: I was a co-captain of a team in the yearlong Takoma Park Neighborhood Energy Challenge several years ago.  As part of that competition, I canvassed over 50 homes to encourage participation.  I also got my own home green certified through an energy audit and then work to add insulation and seal up the building envelope to minimize air leakage.  Shortly before the competition, we had already added nice, energy-efficient storm windows to our house to reduce draftiness (and noise from outside) without getting rid of our vintage windows.  Our team finished as a runner-up in the competition, which gave us a $500 award for use in a neighborhood project! (And the County has a $250 Property Tax Credit available)

 MGM: What green projects are you working on now in your home or community?

JW: We’re working on replacing our natural gas-fired water heater, which is already past its recommended lifetime, with probably a solar thermal hot water system.  Solar hot water installers are somewhat hard to find in our region these days, but I like the solution because it can supply much of our hot water needs using free energy and equipment that isn’t overly complicated.  Even though we might be moving in the near future and thus unable to enjoy a full payback of our investment, I think it’s still worthwhile because we’d be leaving the house in a more climate-friendly condition for the future homeowners.

One longer-term project I’m daydreaming about is creating eco-housing geared towards low-income residents (and in which my partner and I would be residents as well).  Though I don’t have any relevant prior experience other than fixing up my own home, I think it could be a feasible job for me to turn an aging, inefficient multi-family building and property into something very green, healthful, and inspiring for people who don’t usually have access to such living situations and the sustainability education that can come from being part of an eco-focused community.

MGM: What’s your favorite way to save energy in your home?

JWWe set our thermostat at levels that are closer to the outside temperature than many other people choose.  I think it’s somewhat absurd that in many of my workplaces, I’ve had to put on MORE clothing indoors in the summertime than in the winter.  I think sweaters ought to be put to use in the winter, and inspired by my recent year abroad in Germany, I’m thinking of going around au naturel in my home once we get hot weather again.  I know that’s not for everyone though!

MGM: What’s one thing you’d like to share with your neighbors about energy efficiency?

JW: I think the importance of energy and resource conservation, in addition to energy efficiency, for a sustainable world cannot be overemphasized.  Not only does conservation save energy and money, but it can also save water, metals, rare earth minerals, wood, and other natural resources, and reduce waste that goes to landfills or pollutes our air, land, and waters.  For example, before buying a new car, even an electric vehicle, you could consider whether or not you truly need another car.  The manufacturing of cars uses up a lot of energy, rare minerals like lithium and cobalt, and other raw materials and eventually creates junkyard waste.  Could you instead rely on public transit, biking, walking, ride sharing, or car sharing?

There are an ever-increasing number of resources available for reducing our consumption of goods, through sharing, renting, buying second-hand, and giving and receiving for free (such as in a local Buy Nothing Project group).

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