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Five Tonne Challenge: churches, individuals can help reduce global warming

Colder winters and hotter summers, violent hurricanes, shrinking polar ice caps, persistent drought – the world’s climate is becoming more extreme. Human activity and fossil fuel consumption is behind it but if individuals and organisations such as churches change their behaviour we can reverse that trend.

One of the key drivers of climate change is fossil fuel emissions (CO2). Current fuel and electricity use is unsustainable, and movements are underway all over the world to reduce it.

While Kiwis like to think of themselves as living healthy lifestyles in a clean, green environment, in fact we are among the biggest polluters in the world. We are in the top 10 producers of CO2 per capita largely because of the large numbers of inefficient cars we drive, our use of electricity, our large amount of air travel, and our farming practices. On average New Zealand produces 8-10 tonnes of CO2 emissions per capita per year. Our Kyoto Treaty commitment is to limit our output to our 1990 levels but we now generate 41 million tonnes more than that.

To encourage New Zealanders to think about their impact on the environment and how they can reduce it senior advisor with the Sustainability and Society group at Landcare Research Dr Ann Smith has developed the Five Tonne Challenge.

Without trying to burden us with guilt or make us give up our quality of life, Ann is asking us to measure our energy use, become more energy efficient, and offset the emissions we do create. If every household in the country reduced its CO2 emissions by five tonnes it would be the equivalent of removing the output of two Huntley power plants from the atmosphere a year.

“I am not a physical scientist so I am not part of the debate about whether climate change is taking place or how or why. I start from the point that the overwhelming scientific opinion is that it is taking place. My question is how we can manage it and maintain stable communities as we do so,” Ann says.

“I work with businesses and individuals who want to take practical action to deal with their environmental impact. Once we appreciate the issues we can do something because lots of little actions can make a difference.”

To reduce the environmental impact of your household or congregation do the three ‘M’s – measure, manage, and mitigate. First measure your CO2 emissions, which come primarily from electricity use and travel. Then try to reduce them and mitigate your usage by investing in projects that prevent emissions or remove them from the atmosphere.

It is not difficult to calculate your emissions. Landcare Research has developed on-line calculators that allow households or businesses determine how many tonnes of CO2 they produce. See: www.carbonzero.co.nz.

The next step is to reduce your energy usage. Replace used light bulbs with energy efficient ones, use alternative forms of transport such as the bus, cycling or walking, insulate your home, and use renewable energy such as solar water heaters..

To offset the effect of your energy use, Ann says you can invest in reforestation projects or renewable energy projects here or in developing countries.

“The offsetting movement started overseas among rock stars who were concerned about climate change and wanted to offset the environmental effect of producing CDs and touring. They determined how much fossil fuel they used in a project and how much CO2 that converts to. Then they paid to have forest planted that would remove that much CO2 from the atmosphere.

“In New Zealand the Emissions/Biodiversity Exchange (EBEX) is doing a similar thing. It converts retired farmland into native bush. So far 1000 hectares have been converted and farmers with around 10,000 hectares are waiting to join the scheme.

”They are paid to restore the land to native forest in a way that doesn’t use more energy than they are offsetting and that land is covented in perpetuity so it won’t return to farming.”

Ann says we can target five key areas to reduce greenhouse gases.

1) Organisations. Businesses, government departments, NGOs and churches can calculate how much CO2 they produce, then start to reduce and offset it.

2) Products and services. Some companies are striving to make their products in ways that are carbon neutral. Use them if you have a choice.

3) Events. A movement has begun for people and organisations to make their public and private events carbon neutral. The recent soccer world cup is a prominent example. The sponsoring organisations promoted public transportation and invested in renewable energy projects to offset the impact of the event. Rather than gifts, some people are asking guests to private events such as weddings to pay for the travel to the event to be offset.

4) Trips and tourism. Tourists to NZ can now pay to have the impact of their travel offset, and some courier companies promote themselves as carbon neutral.

5) Individuals and households. People can take action to reduce and offset the emissions from their activities. They can set their own challenge to reduce their personal impact.

“Many households will not be able to reduce their CO2 emissions by five tonnes. The point is to do what you can. Start by making a commitment to reduce by some amount. People should not feel overwhelmed by the problem. We all have different needs and can take action in different ways. City dwellers can do a lot to reduce emissions through their transport whereas rural communities rely on vehicles but may be more self-sufficient in other ways”.

“It’s hard to look at the global problem of climate change as an individual. Collectively, it becomes possible to make a difference. If on average, every household reduced their emissions by just over two tonnes, collectively it would be a massive 10 million tonnes.

For more information contact Ann Smith on 03 321 9804 or email smitha@landcareresearch.co.nz.