Fred Kraybill is a self-named Climate Hawk. He owns Thomas Boulevard Group, a property rental business in Point Breeze, along with musician Brad Yoder. His property features two solar arrays: 34 275-watt solar panels on the roof and 40 panels in the yard, all supplying electric and geothermal heat to the house. The long-time activist is also a nursing supervisor.
Was environmental activism present in your upbringing?
I grew up in a Mennonite family and my father was a Mennonite pastor all his life. Mennonites tend to be strong advocates for community, sustainability, local food and being self-sufficient as much as possible.
I began to adopt many of the ideas of my Mennonite background, such as the peace position and objection to armed conflicts. I became concerned about our huge reliance on oil to run our whole economy. This is why I was always interested in owning cars that had the highest gas mileage rating possible from my Chevy Chevette to my Sprint to my Geo Metro. Sometimes people thought it was funny that a 6-foot-4-inch tall person would drive such a small car, but I was proud of it.
At what point did you feel the pull to learn more about alternative energy, and get involved in climate change?
A pivotal point for me was around 2006 when I saw “Who Killed the Electric Car;” I was introduced to the idea that we could have an alternative to the gas-powered car. Then I became obsessed with electric cars and followed everything I could about them even though at the time there wasn’t much available. Finally, the Chevy Volt electric car arrived in 2011 and I bought one.
After that, I became a dedicated climate activist with a number of activist groups: Solar Allegheny, Citizen’s Climate Change, and 350 Pittsburgh, and was determined to dedicate my efforts to climate change and peak oil. I started getting very involved in politics: both Obama campaigns, Hillary’s campaign and in Biden’s campaign, the U.S. Senate races and state government races.
When did you start changing your home to solar power?
In 2012 we installed solar here on our roof to power the house and the car. In 2013 we added more solar panels in the yard to increase the percentage of clean energy we were using. Then, in 2015, we installed geothermal electric heat here at our house to further reduce our carbon footprint.
What can we learn from your experiences as a climate activist?
I’ve done a lot of tabling about climate action, spoken to groups about renewable energy and been involved in marches and protest for climate action.
Our most important role as climate activists, to my mind, is to support candidates who are taking climate change seriously. Support them through our vote, by contributing, by door knocking, by phone banking, by postcards and by talking to other people about supporting good candidates and what they stand for.
Don’t vote for climate change deniers; vote for people who are committed to climate change. The only way we will truly solve this problem is through political action. We can’t get anything meaningful accomplished without changing our laws, and pressuring our elected officials and holding them accountable to take action.
What government policies are at work right now addressing the fossil fuel problem?
Right now, the most effective policies are the tax credits for wind and solar at the federal level: a 30 percent tax credit to install solar panels. A $40,000 solar energy system installed in a house will pay for itself in 10 to 15 years, including the cost of geothermal heating.
Obama enacted several policies under the EPA such as the Clean Power Plan, and the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule. At the state level, renewable portfolio standards and a cap-and-invest program in states in the Northeast called RGGI or the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Trump dismantled a long list of environmental regulations while he’s been in office.
What advice would you give a citizen, young or old, who was concerned about using alternative energy and slowing climate change?
On a personal level, some great ways to cut your carbon footprint are: avoiding using a car and using public transportation as much as possible, biking to work or school whenever possible. By eating a vegetarian diet. By cutting down on food waste at home, and learning to compost, or by sharing a composter among neighbors or friends. By starting a garden, or joining a community garden. By installing solar panels for your home, or buying renewable energy from a renewable energy supplier. By choosing an electric car for your next vehicle purchase. The list of ways to cut you carbon footprint can go on and on.
For a big picture perspective on what the world must do to tackle climate change, I recommend the book “Drawdown,” (edited by Paul Hawken), which lists the top 50 solutions to climate change in order of priority.
Can you recommend a good website on renewable energy?
This is the best website I know of covering clean energy and zero emissions vehicles: cleantechnica.com. Because I’m an electric vehicle advocate and Tesla enthusiast I like Teslarati.com for Tesla news, tips, rumors and reviews.