20 Ways to Make a Low-Carbon Difference
bike, and use mass transit
more of your own food
some of your clothes
more durable goods e.g. shoes that can be resoled, a swiss army knife
solar PV and hot water systems to home and/or business
an all-electric car w/family and/or neighbors
a push-mower and an electric weed-wacker
or kayak instead of gas-powered boat
with a fountain pen instead of throwaway plastic ones
durable hemp clothing
dry your clothes instead of a dryer
a backpack or canvas bag, a stainless steel water bottle & and glass storage
containers (only buy items with minimal and recyclable packaging)
long-distance trips via sustainable transportation (electric car, electric
train, sailboat, bicycle, horse, kayak) – airplanes produce 2% of greenhouses
locally (“staycation”) less than 200 miles from your home
vegan or vegetarian frequently
and replace plastics whenever possible
close to work or create a community-based business where you work in and around
the majority of your food and other products from within 200 miles of your home
(farmers markets, CSAs, bulk organic, homecrafters)
alternative activities to the “entertainment/sports industry” (a very
high-carbon industry) – e.g. community pot-lucks, meaningful movie
documentaries, volunteering, helping disadvantaged neighbors, community
gardens/farms, teaching/learning resilience skills and organizing fun/engaging
community activities that forge trusting and cooperative neighborhood relationships.
more safe and accessible bike lanes in your neighborhoods so students will
These are actions you can take at the personal and community
Let’s look at how you can influence the next three levels –
regional, national and
get to know the “power players” in your region who are
making significant reductions
to greenhouse gases and providing working alternatives to
high-carbon and toxics. also get to know
who are the “power polluters”, companies with especially high levels of
carbon/toxic output. Contact some in
both camps, complimenting the power players and asking them how you can help
them be even more effective, providing constructive criticism of power
polluters and finding out how they can be supported to implement healthier solutions.
Identify opportunities for lowering carbon and still
providing effective products and services.
If you, as I do, believe that the Postal Service could utilize
all-electric delivery vehicles (esp. in urban areas!) contact your Federal
Government reps and your local Postal Service executives and encourage them to
take action. Research other countries
that have solved this problem successfully and what manufacturers have provided
Washington State residents get 91% of the electricity from
The state’s last coal-fired power plant is set for
de-commissioning soon. Your state needs
much more support for their utilities to acquire decentralized power producers
(windmills, micro-hydro, solar PV, etc.) and retool the
electric grid to store and optimally utilize renewable-generated
electricity. Get involved at planning meetings,
volunteer to help make it happen.
Regional organizations are particularly suited for the
wide-scale adoption of electric-assist bicycles/scooters and electric cars. Find a successful independent landscaper who
uses only manual or electric powered tools (mower/blower/trimmer) and feature
them in an article or in other ways (like at a regional landscapers association
conference!) that helps other landscapers replicate the same winning method.
Talk to the company public information officer of a regional
trucking company and find out if they are re-investing in clean electric rail
or other low-carbon alternatives to diesel trucks (even using 20%
biodiesel!). Encourage them to shift
their investments, especially to keep their profit margins healthy!
The concrete industry is one of the highest CO2
emitters. Ask a regional concrete
manufacturer what they are doing to provide CO2 lowering alternatives like
Cheer on regional builders who are using salvaged materials
and give them great PR.
Support regional carbon taxes that benefit those who are
demonstrating lowered CO2 output. Take
from the high carbon emitters and give to the low carbon ones.
Whose maintaining your regional forests? How are Weyerhauser, Plum Creek and other
“timber” companies doing to shift their businesses into more sustainable
resources – pulping paper “farms” are touted as “sustainable”, but are they if
they permanently remove habitat and kill off other species? Who is planting fast-growing tree areas and
encouraging the sequestration of carbon?
Home and office heating produces about 1/3 of your regions’
CO2. Are businesses dialing down heating
systems in off hours? Is there regional
financial support for home and business owners to finance an alternative system
e.g. solar/wind generated electricity powering heat pumps and/or radiant-floor
What products are shipped long-distances into Puget Sound?
Which of these could be made in the Pacific Northwest?
What are local substitutes for far-shipped goods? e.g.
blackberries instead of bananas
The Puget Sound region is one of the healthier regions in
the country with mild climate, copious hydroelectric, mondo recycling/composting,
extensive gardening and high levels of climate awareness. What we can do is to take solutions we have
and offer them to areas of the country that are currently challenged. Waste recovery, composting, electric
transportation, home/neighborhood food production, bartering are just some of
the areas that could be made available to other regions of the US.
Start with those you know in other regions. Call them and have an engaging conversation
on which areas they have challenges and who the key players are that could turn
that around. Which of these key players
could be introduced to our solvers?
It could be as simple as showing them how to start a
carpooling system. Or demoing
alternative transportation – electric cars, bikes and scooters. Or giving a slide show on a particularly
successful p-patch (Picardo?!) and what it took to make it flourish.
Find out which agencies give grants for work to spread
sustainable solutions to other regions and apply. You could partner with one of the Scallops
groups – e.g. Sustainable West Seattle to have an organization behind your
What feasible renewable energy options are not being developed in your area? identify areas and prospective suppliers, reach out to one, e.g. contact a
medium-sized municipality in Utah and find out why they aren’t developing solar
technology to full advantage.
You will be amazed by how much of the US doesn’t recycle,
compost, build renewable energy systems, use alternative transportation, demand
organic/non-GMO foods or simply take global climate change seriously in
specific areas. The key is to be open
and accepting of those who are unaware of these opportunities and baby feed
them ways to get started.
Many regions are suspicious of government agencies
introducing changes, but might be open to trusted local people making suggestions –
hence empowering a known local person to
take the lead is much more likely to succeed.
Win-Win scenarios are a must. Whenever you ask people to make changes they
have to see benefits in it for themselves.
To get someone to try out an electric car, you have to show them a
well-written spreadsheet of costs associated with a conventional car.
Gas, oil, other repairs & maintenance, durability (how
long is that car going to maintain its functionality and value?),
serviceability (parts and mechanics). If
the change is going to substantially improve their bottom line, they might
consider it. One great way to proceed is
to appeal to groups (churches, community orgs, schools, non-profits, etc.)
because group-adoption is much easier when individuals know that several other
people are taking the same risks right alongside them.
This is a much more difficult undertaking because of language
barriers, distance and the challenges of transferring solutions to another
culture. One of the best ways to
approach this is to educate people from other countries here and get them to
take the lead in their communities when they return to their country. EarthCorps (in Magnuson Park) is a great
model organization that teaches young people from other countries skills in
land reclamation/remediation that they can take back with them. Another approach is to contact an American
companies doing business (e.g. has a factory) overseas and find out if they
would be willing to empower their international employees with sustainability
If they see enough positive PR for their sales/marketing
they just might take this on.
Another way to look at this is to use what I call the
digging out the dandelion from the bottom of the root. For example, GreenPeace has proceeded to get
the Japanese whaling fleet to desist from killing whales. As long as there is a strong demand market
for whale meat products, it is likely that someone is going to hunt whales for
that market. If you introduce an
alternative food –say a raw vegetable combination that could serve as a tasty
alternative to the whale meat and that gains popularity you
have found a way to change the market demand (the “root”) without wasting
time/effort trying to change (the “leaves”) i.e. the effects – the habitual
ways a large market desire is satisfied.
In Africa, providing clean cookstoves to
mothers/grandmothers who do the lions share of food preparation, is one way to
reduce greenhouse gases and provide healthier environments for child-rearing
(google “Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves”).
In many cases poverty is the root cause of expedient choices
being made in Third-World countries – they need a quick, working solution and
they choose the most cost-effective and available solution. Case-in-point: if 2-stroke motorcycles and
scooters are what is being made most available – Thai hill-tribe leaders will choose
these for their villages.
Who in Thai government and industry is responsible for
transport vehicle imports?
Yes, it may be challenging to install solar PV-electrical
generation equipment in Hill tribe country but what is the best long-term
solution for all parties? Finding
equipment providers and installers may be difficult initially but once these get
established they will grow and proliferate throughout the region and serve as
potential models for nearby countries.
Another way to influence international sustainability
efforts is to participate in eco-travel geared toward meeting
villagers/urbanites who are already making changes or open to them. Celebrating small steps: installing LED
lighting, using alternatives to ICEs (internal combustion engines) push-mowers,
solar cookers/hot water. Most gains are
to be made in urban areas, where sustainable solutions will serve and influence
Lagos, Nigeria is a place where electric transportation
could make a huge difference.
Once again, choose an area that has little or no stewardship. Do you know who monitors or works with
international shipping companies that use Bunker “C” oil (one of the most
polluting fuels out there) in their freighters?
Which ones are open to alternatives – modifying their ships to use sail
support (large para-sails which cut fuel consumption significantly) or
bio-diesel/electric engines and PV arrays?
If every citizen in China installed solar PV panels on their
residence, how many coal-fired power plants could be de-commissioned? If India taxed carbon and gave subsidies
for bicycles, electric bikes/scooters and electric rail
travel, how quickly could ICE cars
What if regions that have over harvested their forests
planted hemp to give them fiber they could use for fires, clothes, fuel, food
and more? Hemp is one of the miracle
plants that grows with little to no inputs (fertilizers, pesticides) and yields
tremendous quantities of fiber and seed.
Find a place in just such a need and send them hemp seed (sourced from
One of the greatest challenges is fostering self-sufficiency
and resilience in international regions.
Much of China produces export commodities made in huge factories to
satiate the voracious desires of Western consumers. A tremendous quantity of these items are made
of plastics and quickly break, ending up in landfills (and often out in the sea
where they are hazardous to much sea life).
How do we encourage Chinese workers and owners to make more durable
goods (less obsolete goods) and help resist the demands of Wal-Mart, K-Mart and
Home Depot? Many Chinese-Americans are
acutely aware of these problems and open to influencing their connections still
back in China. Work with them by showing
them examples of Chinese-made products that have broken and the more durable
Summary: how you live
serves as a model for many others and powerfully influences choices of
people all around you. E.g. I ripped out
my grass lawn after moving into a Seattle home in 1997, and after 16 years of
organic gardening I can look up and down my block and see organic gardens in
front of almost every home.
Every solar PV installation is generating capacity that
doesn’t need to be supplied by a new fossil-fuel fired power plant. Every bicycle or EV (electric vehicle) trip
is carbon that is kept out of our atmosphere and vulnerable oceans. Every serving of home-grown fruits or
vegetables is food that doesn’t need to be grown elsewhere and shipped
here. Every durable good from a hemp
hat to a Swiss army knife can provide decades of dependable use, reduce landfills and slow down global climate
change. Every time you don’t get in an
airplane you influence others to take “staycations” and choose local/regional
trips that help the planet breath easier.
There is no doubt that living lighter on our planet takes
more awareness, discipline and attentiveness but with 7 billion of us living on
the planet, if we don’t succeed in creating
sustainable cities, suburbs and rural areas – we are in for
some very scary scenarios.
Best of luck and skill crafting a sustainable livelihood
for you, your family, your community and your planet. Mother Earth and your great-great-great-great
grandchildren thank you.