Monday, 28 September 2009

Shifting to zero-carbon - by Bert Horwood

Autumn mist near Kingston Ontario Bert Horwood is a Quaker in Thousand Islands meeting, living in Kingston.

I begin with a basic proposition: My spiritual and scientific understandings must be compatible and equally open to new learning. Science tells me that climate is part of a dynamic chaotic planetary system. This means that small adjustments can trigger large changes, but that the direction and size of change is unpredictable.

The Quaker testimony to integrity tells me that whatever measures I preach to influence climate change I must also practice.

Having become tired of my failure to walk my talk, I decided to do two things: One was to strive to live with net zero carbon emissions. The other was then to discover how closely the environmental and charitable organizations I support come to carbon neutrality. The rest of this post describes these efforts. I offer it with some humility because I have learned that I am not alone nor even exemplary in these efforts.

The first and most important change in my life was reducing total carbon output. How? I try to minimize electricity consumption, turning off stand-by electronics, and purchase electricity for my domestic use from non-carbon-emitting sources (in my case this is Bullfrog Power). I buy as much local merchandise as possible. I try to travel by rail or bus, and have reduced my total travel by about half over the past decade. My automobile use has gone from 20,000 to about 9,000 km per year. I still emit significant green house gasses. Purchasing high quality reforestation offset projects removes the balance, recognizing that all offsets are problematic at best. But they are a place to start. (A good guide is Purchasing Carbon Offsets by the Suzuki Foundation and Pembina Institute.)
graphic by photobucket
There is more. I live for 5 months at a cottage and thus maintain two residences; almost two thirds of my car mileage is from driving back and forth. To get closer to zero carbon, I'll have to change to one residence. Sadly, my supermarket and credit union do little or nothing to lower my carbon. Neither the theatres I attend, nor the space my Quaker Meeting rents, use sustainable power or practice significant carbon reduction, except for tokens like low energy light bulbs. Most of the charities I normally support make only cosmetic changes, or develop grandiose plans with little action. There are some outstanding exceptions, especially among environmental legal organizations. Perhaps lawyers realize, more keenly than others, that you can not urge a practice on others which you do not yourself embrace. Some organizations indulge in "greenwashing," making small but well-publicized cosmetic changes to appear to be reducing emissions.

I am taking a fairly hard-nosed attitude to charitable organizations that do little to reduce their emissions. I withdraw support until they face up to the dilemma that they can not do good while knowingly doing harm. My refusal may be regarded as reprehensible, but I try to make up for it by donating more to truly green organizations in order to support their higher costs. So I feel that I'm on the right track.

As a culture we are not used to making sacrifices to achieve a good. A central problem is that carbon neutrality costs more. Persons of limited means can ill afford the extra costs. Charitable organizations, like individuals, have to raise more funds, or else limit their good work, if they are to pay the cost of reaching carbon neutrality. To live in carbon balance, let alone reduce the excess of carbon dioxide in the air will require many sacrificial acts as we develop radical new life styles.

What I've described has been termed "hairshirt green" activism. It's about sacrifice and doing without. I think it is a critically necessary starting point. But most people can't live joyous lives in an atmosphere of "thou shall not." A positive green activism is needed.

The work of Mike Nickerson provides an example of this. He says it is "a question of direction" and that we know what directions will lead to longterm well-being. Mike lists eight criteria which can guide positive future patterns of living:

Well-being is sustainable when activities:
  • use materials in continuous cycles,
  • use reliable sources of energy and
  • come mainly from the qualities of being human (i.e. creativity, communication, movement, appreciation, and spiritual and intellectual development.)
Long term well-being is reduced when activities
  • require continual input of non-renewable resources,
  • use renewable resources faster than the rate of renewal,
  • cause cumulative degradation of the environment,
  • require resources in quantities that undermine the well-being of other peoples, and
  • lead to the extinction of other life forms.
We don't know if climate change can be slowed, let alone reversed. We have set the planet on course toward a hotter climate, in which many will die. humans and other species. But it is surely worth trying to save those lives, including some of our grandchildren. My efforts at activism in this direction, currently of the "hairshirt" variety, are enhanced by knowing that I am getting my own practices under control. Then I can look around in good conscience and see what's next.

1 comment:

jack bradin said...

Wonderful, it is what we are called to do. Knowing and not doing is not knowing, so lets us walk the walk.

It is a joyous thing knowing, and right order in doing..