Speakers: Dr. Colin High, Eric Carlson
Prepared for UUA.org by Pat Emery, Reporter, and Jone Johnson Lewis, Editor.
Dr. Colin High, founder and chairman of Resource Systems Group in Vermont, is a scientist who has been involved in energy and/or climate research for decades. He freely admits that for most of his career he has regarded the subject of climate change as academic. But that changed with the birth of his grandchild 3 months ago. Since her birth, he has felt personally involved in the issue. He knows that within her lifetime, the effects of global warming will have utterly changed the world in which she lives.
High stated emphatically that all but a tiny number of scientists agree that we must act now to prevent disaster. Even those few who less than a year ago were claiming that the evidence was not conclusive have gone mum in the light of recent evidence. The so-called controversy is a fiction. Of the last 998 scientific articles written on the subject, none claimed contrary results, but out of the last approximately 600 newspaper articles, 53% perpetuated the idea that there was a lack of scientific consensus. Not only is it surely happening, it is doing so at a much faster pace than had been thought. High urged attendees to educate themselves and their congregations quickly, and get beyond "is it or is it not happening." It is time to act. Time is no longer on our side. We need to do as much as we can as individuals and families to reduce our carbon output.
It is already too late to prevent many serious problems, but if we act vigorously now, we can prevent the worst case scenarios. High said that to do so, we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels by 60% by 2030. This is a tall order, but with determination, it is doable. Carbon dioxide offsets are a government program in other countries, but in the U.S., we can no longer wait for our government to act. We must do so ourselves, both in our personal lives, and in our congregational lives
Eric Carlson, co-founder with his wife of CarbonFund.org, said that he, also, used to speak about the situation in a "non-hysterical" way, until about 9 months ago. That was when the evidence became clear that climate change is progressing rapidly, and that positive feedback loops were beginning to take effect. The Greenland ice is melting two and a half times faster than we thought it would. Antarctic ice core samples show that carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have been in 650,000 years. There is evidence that the Atlantic ocean conveyor belt of Gulf Stream waters that keep Europe temperate is beginning to slow.
Both men are confident that we can act to prevent the worst if we do so now. What can we do? Hybrid cars cut your green house gas production in half. Insist on energy efficiency in every thing you purchase. Use solar energy if you possibly can. Reduce your consumption of all types of products. What we can't reduce ourselves because of employment or family obligations, we can offset to reduce our net carbon output to zero.
How do carbon offsets work? They allow you to support, say, a wind energy project to offset the pollution in your drive to work, or to plant 100 trees in a national forest or mango trees in Nepal. The latter type of project has the side benefit of providing income to subsistence farmers, as well. Get your congregation, both the members and the church as a whole, to be carbon neutral as well.
Almost all decisions in our economy are mandated by cost. If we can get the cost of renewable, non polluting sources of energy down to below that of coal, then Wall Street will buy in, wind only costs 5-6% more than coal at present. Only about one-half of one percent of our energy comes from wind. If we can raise that to two percent, (~2 mil people), it will bring the price down below that of coal, and the market will begin to take off. Similar things can be said about other clean technologies. Once we start to demand clean energy, the market will respond.
Carlson's project is an online carbon offset program. It only costs about $8 per month if your lifestyle is otherwise fairly energy efficient. Contributions to carbonfund.org are tax deductible. The fund is not used for lobbying, but for direct investment in renewable energy systems, tree planting, and other carbon absorbing actions. Your congregation can vote to pay for offsets for the church out of its operating budget. Purchase energy saving light bulbs in bulk to sell to congregation members. Get your workplace to act, too. Carbon offsets can save creation if 2 to 3 million people get the ball rolling.