Reaching Carbon Maximum in 2020: The First 20 Actions

After the October 2018 IPCC Report, we started a program of weekly actions aimed at a central goal defined in the report: that the world’s carbon output needs to hit its maximum before the end of 2020.

Our actions are designed to take about 15 minutes each, and are in 4 categories:

1. Personal Action. We need to do personal actions. They add up, and they keep us in integrity with our values. They help us act in the other 3 areas with honesty and consistency. But personal action is only 1/4 of the total.

2. Institutional Action. We all have institutions we are involved with, actively, socially, or financially. We can have influence over those institutions, and spending time here is highly impactful, particularly when we organize other stakeholders to join us.

3. Climate Justice. We need to educate ourselves about the connections between climate issues and other justice issues. We need to be able to see the patterns and enunciate them. That connective ability helps others to see the systemic nature of the climate crisis.

4. Government Action. We must hold governments accountable, we must understand where we can influence them, we must let our voices be heard within and beyond elections. 

Here are our first 20 actions, organized by action type. 


Photo by Linus Mimietz on Unsplash

Personal Actions:

1. Know your carbon footprint - there are many online calculators for this. Fill a few out, they all include different things. You may be surprised at where your biggest carbon footprint is. Then you can develop an action plan to reduce your personal or household footprint.

2. Identify your utility sources. Do you know how much renewable energy your utilities use? Do you know what the plans are to increase that ratio? Do your research, then send a note to your utility company and to your local regulators and tell them all that this is important to you and you’re watching it.

3. Fly less. For most people who can afford to fly (which is a tiny fraction of the world population), flying is their biggest carbon footprint source. And some of the emissions from flying are released so high in the atmosphere that they don’t have a path to the carbon cycle on the Earth. This is also the area that often feels hardest to change to North Americans and Europeans. 

4. Understand the efficiency of your appliances. Appliances, from refrigerators and stoves to TVs and computers, have an effect on your personal footprint. Know the effect, and as you buy new appliances, figure out how to make the best carbon choice.

5. Green your daily transportation. Make a circle around your house at about a mile. Start walking or biking to those places. Understand where your nearest public transportation options are, and give them a try. Combine and consolidate trips. Stop idling your car where possible. There are many ways to start to change your transportation habits.

Institutional Actions:

1. List your institutions - where do you have influence? Where do you have money? Make a list. Include your workplace, your bank, your alumni association, your insurance company, your social clubs, your union, your church, your hobbies. You’ll be surprised at how long this list can be!

2. Contact one institution. Feel free to pick an easy one to start with - a place where you suspect your values already align. If you know other stakeholders, send a collective note about how important it is to you that the institution divest from fossil fuels and have a plan to reduce their carbon footprint.

3. Know the Alternative Funds. One of the ways you have influence is through your investments. Investing in fossil fuels is actually not very viable, so your money may do better out of funds that includes fossil fuel companies. But there are plenty of funds that are focused on sustainable business practices and renewable energy technologies.

4. Make your office, school or church greener. Sure, you recycle at home. But do your institutions? What about minimizing power use, turning lights off at night, etc.? There are many ways that you can influence the places you spend time to be greener, more efficient, and more aware.

5. Investigate your bank. Where do they invest your savings, mortgage money, etc.? Fossil fuel exploration is a high risk, high cost endeavor. They fund it initially through bank loans, and then pay the loans with the tax write-offs they get for their losses. If the banks won’t fund them, they can’t explore. If your bank is using your money for this, maybe it’s time to find a new bank.

Climate Justice:

1. Understand that it’s all connected. Climate is the great exacerbator. Every time you read a story about a social issue, take a minute to think through how climate could affect it, could make it worse. Tune into these connections, and you’ll start to see them everywhere.

2. Understand fracking and its health and justice implications. Fracking is a significant source of methane, which heats the atmosphere much faster than carbon. Studies have shown health risks for people living near fracking sites, people who are often poor and often ethnic minorities. Be able to talk about the associated risks of this supposedly ‘bridge’ fuel source.

3. Understand the connections between forest fires and the climate crisis. Forest fires are the result of  many factors, including drought, higher lightening counts because the atmosphere is changing, human encroachment into wilderness, etc. They are happening around the world, even in Arctic latitudes. They not only destroy trees that provide important carbon processing,, but they contribute Greenhouse Gases to the atmosphere.

4. Understand Indigenous Land Rights and why they matter. Land under indigenous control is more healthy, extracts more carbon from the atmosphere, and supports more biodiversity. But to support their efforts, based on thousands of years of ecosystemically aware living, we need to make sure they have land rights. They need to have legal title to the land they steward, or they are vulnerable to the next exploitation scheme that comes along. Learn about this, talk about this.

5. Understand that environmental degradation and climate effects are highly racial. Communities near fossil fuel facilities are usually communities of color, sometimes redlined into those neighborhoods because they couldn’t get housing anywhere else, sometime because that housing is the most affordable for new immigrants, etc. These connections have to be made, vocally and repeatedly. Because worsening climate effects will only worsen the racial nature of those effects.

Government Action:

1. Vote. Let’s just get this one on the table first. Vote every time, every election, every opportunity. Vote on everything they let you vote on. Vote all the way down, through all the city seats and judges and things you don’t think matter to climate, because all of it matters.

2. Understand theGreen New Deal. The Green New Deal has been around for a while in Europe, and came to the US in late 2018. It is a complex plan, that includes a lot of important connections: that healthcare is related to climate and must be accounted for; that some workers in the fossil fuel industry are too late in their careers to retool and need to be supported, while others need transition paths, etc.

3. Know how to contact your state/province representatives. Climate action can happen at a state or province level too. In fact, sometimes that action is easier than federal, and can be really powerful. The fossil fuel companies know this, and are present at these levels, so we should be too.

4. Advocate within your city. From the Global Covenant to ICLEI, from garbage collection to street lights to building codes, there are many support systems and paths to help your city become more sustainable. Cities are where most of the global carbon footprint is created, it only makes sense to work at a city level to make big changes.

5. Understand how to comment on proposed changes in land use, environmental bills, etc. This varies from government to government, agency to agency. But most democratic governments must publicly post changes for review and comment. Take advantage of this. Comment every time. Get your friends to comment, too. Find organizations like the Sierra Club that do a good job of tracking these items.

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