Thank you, You Make a Difference

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability received a scholarship for me to attend the Garrison Institute’s Climate, Cities and Behavior Symposium in New York. I spent three days with international social scientists and diverse community leaders who are engaged in innovative work to create more sustainable communities as well as building community capacity to be more resilient and equitable as we enter into this era of increasingly volatile events (e.g. economic, energy, weather).

My biggest take away? Your work as a Master Recycler to bridge the gap between knowledge and action (behavior change) in the Portland metro area is more important to creating a sustainable future than I ever imagined.

Behavior Matters Climate solutions traditionally rely on technology such as renewable energy, transportation plans and green building infrastructure. Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez Director of the Climate, Mind and Behavior Initiative says that the stakes of adding innovative climate solutions that help people and organizations change their daily practices are high.

 “Stabilization Wedges” source: Pacala and Socolow, 2004

“Stabilization Wedges” source: Pacala and Socolow, 2004

Among other recent studies on the topic, a 2010 study by the Garrison Institute and Natural Resources Council found that the human dimensions of climate related activity could account for a billon metric tons of carbon every year. This is roughly one eighth the amount to stabilize US emissions by 2060.

As illustrated in the graph, no single approach is large enough to successfully stabilize US emissions. Instead researchers have been working to identify a set of “wedges” each capable of contributing a billion metric tons of carbon savings. The “behavior wedge”, as Ehrhardt-Martinez calls it, provides a slice of the climate solution that can be accomplished quickly and with minimal investments. 

Oregon’s Lead Could Effect International Movement David Gershon, founder and CEO of Empowerment Institute, is an international authority on behavior-change and large-system transformation, and applies this expertise to issues requiring community, organizational, and societal change. During the symposium, Gershon put in perspective for me the work we are doing here in Oregon around thoughtful consumption.

During the question and answer session of a three hour workshop lead by Gershon, a Eugene cohort made the following observation: “According to the EPA, about 50 percent of US carbon emissions can be attributed to the production and use of goods and food and yet almost all of the solutions cities across the county have been talking about for the last two days have centered around transportation and energy. How can we afford to leave out such a big piece of the pie?” David Gershon responded that consumption was indeed an important piece of the pie, but that it is difficult to tackle the issue because consumption seems to be such an American way of life. It would be very challenging, he said, to organize regular residents to inspire other residents about this hot button issue.

I offered that it may be more a matter of how we talk about it. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability surveyed Portland residents to see how open they would be to taking actions such as fix and maintain, buy smart, reuse and rent, borrow or share. 77% said that they thought that these lifestyle changes would make their lives more interesting and fun. But a large percentage of them are not doing the activities, because they don’t know where to go or how to do them.

I also mentioned that Master Recyclers volunteered on projects in the Portland area that amounted to 60,000 contacts last year on the topic of thoughtful consumption. These are residents who are taking the time to share information with their own communities about their local tailors, cobblers, thrift stores, salvage materials stores, tool libraries, swap and plays, food and seed exchanges and DIY trainings.

David Gershon said that it was exciting to hear that Oregon cities have decided to take on this challenge and urged Eugene and Portland to continue to share our successes with the international community so that the rest can learn from our work.

Think Globally, Act Locally I hope, as you continue your personal projects, volunteer for opportunities in the newsletter and report your hours, you keep in mind that you are making a huge difference helping individuals you meet to protect the climate of our planet. It turns out your projects and volunteer hours also act as inspiration for other communities to take on this challenge.

Happy Earth Day!!