Adventures in Carbon Neutrality & Beyond

Personal solutions to the climate crisis

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Your personal choices can help improve Earth’s environment, as well as improve your own life at the same time.

few years ago, my wife and I became two of the few people in the world to actually have a negative carbon footprint. This means that rather than adding more than 20 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere every every year like most Americans, we are actually removing CO2 from the atmosphere every year. Looking back, we’re amazed at how easy it was. Not only that, but becoming “neggies” (people with a negative carbon footprint) has deeply enhanced the quality of our life, made us happier, made us healthier, and filled us with pride. It’s also been wonderfully interesting, educational and personally satisfying.

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It all started with one of these, which has saved us thousands of dollars and helped reduce our energy use.

Do we live like weirdos? No. Do we live in a tiny house? No. Do we feel deprived in any way? No, absolutely not. If you came over to our house, you wouldn’t notice anything at all unusual, except perhaps how pleasant, tasteful and calm it is here. Sure, you might notice the solar panels, and if you were in our car you’d wonder why it has such strong acceleration while completely silent. You might wonder why we have a large stainless steel mixing bowl in our sink. If you looked in our garage, you might wonder what the funny looking aluminum reflectors on the shelf are for. But that’s about it. It looks like we’re living pretty much like everybody else, and we certainly haven’t made any sacrifices, but we have a negative carbon footprint, and you probably don’t.

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The glorious Kia Soul EV 2016, charging from normal house current in our garage, no special charger needed.

ow did we do this? It was easy, but it was easy specifically because we were willing to change our attitudes, and willing to change our behavior. In total, we made thirty changes to either our home, our behavior or both over the course of several years. I emphasize again that what made all this so easy was our willingness to change.

The most notable aspect of our journey is that we never set out to become carbon negative. All we did was ask ourselves the question, again and again, “How could we improve the way we live?” By “improve” we meant adopt practices which, if adopted by many people, would improve the overall sustainability of society in use of resources, including energy. You could say that we took a holistic approach, but we never thought of it that way either. We just kept making adjustments, month after month and year after year, and one day we realized that we actually had a negative carbon footprint. Then we realized that almost anyone else could do this too, if they wanted to, though some of the details would be different for each person.

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Making some veggie chili in the afternoon sun with one of our solar ovens.

An aside on solar cooking

We’ve been doing solar cooking for nearly fifteen years now, just out on our back patio. For nine months of the year we cook rice, chili, stew, chicken, corn bread, lasagne, veggie bakes, and much more. We have two solar ovens, both of which are easy to use and require no electricity or fuel. Every time we use our solar cookers, it’s magic–like a fun science project that always results in delicious food, thanks to the sun. Many models of solar ovens are available, right on Amazon. Feel free to drop me a note if you’d like some recommendations. Solar cooking is very fun. I hope you’ll try it.

The changes we made

The response of most people when I mention the changes we’ve made is to listen closely in order to quickly find excuses for not doing anything themselves. Don’t be one of those people. If there is something you really can’t do, there are dozens of other things that you can do. The willingness to change is what matters. Healthy curiosity helps a whole lot, too.

Can’t install solar panels for some reason? Fine. Switch to a clean energy supplier through your utility. Can’t do that? Fine. Reduce your electrical use. Already done that? Fine. Send wonderful holiday gifts of carbon offsets to people in your life. Can’t do that? Fine, but even if your name is Scrooge you can still make some positive changes to your diet. The list of positive choices you can make in the area of sustainability is unlimited. Just give it some thought, do what works for you right now, and gradually expand your efforts as you get used to each change in succession.

The most significant changes we made were these:

  1. Installed solar panels, reducing our use of electricity from fossil fuels to zero for our home.
  2. Got a lease on an electric car (only $214/month), and began charging the car from the solar panels, reducing our use of fossil fuels for personal use of a car to zero.
  3. Adopted a flexitarian, primarily locavore diet. (Locavore is usually defined as a diet of food produced within 100 miles of where you live.)
  4. Made sure we had fun with each change we made.
  5. Bought carbon offsets in the form of tree plantings around the world, but always as presents to relatives, friends and associates, and always encouraging each recipient of the tree plantings to “pay it forward.”
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High-tech clothes drying in progress, using something called the Sun.

The complete list of changes we made is available here:

I hope you’ll find at least a few items on our list you would like to adopt in your own life.

Send carbon offsets as presents

The installation of solar panels, leasing of an electric car and adopting a flexitarian, primarily locavore diet got us about half way to carbon neutrality. The other step was to do research on carbon offsets. Some of this research was a bit daunting, because carbon offsets take many different forms, some are much better than others, and it can take time to determine which are the most effective, as well as cost effective.

Personally, I am strongly in favor of tree plantings as carbon offsets, for the following reasons:

  1. Earth has lost a trillion trees since the dawn of human “civilization.” Fully 20% of climate change is due to deforestation. We need to restore the Earth to its previous aboreal splendor, with all its benefits.
  2. Trees provide many other ecological benefits, and serve as the pillars of a an entire web of nature on which the health of the entire planet depends.
  3. Tree plantings lend themselves to sharing, in the form of certificates that can be “gifted” to people in your life, thus spreading a positive message and personal inspiration in addition to all the benefits provided by the trees themselves.

I can personally recommend the following carbon offset suppliers, starting with two devoted specifically to tree plantings. The first, One Tree Planted, is a truly excellent way to send tree plantings as gifts to family, friends and associates.

Arbor Day is America’s oldest and best established advocacy group for tree plantings. Donating to Arbor Day contributes directly to reforestation efforts. You can also buy trees from them, and get good information and advice if you want to take personal action to plant trees in your area.

The third option is to buy carbon offsets in the form of various “plans” from a high-quality supplier such as Carbon Fund. Choose from plans that offset either:

1. Your entire personal carbon footprint for the year

2. A couple

3. A family of four

4. Your house

5. Your car

6. Carbon negative, as far as you’re willing to go

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Along the way we replanted our property with all native plants, with wonderful results.

Calculate your personal carbon footprint

The average American is responsible for adding more 50,000 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere each year. You may be adding less than that, or more than that, but it’s good to get an accurate figure for yourself. There are many carbon footprint calculators available on line, but Carbon Footprint is one of the best.

Enjoy your journey toward carbon neutrality and beyond!

Written by

I am an author and inventor. My first book was about people’s relationship with their possessions and how possessions change us, for better and for worse.

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