Earth Deeds Project
What are we willing to do?
In one of our classes, UMass Professor Dr. Erin Baker introduced us to the basics of climate change. She explained the connection between burning fossil fuels, increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and severe disruption of climate patterns worldwide. A recent report linked 400,000 deaths worldwide to the effect of climate change. Dr. Baker asked us what we were willing to do.
Our group of concerned students and local community members expressed a willingness to make personal changes to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere. Among the changes either suggested or currently practiced were; bicycle riding, reducing meat in our diets, investing in renewable energy, turning down the thermostat and turning off the lights, composting waste, ride sharing, etc. Dr. Baker herself walked to the evening class from her home.
Personal change is necessary but not sufficient!
Although Dr. Baker reminded us that personal change can have only a very limited impact on the global crisis, most of us continued to believe that a personal commitment to changing behavior was important. From a political perspective, we might recognize that personal change is necessary but not sufficient. We know it is unlikely that the significant policy and economic shifts required to reduce carbon emissions will be possible without widespread citizen action. We know that politicians will see us as hypocrites when we advocate for policy change but do nothing ourselves to change our lives. Finally, we know that without a change in campaign finance laws, politicians who are directly influenced by major financial donors are are unlikely to pass any meaningful legislation.
So…… we are left with taking personal action, building a political movement from the ground up, and continuing to point out that the impact of climate change will be unevenly distributed on the poor and most vulnerable people on the planet. We cannot afford to wait for politicians to make responsible social decisions. And we ask the question……
How much carbon do I contribute to the problem
While estimates vary, we might assume that the average U.S Citizen contributes about 24 metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year as follows:
- Home Energy (36.8%)
- Driving & Flying (43.5%)
- Recycling & Waste (4.4%)
- Food & Diet (15.3%)
If we are serious about changing our behavior, perhaps we should also be willing to invest an amount of money equal to our personal share of the Social Cost of Carbon in making things better. For most adults this would be about 24 metric tonnes x $39 or $936, almost $1,000 per year.
But what about those of us who ride bikes?
Right, many of us already take actions to reduce our carbon footprint. One of our members wrote “hey, I ride a bike (well, when the weather is nice), dry my clothes in the sun, have solar hot water and electricity on the roof, use an electricity provider that guarantees they purchase power generated by the wind, have a big garden, rarely fly in an airplane, buy local food, etc. I’m a good guy! Nevertheless when I did a rough calculation of my carbon footprint with this calculator, all of this good behavior only reduced my impact by about 8 metric tonnes. So using my calculation, I still “owe” about $624 toward my own Social Cost of Carbon.” Many people use carbon offsets to reduce their feelings of guilt. This calculation puts a price tag on the carbon dioxide we emit and then allows us to invest in projects that reduce carbon emissions somewhere in the world.
Dr. Daniel Greenberg suggested that we need to invest in the future rather than try to offset our “bad” behavior. His organization Earth Deeds was created to help. Rather than trying to “buy a clean conscience” with an offset, Daniel suggested that we need to “pay it forward” by investing in solutions that address the causes as well as the impacts of global climate change. Perhaps we should invest in local projects that make the world a little better place?
What is the carbon cost of our class?
As individuals, there is much we can do. But as a class, there is one more thing. We might to try to model behavior by taking responsibility for the social cost of the carbon emissions generated by our class. We did a simple and crude calculation.
A rough estimate of the carbon footprint for everyone in our class can be calculated from the UMass Climate Action Plan. This study suggests that each person on campus accounts for about 4.2 metric tons of carbon released into the atmosphere per year, mostly from burning of fossil fuels for heat and electricity.
If we use the EPA figure on the Social Cost of Carbon ($39/mT), we each would have a carbon cost of (4.2 mT x $39) or $163.80 per person for the year. Then, if we assume that a student might take 16 credits per semester or 32 credits per year, a rough calculation would find that the social cost of carbon for a one credit class is about five dollars ($5.00). Members of the local community would have a slightly higher cost because we generally drive a few miles to get to class.
Where do we go from here?
We have a choice. We can leave this problem to someone else or we can take action ourselves. Our class is in the process of planning several action projects. This Earth Deeds project is to invite each of us to contribute an amount of money of our own choice to support projects that will address the impact of climate change. Some of us might want to contribute $5.00 to account for the impact of our class. Others might want to contribute more to account for other aspects of their lives.
Daniel Greenberg has agreed to help us collect and distribute any funds we are able to collect. We will then decide how to distribute our investment in the future.
After you calculate your total carbon emissions with one of the calculators linked above, you are invited to contribute to a project selected by the class using the Earth Deeds web page. It will look like this:
You are invited to contribute any amount from $5.00 for the cost of our class to the total amount of your impact for the year. You choose!
Carbon Consciousness Investment
This project both raised our carbon consciousness as a class as well as $366! On the last day of class, we voted to invest our fund as follows:
- 10% for Earth Deeds for managing the project
- Hunger Banquet = $140
- Grow Food Amherst = $125
- Abundance Farm = $65 (plus $71 raised from the Food & Spirit event = $136)