By Ariel Miller

“Personal carbon trackers can make one feel hopeless,” notes economist Dr. Nilam Bedi, ESRAG’s technical liaison to Rotary International. “How do we link our actions to impact? Rotarians are very action-oriented. We need optimality: a way to find the highest return for the action.” ESRAG experts point us to excellent online resources that you can use to help your community to choose actions they can implement with confidence that they are making their community more resilient and successful. These resources are Drawdown Solutions, the Global Footprint Network, and the En-ROADS Climate Solutions Simulator.

Like the Planetary Boundaries, these tools start with a baseline, measuring the imbalance between human activity and the earth’s capacity to maintain the conditions we must have to live. All three empower you to evaluate what solutions your community can implement to improve both the world’s and its own well-being.

Doug White, chair of ESRAG’s Climate Solutions Task Force, recommends Drawdown graphics and charts that will immediately boost your confidence.  Drawing on rigorous global research, Drawdown offers 98 climate solutions ranked according to highest potential to reduce emissions or strengthen carbon sinks.  The top two are preventing food waste and choosing plant-rich diets, each of which has an ESRAG Task Force ready to coach clubs on practical projects.

“All of ESRAG’s Task Forces are right there among the top solutions,” Doug says.  The Task Forces provide ready-to-use Rotary projects that implement nine of the 15 most impactful solutions, including reforestation, clean cooking, and distributed solar photovoltaics.  Drawdown Solution # 3 is education and family planning, which thousands of Rotary clubs support, probably without most participants even knowing they are also helping to slow climate change.

That brings up another key point: climate solutions both protect and enhance Rotary’s other humanitarian goals like health, food security, and community economic development.  “The truth is that we will never be able to build social and economic welfare without high-functioning ecosystems,” says Nilam, who has spent his career consulting around the world on development projects.  “Today, the risk for irreversible changes in the ecosystem is serious and real.  We have to follow the science and the Sustainable Development Goals.”  

Through ESRAG’s Habitat Solar partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Rotarians are helping to finance rooftop solar projects which reduce families’ monthly utility bills as well as reducing carbon emissions.  This initiative was showcased in Rotary’s Service in Action blog in February.

So how do you introduce your fellow Rotarians to the science?  Drawdown is defined as the point “when levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. This is the point when we begin the process of stopping further climate change and averting potentially catastrophic warming,” explains Project Drawdown.  Doug recommends you start by sharing Drawdown’s Climate Solutions 101, a series of six 16-minute videos available free online.  These explain the climate crisis, then give an overview of strategies to reduce emissions, support carbon sinks, and strengthen society, including equity and jobs.  These win-win solutions – a synergy of environmental and human benefits –  are vividly illustrated by the strategies and case studies of Drawdown Lift, with a particular focus on Africa and South Asia.

Drawdown has a free online library of multimedia Drawdown Stories you can show to hearten and inspire your community. It also includes recordings of webinars like Women Leading Climate Action through Agriculture, Education, and Health, which ESRAG social media publicized earlier this month.

The Global Footprint resources show you whether your nation is a creditor or debtor in net carbon emissions. The interactive map copied here gives you a glimpse of national datasets which countries are using to choose policies to move closer to balancing “consumption and biocapacity – the regeneration of resources,” Nilam explains. The goal is to move “earth overshoot day” – the date when humans’ annual consumption exceeds earth’s capacity to sustain us – closer and closer to the end of the year. Both Drawdown and Global Footprint look at types of emission sources (such as buildings, manufacturing, and transportation) and carbon sinks (such as land, oceans, and forests).  “The solution can’t be one size fits all,” Nilam adds. Canada needs to heat its buildings, Jamaica doesn’t, but Canada can address its carbon debt by choosing energy generation and energy efficiency strategies that reduce the emissions caused by keeping its population warm.

As climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe reports, people need to believe they have the power to act on a crisis, otherwise they are likely to retreat into denial.  One way to put people in charge is to introduce them to the En-ROADS Global Climate Simulator developed by Climate Interactive, the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, and Ventana Systems.  ESRAG Director Tim Conners, an MIT graduate, is an En-ROADS trainer and several Rotary clubs are using it.

This free online simulator allows a group to experiment with a wide range of options, and see how these interact to change the curve on global warming by the year 2100.  Building on Joey O’Brien’s article on carbon markets, you can experiment with choices such as carbon price, and what happens based on how fast and how much you raise it.  People ranging from middle school students to lawmakers can learn and become galvanized by an hour with En-ROADS, which can be used in several languages. Sign up here for free group workshops or games.