Our Work

The Gift of Sharing

Weekly Planet by Elizabeth Courtney

This article first appeared in the Sunday, November 1st, 2009 edition of the Times Argus/Rutland Herald

Vermonters recently experienced an impressive global public display of activism on the issue of climate change.

Oct. 24, the International Day of Climate Action spurred a tidal wave of activity in Vermont and literally all over the planet.  The core message is the urgent need to reduce the atmospheric levels of carbon from its present, dangerous level of 389 to 350 parts per million.  The brain-child of Vermont’s own Bill McKibben, 350.org has served as an organizing element – a unifying number – to rally around and has inspired millions to pledge to make changes in their everyday lives to lower their carbon footprint.

Another reason to take the 350 challenge seriously is the statement we can make to our government as the United States goes to the International Climate Convention in Copehnagen in December.  THere the world has another chance to forge global unanimity and commitment to solid steps for combating climate change.  The United States must take strong leadership.  So there’s more for us to do, for all of us to do, because the magnitude of these challenges requires all hands on deck.

Literally thousands of admirable pledges are displayed on the 350.org Web site and on the 350 Vermont Facebook page.  The commitments include walking or biking to the office three times a week, to planting 350 trees and much more.

My husband and I wanted to make a pledge.  We’d done a lot already.  We had moved to a Montpelier neighborhood so we could walk to work, play and shop.  We had changed all our incandescent lights to compact fluorescent, upgraded our appliances, built a passive solar sunroom, insulated the house and retrofitted our furnace to heat with wood.  We had also doubled our gardening space to produce much of our own food.  What other actions would move us to a lower carbon footprint?  We decided to share.

Why share?  It’s simple, really – or more accurately, radically simple.  “Radical Simplicity” is the book by author Jim Merkel who until recently lived in Norwich and was the director of sustainability at Dartmouth College.  While his approach to living simply  is more comprehensive than looking at a carbon footprint – he looks at an ecological footprint – his message is perfectly consistent with the 350.org mission.

In his book, Merkel says: “Currently, the world’s wealthiest one billion people alone consume the equivalent of the Earth’s entire sustainable yield.  All six billion people are consuming at a level that is 20 percent over sustainable yield.”

That’s like taking 20 percent of the capital – not the interest and dividends, but the capital – out of your life savings just for the day-to-day stuff.

OK, so what if we decided to share stuff in our neighborhood?  We already have a ‘neighborhood’ truck, and we share our lawn mower and other tools.  Another neighbor shares his rototiller.  Broadly practiced, sharing could reduce the level of consumerism significantly – and therefore the level of manufacturing – which would lower the production of greenhouse gases.

Here’s our 350 pledge:

-To share our house by creating an apartment in our unused third floor, thereby allowing our third of an acre and 2,400-square-foot-home to support two families, not just one.

-To share rides with friends and colleagues whenever possible and be a one-car family.

To share our fruit and vegetable garden space and find more space in our community for others to share.

To share our time by volunteering, taking action and spreading the word.

To share our stories, our hopes and dreams and build a healthy world for our future generations.

With the gift of sharing, we can turn the 350 challenge into new opportunities.

Elizabeth Courtney is the executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont’s leading statewide environmental organization.