Join The Choir
Reflecting on today, plotting tomorrow.
Love the ride
Set Your Heading

Net Zero

Every Goal Has Its Price


For nearly half a century the sprawling ranch style house situated just beyond the small north country city’s reach had been his family’s home. A young man’s version of he and his wife proudly bought it as newlyweds. It had grown with them through life. They raised three children there, eventually adding a bedroom for their second daughter, another bathroom for their son, a mud room for wet coats, hats and boots, and a rec room for everyone. After his father passed, they added a nice in-law suite and welcomed his mother.

But time had marched on. The echoes of memory’s laughing family voice slowly faced. Both his wife and his mother had passed. His children were grown. All that remained were the old man and Maverick, his dog.

His children brought the grandchildren to visit as often as their working parents’ hectic schedules allowed. They encouraged him to downsize, sell the family home that had long since outgrown his needs. They offered to build additions themselves, as he had for their grandmother. All to no avail. Their sincere overtures were firmly rebuffed.

“Your mother and I made our life here. This is my home.”

North Country winters were harsh. As they raised their family and expanded their home, the man and his wife had planned accordingly. Their home’s main furnace was fuel oil fired. Centrally located in their home’s family room was a Vermont Castings wood stove. That stove provided their family with the friendly glow of its heat through long winters. It was also their winter storm power outage heat backup. Every summer the young family worked side by side splitting and stacking several face cords of firewood so that during the north country’s cold winter months they could feed it.

When his mother moved in, factoring in layered redundancy and not wanting to overtax their home’s furnace, her suite’s baseboard heat and hot water tank were completely electric. That, along with additional portable electric space heaters, gave them three layers of heat redundancy; fuel oil, electricity, and wood.

During one particularly long and challenging storm, they added a gasoline powered generator. If the furnace went down, electric heat and the woods stove would suffice until repairs could be made. If the power went out altogether, they could weather the storm by the heat of their stove. The generator was available if needed to power their well pump, refrigerators, freezers, television and lights. That plan saw them through several extended winter storm power outages as the couple raised up their family’s three children.

After his mother, followed tragically by his wife, had both passed and the children one by one had moved out, the man continued on, determined to honor his wife’s memory by living out his days in that house.

The first signs of trouble came as the old man reached his late sixties. The impacts of climate change were visible to most everyone by that time, including the old man. Extreme weather had become a norm as global temperatures kept rising. The old man believed in the reality of climate change, and every responsible citizen’s role and responsibility in addressing it. What he was not convinced of, however, was the manner in which the powers that be were going about confronting it. No one was going to convince him that a landfill full of discarded lithium electric lawn mower batteries was better for the environment than his gas-powered lawn tractor.

He had his doubts about electric cars too. Had any of the powers that be ever lived in the north country? Forget questions about whether or not an electric powered pick-up truck or snow blower had sufficient oomph to move three feet of fresh snow. What good was an electric car in a power outage in subzero temperatures during the midst of a snowstorm?

Despite his concerns, governmental oversight interventions moved forward. Legislation was passed. On the surface, it all seemed sensible enough. The powers that be focused their efforts on reducing large scale consumption of fossil fuels. First, they focused their efforts on coal fired power plants. Then they banned fuel oil as a heat source in any new large-scale construction while they worked to re-define energy production using large arrays of solar panels and windmills.

They claimed there were no intentions of banning fuel oil as a home heating source. But as the demand for home heating oil fell, so did the dominoes.

As regulations increased, market share and profitability plummeted. Home heating oil companies, including the old man’s long time fuel oil provider, began selling off their home heating oil assets. A new company picked up his fuel oil deliveries, but they did not offer oil fired boiler maintenance or repair services. Technicians who serviced fuel oil powered boilers quickly became a dying out breed. Furnace nozzles, filters and repair parts just as quickly became a scarce hard to find commodity.

Without ever having to bear the political fallout for banning home heating oil as a north country heat source, in very short order the powers that be quietly and effectively achieved the very same thing.

The old man sighed and shrugged. “Well, Maverick, my good buddy, you and I’ll be okay. We’ve got Mom’s electric hot water tank, we’ll replace our furnace with electric baseboard heat and use that as a back-up while we rely on our trusty wood stove to keep ourselves warm.”

So, the old man got several estimates. He chose the most reasonable, well rated, electric heating installer. The conversion cost him nearly $10,000, wiping out a good chunk of his remaining modest life savings.

That winter, north country temperatures plummeted. Even with his wood stove as his primary heat source, his electric bills climbed beyond what his monthly pension and social security income could handle. Each month he tapped a little deeper into his remaining life savings to keep his electric heat on and pay them.

Then, the following winter, the hammer came down. The legislative pressure wave of climate change heat continued. New York State’s Governor made an announcement.

“I know this is hard, especially for those living in the north country. But we are all in this together. We all must make sacrifices. In our ongoing effort to mitigate the pending global disaster of climate change, effective immediately, the great state of New York is hereby banning wood stoves.”

The old man cursed to himself.

“What do we do now, Maverick? The kids want me to sell the house and move in with them. But this is our home.”

While government officials did not come door to door confiscating wood stoves, compliance was compulsory. While a first offense would generate nothing more than a warning, the penalties for a second offense were quite stiff; $10,000 fine and a mandatory 30-day jail sentence.

As fall fell to winter that year, not wanting to run afoul of the law, the old man made every effort to comply. But his electric bill for December was over $900, followed by a January deep freeze that ran his bill to $1300.

“We can’t go on like this Maverick. I simply cannot afford it. Does anyone really think climate change will be adversely impacted? Will anyone really notice if one old man and his dog fire up their wood stove?”

They did. Someone reported him. County officials showed up and issued the old man a warning ticket.

February’s deep freeze was even deeper than January’s. His electric baseboard heat simply could not keep up with the heat demands of his sprawling ranch home. One night the old man got tired of sitting in a dimly lit room shivering, trying to conserve electricity and keep his bill down. With Maverick at his side, he took a chance and once again fired up his trusty old wood stove.

This time county officials did not come to issue a ticket. They showed up at his door accompanied by two armed police officers. They removed the pipe from his stove and hauled the old man off in hand cuffs. Thirty days in jail and $10,000 later, the old man returned home. His children again urged him to sell and move in with them. The old man refused.

“Your mother and I made our life here. This is my home.”

His children sighed as Maverick, who they had cared for while their father was in jail, stood loyally by his best friend’s side.

With his wood stove inoperable, retirement savings exhausted, that following December the old man struggled to pay his electric bill. By the end of January, his bank account exhausted, he simply could not. Sometime in mid-February the electric company issued him a power grid shutoff notice.

As it turned out, for the moment, none of that mattered. March came in like a lion that year. A powerful late winter blizzard blew in. With no wood stove to warm his bones when the power went out, the old man did the best he could with what he had on hand. But temperatures plummeted as the storm dumped over four feet of snow on his house and sub-zero mid-March temperatures lasted well over two weeks.

When his children were finally able to dig themselves out and make the run north to check on their father, they found him in his favorite family room chair, wrapped in an old army blanket, slumped over a burned-out candle. Maverick was lying motionless by his side. They had both frozen to death sometime during the storm.

Later that week, The President of The United States gave an address to the nation.

“My fellow Americans, the world has reached a climate crisis tipping point. We are all in this together. As we work towards a global emissions goal of Net Zero, everyone must make sacrifices.”

That weekend one old man’s funeral was held. His best friend Maverick for all eternity beside him. Burial services would have to wait until spring.

The north country ground was still snow covered and frozen.


Until Our Trails Cross Again: