Carbon Footprint Challenge

Article by Sylvia Neely
University Baptist and Brethren Church – State College, PA

As a member of an organization called Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light (one of 40 state chapters in the national organization Interfaith Power & Light, a religious response to climate change), I am always looking for ways to encourage people of faith to act to stop climate change. Last spring, UBBC offered the film series by Jim Wallis called "Justice for the Poor" and Ken Kline Smeltzer challenged us to think of ways that we could do something to help the poor.

My mind went immediately to climate change which will hurt first those least able to adapt or to afford adaptation. But there is another way to think of the connection between climate change and poverty. Climate change will increase poverty as agriculture fails, storms increase, and sea levels rise. It is also likely to increase violence and wars, as a recent Pentagon report attests. So what can we do?

We decided as a church to challenge people to reduce their carbon footprint. The first step is to figure out what activities are producing the most emissions so that you can concentrate on those. Click here to download the Carbon Footprint Calculator. It was adapted from one used by the Empowerment Institute.

It is a good idea to use a form that is simple and that is the same for everybody so that we can make comparisons with each other and from one year to the next. There are many online sites with ways to calculate footprints, but they are sometimes complicated to use and each one is slightly different. This one is easy and having it on paper means that people who do not like computers can participate. The Empowerment Institute form did not include food, so I added that portion from a website called Shrink that Footprint.

I asked people to give me their emails so that every month I would remind them of one step they could carry out toward reducing their carbon emissions. I decided to use the program already developed by the Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, the chapter in Indiana. Click here for that program.

This program has also been used by the Interfaith Power & Light group in South Carolina. Notice that they have developed posters and extensive monthly instructions with alternatives for those who have already carried out that month's step. However, it focuses exclusively on reducing emissions from your house. I will send an email every month to the participants reminding them of the task for the month, but I will also in some months add things that can be done to make reductions in transportation or food.   

I have available a Powerpoint presentation that I used to introduce the program. It contains slides of graphs that came from a wonderful book published by the Union of Concerned Scientists called Cooler, Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living.  I like it because the advice is based on extensive research and the focus is on reducing the big items first thus making the biggest impact.

We also gave the participants a handout that can be found on their website listing the 10 most important things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.  A graph from this book notes that the average US resident’s emissions are distributed like this: 28% Transportation,14% Food,17% Home Heating and Cooling, 15% Other Home Energy Use, 26% Stuff You Buy. So our carbon footprint calculator is catching at least 74% of emissions (and some of what you buy is also captured in the garbage figure).

Obviously, I am eager to answer any questions and would be delighted if this program were adopted by other congregations. For more information, please contact me at: Sylvia Neely sneelypa@gmail.com.

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