Carbon Switch Year in Review (2021)

By Michael Thomas

Carbon Switch Year in Review (2021)

It’s December. And you know what that means. Companies, nonprofits, and newsletter-writers like me gaze deep into their navel and recap what they did over the last 12 months.

In the spirit of that tradition, I thought I’d give an update on how things are going at Carbon Switch and what’s ahead in 2022. But first, I want to share a bit of backstory on why I started Carbon Switch in the first place.

In the summer of 2020, as a wildfire raged a few miles away from my home in Colorado, I went down a research rabbit hole. I’m not sure what inspired it, but somehow I ended up on a website with a graph of the largest sources of emissions in America.

One piece of data on that website surprised me: 20% of emissions in America come from the energy we use in our homes. In total the electricity, natural gas, and other fossil fuels we use is responsible for a billion tons of emissions each year.

After I learned that, I started looking into ways to reduce those emissions. And I learned that compared to other “hard to abate” sectors like aviation or concrete-production, many of the solutions already exist.

Heat pumps, LED lights, and induction cooktops. All of these things have already been invented. And in many cases they can save people money.

But in my research I noticed something else. Most of the resources on these topics were either inaccurate, confusing, or hard to find.

That’s when the idea hit me: I should build a Wirecutter for climate. (If you’re a boomer, a better analogue might be Consumer Reports for things that prevent global warming).

Every month millions of people search for things like “best hot water heater” or “best furnace.” If these people land on a website that recommends a natural gas appliance, they will very likely install something that locks in hundreds of tons of carbon over the next few decades. That’s not good.

The initial idea of Carbon Switch was to:

  1. Create trustworthy, rigorously-researched buyer’s guides and reviews on these topics
  2. Rank highly on Google
  3. Convince millions of people to install energy efficient, electric appliances like heat pumps.

In the last year and a half I’ve made steady progress towards that goal. I’ve produced 15 guides and reviews on heat pumpswater heatersLEDs, and much more. I’ve also produced reports about home electrification that have been cited in publications like The Wall Street Journal, NPR, CNBC, and dozens of other national media outlets.

I’m proud of all that, but at times it can all feel like quite a slog. Each guide takes anywhere from 25 to more than 100 hours of research, writing, editing, and design.

Ranking high on Google is no easy feat either. Search algorithms reward longevity and favor incumbents, even if those sites contain inaccurate information or recommend planet-wrecking products.

By this point I had hoped to be able to hire a team of researchers. But it turns out that the economics of creating content on the internet are pretty terrible. It’s not uncommon for a website reaching 100,000 people to only make a few thousands dollars in revenue. Hence why newsrooms across the country have been gutted and the internet has been filled with garbage.

But ultimately I don’t really care if Carbon Switch ever makes a dollar of revenue. That’s not the point. The goal is to create something that can help millions of people decarbonize their life.

With that, here’s a recap of the last year of progress towards that goal.

2021 by the numbers

  • 43,655 unique people viewed Carbon Switch pages a total of 73,103 times
  • Carbon Switch guides ranked on the first page of Google for 700 home energy-related search terms (including “best hot water heater” and “water heater reviews”)
  • Monthly traffic grew from ~1,200 per month to ~9,000
  • 50,000 people read my threads on Twitter about heat pumpsindoor air qualityclimate nonprofits, and climate-friendly banking.

2021 highlights

  • I preached the good word about heat pumps to 1.4 million people on Vox’s YouTube channel.
  • I launched this newsletter in October and wrote 9 issues.
  • I wrote an op-ed for FastCompany about the importance of giving to climate nonprofits.

2021 community highlights

One of my favorite parts of writing this newsletter has been hearing from readers like you. Here’s what some of you have been up to this year:

One reader in Seattle electrified everything in his home and put in a request to his gas utility to rip out the meter for good.

Another reader in Wisconsin told me his mother passed away last year and left him a small inheritance. To honor her life, he decided to use the money to install solar panels and a geothermal heat pump in the home she left him. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

A reader in San Francisco started organizing neighborhood climate action clubs.

6 of you responded to my last newsletter and pledged a portion of your income each year to climate nonprofits.

Your emails and encouragement have brought me so much joy and hope. Thanks to all of you who reached out to share your story with me.

What’s ahead in 2022?

Here are a couple of the things I’m planning to explore, produce, or build next year:

  • Produce more guides, reviews, and reports — I’m currently working on stories about indoor air quality, induction cooking, smart thermostats, and much more. You can expect a lot more content in 2022.
  • Fund and build a small team — As I mentioned above, I don’t really want to do all this alone. I hope to figure out a way to bring in revenue in order to invest it back into research. But I’ll only do it that if I can maintain the highest editorial integrity.
  • Improve the user experience on the website — My goal is to make climate action as easy as possible. Right now the guides are a bit too long, hard to find, and dense. My goal is to make them more accessible in 2022.
  • Enable community-generated content — I’d love to create a place for all of you to share what you’ve learned about climate action. A forum of sorts for people to swap tips, resources, and ideas.

But enough about me. What about you? What are you planning to do in 2022?

Are you going to electrify everything in your home? Are you going to volunteer for a campaign to elect climate leaders in your state or Congressional district? Are you going to advocate for more climate action at your company?

As always I’d love to hear from you.

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