CURRENT MOON

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Walking Gently Upon the Earth


Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, has produced a lot of buzz about the notion of "carbon neutral" business projects, traveling, and living. That's fantastic because demonstrating that it's possible to live and work in a way that doesn't continue, on a net basis, to dump carbon into the environment is incredibly important. And showing how easily it can be done and how good it can be for the economy is even better.

One of the largest problems environmentalists have is that the problems of pollution can seem overwhelming. Most people understand that their lifestyle harms the environment and would like to do something about it. But two misconceptions often get in the way of those good intentions and produce overwhelming apathy.

The first misconception is that pollution is such a widespread problem that there isn't anything one person or business could do that would make a difference.

The second misconception is that living or working in a way that doesn't harm the environment is just too complicated and costly. Who can really rebuild their home into a solar-sufficient abode built from only local materials? Who has time to spend all day composting, sorting trash, bicycling to work, etc.? Living off the grid sounds great, but it's really quite a bit of work. And many of us simply aren't going to live without air conditioning, forgo air travel, take the bus with three small children to the grocery store and back, etc.

That's why the various carbon-neutrality programs now getting media attention are so important. They demonstrate that individuals and businesses, large and small, can make a difference in the amount of carbon sent into our atmosphere. And, they demonstrate that it's awfully easy and affordable to do so.

As today's NYT explains, a few minutes on the web with a carbon calculator will allow you to determine how much carbon your project, business, or lifestyle dumps into the atmosphere (called your "carbon footprint"). Then, by simply writing a check -- often less than $100/year -- you can, for example, arrange to have enough trees planted to absorb the amount of carbon that you inject into the atmosphere. (Some people double the amount in order to "make up" for carbon they've used in prior years or in order to make a net improvement in the atmosphere for their children or grandchildren.)

Gore used an organization called NativeEnergy to offset the carbon used in producing An Inconvenient Truth. NativeEnergy builds wind farms and methane projects on Native American lands. As the NYT article explains, selecting an organization to provide your carbon neutrality can be as complicated as selecting a phone provider. Do you want to plant trees, build wind farms, finance research, or install solar panels in developing nations? Should you go with a non-profit or a company that demonstrates that it's possible to make a profit doing good for the environment? Actually, the fact that we have so many choices is a good thing.

NativeEnergy has the Al Gore stamp of approval, so that's kind of a no-brainer, especially if you don't have a lot of time to spend researching. I like the idea of planting more trees, so, just as with my investment portfolio, I diversify my carbon neutrality portfolio, giving some to for-profits that build alternative energy projects and some to non-profits that plant more trees. I also try, when shopping, to buy from companies that have gone carbon neutral. (Which, BTW, is not too easy. Someone should compile a list of such companies and publish it. If anyone knows of such a list, I'd be very interested in hearing about it. And, while I'm at it, someone could do well calculating the carbon produced by a blog. I'd add to my carbon neutrality payment to cover that. A list of carbon neutral blogs and a small symbol such blogs could display would be a great idea.) In the end, it's more important to JUST DO IT than it get the mix of projects exactly right.

Carbon neutrality. This is simple. This is effective. This is inexpensive. This is the right thing to do.

4 comments:

NYMary said...

Thanks, Hecate. Saw the film last night, and am still obsessed with the idea of building a wind farm on our windy hill.

But that's 100K or so I don't have just now, so this actually helps me a bit. Do conifers eat as much carbon as deciduous trees, I wonder?

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