We experienced an eventful year on clean energy and sustainability. Take, for example, the UN climate change negotiations in Paris, the Clean Power Plan, and the Pope’s encyclical. The Paris talks involved countries submitting pledges to reduce carbon emissions known as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs). The current INDC submission list is available at this UN website. The Clean Power Plan sets the first-ever national carbon pollution standards limits for America’s existing power plants.
Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si’ (Praise Be to You), took a more individual approach in calling out for all to wake up to what we have done to the Earth and to avoid indifference and apathy.
Bridging the Gap Between Collective and Individual Commitments
What if INDCs are not enough? There has been concern expressed that the INDCs may not go far enough to achieve necessary emissions reductions. Taking into account the Pope’s personal appeal, maybe we should consider expanding the INDCs to include personal contributions to give individuals from around the world the opportunity to play an important role in contributing to the reduction in carbon emissions needed worldwide. Perhaps these could be coined as “Intended ‘Personally’ Determined Contributions” or IPDCs.
Could a blend of these 2 approaches (e.g., collective and individual) help to accelerate progress on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions? Just as the Paris Agreement and industry sustainability initiatives include monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance at the country and corporate level, so too should people begin to think about monitoring their own personal impact. Consider, for example, the company Opower which has been enormously successful in incorporating behavioral change into its products to influence people’s daily actions in regard to the consumption of energy.
These IPDCs could draw on a number of interesting initiatives as follows:
1) Personal commitments and changes to reduce emissions in one’s daily life. These actions are probably familiar to many and involve doing a number of things that help to save money at the same time such as more efficient lighting and other energy efficiency measures, adding a solar system to one’s residence, etc. These kinds of initiatives are outlined in books such as “You Can Save The Planet: 50 Ways You Can Make a Difference” and others.
There is an interesting initiative in Washington DC called GoingGreenToday where people can register with a green coach to make changes at their homes. The site sifts through numerous options to reduce carbon emissions and selects the easiest actions for people to take. It even claims to be able to help you put $2,000 back in your pocket! This initiative is part of the Green DC Challenge which is a joint effort between the DC Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) and Going Green Today. The goal is to “empower the DC community to make more sustainable choices in their everyday lives.”
2) There are some new ideas floating around in the climate change community that focus on “carbon farming” and other regenerative land uses to help “pull” (sequester) carbon from the atmosphere. The same week that the Pope visited Washington DC, I attended an illuminating conference on “Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming,” sponsored by Biodiversity for a Livable Climate. Speakers discussed how different methods of farming and land stewardship could make a significant impact in removing carbon from the atmosphere. Rarely have I attended an event concerning climate change where I left feeling so optimistic and buoyed. At this event, I learned about a very interesting organization called The Carbon Underground which works with farmers, environmental, and agricultural organizations on restorative land initiatives which some are calling a “shovel-ready solution” to the climate crisis. More on regenerative soil solutions is discussed in this article. This year, the French government launched the 4 Per 1000 initiative, to restore carbon to the soil.
In terms of personal commitments, related efforts such as gardening and sustainable landscaping appear to have carbon, among other health and environmental, benefits. I helped lead a project in Arlington County, Virginia under the auspices of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment which was one of the first counties in the United States to be designated as a certified Community Wildlife Habitat by The National Wildlife Federation (NWF). One of many activities that individuals can participate in is to make changes on the properties where they reside (and even in apartment balconies) to help facilitate more sustainable gardening and landscaping practices through the NWF program.
Suppose you live in a big city and you don’t have a yard. Then perhaps community garden plots may appeal to some as well as balcony gardens. Those who are not inclined with a green thumb could consider contributing to the Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy, Potomac Conservancy, and others that are shielding land from development, and in this way help to bank carbon and conserve natural resources.
3) Other contributions might be made in the area of personal finance and investments where individuals could more consciously determine where they spend and invest more in clean energy companies and technologies to have a more positive impact on carbon. Similarly, individuals have the power to encourage companies that are currently relying on fossil energy to use “greener” technologies in producing or using these forms of energy as part of the larger transition to a more sustainable energy system.
This is just a start of what could be a game changing idea with regard to tying “personal contributions” to national pledges to help accelerate progress in reducing carbon emissions.
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You may ask, so what are you doing in terms of your own personal commitment to reducing carbon emissions, Janine? I have been making my own personal and professional commitment through the development of an organization called “Leaders in Energy” [also known as Leaders in Energy Research, Communications. Policies & Analysis (LERCPA)]. Our members and group are focused on building a community of engaged leaders to enable and create a sustainable energy system, economy, and world. We exchange information on success stories and best practices via our LinkedIn group and parent website and also hold our monthly educational and professional networking events in the Washington DC area.
We recently recognized clean energy and sustainability leaders from all generations, e.g., Millennial, Gen X, Baby Boomer, and Traditionalist/World War II, at our Four Generations: Leadership in Clean Energy and Sustainability Award event in Washington DC (which took place around the same time as the climate talks in Paris!). We have also started a series of global conversations on Google Hangout which we are calling Leaders in Energy without Borders focusing on the path towards sustainable energy, in particular, and sustainable development, in general. The topic of our first conversation is “Values, Collaboration, Technology for Sustainable Global Energy” and we plan to have another one in February 2016. Stay tuned to the Leaders in Energy website and LinkedIn group for further updates.
I look forward to hearing from those who are interested in the idea of fostering personal commitments to accelerate the goals envisioned in the Paris agreement.
Janine Finnell is the Clean Energy Ambassador and Founder of Leaders in Energy. More information on the organization is available at www.leadersinenergy.org and in the Leaders in Energy Research, Communication, Policies & Analysis LinkedIn group. She enjoys connecting with other “thought” and “can-do” leaders and professionals in clean energy and sustainability who are interested in collaborating on projects and related opportunities to make a difference.