“How can I help fight Climate Change?” The 3-Step Answer.

"How can I, just one person, make a difference?" We all ask ourselves this question from time to time.

The obvious answer you rarely hear is, "Stop polluting!"  Stop adding carbon to the atmosphere. Live a carbon-neutral life.

When everything you buy, everywhere you go, and almost everything you do adds to carbon pollution, how can you stop adding carbon to the atmosphere?  "I have to travel…to work…to live."  Of course, we all do.  While the wheels of corporate activity turn, new technologies are being developed, philanthropists are contributing and governments are slowly making improvements. But these things will not proceed fast enough without the public's involvement.  The public - that is you and me - need to do our fair share. For the individual there is only one desirable course of action. It's in three steps. Imagine if we all did this - took personal responsibility for the carbon we produce. Imagine how the world will change…

1) Conserve in your daily life. 2) Buy Carbon Offsets - "Carbon Dollars" - for the amount of carbon you are responsible for. This will compensate for the pollution you personally add to Climate Change on a continual basis. 3) Join with others.  Join one or more environmental organizations and vote for environmental leaders.

1. Conserve. Most consumption involves the use of fossil fuel-generated energy that produces carbon dioxide pollution, adding to the Climate Change problem. Many articles and books discuss the multitude of ways to live a greener life.  The 3 Rs- reduce, reuse, recycle. Ride a bike. Take mass transit when you can. Conserve water, especially hot water.  Buy local produce. Eat less meat. Practice the many ways we can consume less.  Some people make a hobby of learning all the tricks.

2. For the carbon pollution you can not prevent adding to the environment, you can compensate for it.  Negate your carbon footprint by buying Carbon Offsets.  Offsets are dollars - "carbon dollars" - donated to nonprofits engaged in carbon sequestration projects - most often reforestation projects that will result in removing carbon from the atmosphere. With offsets you are paying for the carbon pollution your consumption creates. Without contributing to carbon offsets you are simply allowing your carbon "debt" to accumulate in the atmosphere where it contributes to Climate Change. Purchasing carbon offsets pays off your debt to meet your goal to be carbon neutral.

This is more affordable than most people imagine.  Without getting into too much detail, like how long it takes for x number of trees to absorb so much carbon, let us talk in generalities using averages.  Our unit of measure is "tons" of carbon. The following is an outline of our process.

a) Determine our annual carbon production. This varies in different countries and is altered by many variables. If you have an accountant on staff, or you like math and getting into the nitty-gritty details, there are many websites that will help you hone your numbers. There are carbon calculators online that will help. You can get very accurate. But on average, Americans, individually, each contribute an average of 20 tons per year from our housing, food, bathing, and general daily activities. Automobiles are a second major source of carbon, creating an average of 6 tons per car, per year. Air travel, vacation activities, and many other special circumstances may add to this. So one may assume an annual average of 26 tons of carbon production per year, or 2.2 tons per month. A family of four, 2 adults and 2 children, may assume 4 times 20 tons for individual production, plus 2 cars for an additional 12 tons, equalling 96 tons per year, or 8 tons per month.

b) Choose an offset program.  While many environmental nonprofits are worthwhile, for an offset program with integrity, you will want to choose one engaged in activities that directly impacts atmospheric carbon pollution. The most common of these are reforestation efforts.  Deforestation around the world has worsened Climate Change.  Trees and forests are carbon sinks and sequester carbon from the air.  Reforestation efforts are guaranteed to extract carbon from the atmosphere. To get a double bang for your buck, choose reforestation efforts that expand forests to the benefit of endangered species - ideally adjacent to "biological hotspots". Such a program will counter our two largest environmental problems at the same time: climate change and species extinction.  The best offset program will be run by notable environmental scientists who strive to measure the impacts they are having with their reforestation projects and will report back to you about their progress. Your purchase of offsets from a nonprofit can be said to be, simply, "donations".  Because these donations are specifically to compensate for your carbon pollution, they are referred to as carbon offsets. The value of Carbon offsets - "carbon dollars" can vary widely, but a price of $5.00/ton is considered average.

c) Purchase your offsets annually (or monthly).  Your goal is to be carbon neutral - contributing no net carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. For the individual in our example, with a carbon debt of 26 tons per year, he will want to "buy" (26 x $5) $130 worth of carbon offsets per year (a $130 donation), or, $10.83 per month. The family of four will need to "buy" (96 x $5) $460 worth of carbon offsets per year (a $460 donation), or $38.33 per month. Not bad!  Following this plan one can claim to be leading a carbon neutral life!

d) Pay up on the debt. What about all those years you and your family were unknowingly adding carbon into the atmosphere?  After all, its our past behavior that has got us into all the trouble we face today with Climate Change.  We all have a carbon debt sitting up there above our heads, threatening the health and safety of our families.  Additional payments on carbon offsets can begin to reduce that debt, and improve our prospects for our family's future.

e) Promote the carbon neutral lifestyle.  Put Neutral Carbon Footprint decals on the windows of your house and your car. You will be among the first to be able to demonstrate you are doing your fair share against Climate Change.  Encourage others to do the same. Promote the cause to amplify your effect, for the good of the planet.

3. Join with others. Join environmental organizations.  Truth is, by ourselves in our daily lives, following our old routines, we can not do much.  We must change our routines. We must join together to reinforce new behaviors and influence others to counter the efforts of corporate polluters and the bad habits of the public. There is strength in numbers. It has always been true.  It will take great numbers of people to counter the strong forces of corporate greed, governmental lethargy, and public complacency. Along the way we must vote for political representatives who are truly leading in conservation and fighting polluters. We must hold them accountable - are they, themselves, practicing carbon neutrality?

I propose that these are the steps for each of us to most directly and effectively fulfill our responsibility to our society, the world of nature, and our children's future. We can each make a difference - our difference.


About the author: Ken Jones is Founder and CEO of the conservation nonprofit called, A-Team For Wildlife.  A-Team For Wildlife represents professional wildlife conservation scientists, extinction experts, and the International A-Team For Wildlife of youth prodigies of conservation, come together for wildlife conservation.


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