McLouis (“Mac”) Robinet has lived in Oak Park for 57 years. When he moved here, he taught at the University of Illinois Chicago, then worked at Argonne Laboratories for almost four decades, specializing in health physics and radiation protection. After he retired in 2004, he began to focus his energies on environmental issues. Nine years ago, he co-founded the Repair Café, first Saturday of every month at the Fox Park Recreation Center from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., which has a distinctly environmental angle: It keeps a lot of appliances and electronics out of landfills. It’s free, though donations are appreciated.
He is an active member of four environmental organizations:
- Oak Park Climate Action Network,
- Interfaith Green Network,
- Senior Climate Action, and
- Citizens Climate Lobby
He also donates to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club and the American Solar Energy Society.
We asked Mac to tell us more about how he got involved in environmental issues and how he views our precarious future.
Have you always been an environmentalist, or was there a person or event that precipitated your interest and involvement?
When I was a kid, we were constantly reminded that “if you see a baby in the ditch, you own it.” I was always respectful of the environment but I was sort of oblivious about the serious threat of global warming. I saw no babies in the ditch. However, about 25 year ago, I attended a lunchtime seminar at Argonne given by James Hansen. (He is considered by many to be the Father of Global Warming.) For the first time I realized that we were in a crisis unlike any ever faced by humans. I saw the baby in the ditch.
At the end of his talk, Hansen told us that he was giving us a charge to act. He said that we cannot say that we didn’t know or we didn’t understand. We now had an obligation to do whatever we could.
What was the first action you took to address your interest?
The first action I took was a false start to support the production of renewable energy by wind farms. I thought I could do that by buying Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). After making monthly contributions for more than a year I realized that I was buying voluntary Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and I was really participating in a scam. I was discouraged to discover that millions of individuals and organizations who were trying to do something positive were also participating in this “scam.”
Through extensive research, I discovered that voluntary Renewable Energy Certificates are simply records of energy production, and they have no impact on increasing renewable sources of electricity. In most cases there is also the false claim that voluntary RECs, when bundled with the purchase of electricity, provide the buyer with 100% renewable energy.
Because of my experience and research with voluntary RECs, one of my passions and mission is to inform municipalities, and institutions about the real meaning of voluntary RECs, why they are a waste of money, why claims to provide renewable energy are false, and why they distract from doing what actually reduces emissions.
In January 2021, our own OPRF High School (one of the largest users of electricity in the village) signed a three-year contract for electricity bundled with voluntary RECS.
I and others advised the school to at least acknowledge the error as a teaching moment for their students (advice not accepted).
I have a list of environmental issues I feel obliged to work on. Currently, my top three are:
1.) Spread the word about the true meaning of voluntary Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).
2.) Provide support for an ordinance which will require that all new building must be all-electric. Electrification of all new buildings and a phase-in electrification of existing buildings is probably the single most important action we can take to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
3.) Provide presentations on “How Heat Pumps Work.” (Heat pumps are the enabling technology for electrification.)
What would you recommend for local residents who want to get more involved?
I would recommend joining one of the groups mentioned above. They are all open and welcoming to everyone. Even the national organizations like the Sierra Club have local chapters. If you have questions concerns, or an opinion, send a One View essay to the Viewpoints section in Wednesday Journal.
Are you an optimist, pessimist, realist or all of the above when it comes to addressing climate change?
According to the 2021 IPCC report, we must treat climate change as an immediate threat. I am optimistic because the U.S. has officially rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, and has committed to a 50-52% cut in greenhouse gas emissions (compared to 2005 levels) by 2030.
It will take everyone doing whatever they can, regardless how small the action. However, the big picture is about reducing and eventually ending our use of fossil fuels. We have to shift our energy supply to non-fossil fuel sources and invest in strategies like reforestation and carbon dioxide capture.