Balancing Our Individual Carbon Budgets

Andrew McMillion
Friday, 14th December 2018

Andrew McMillion explores how we can balance our individual carbon budgets, especially if you grow your own food.

Finding real solutions to global warming is THE challenge of our time. So far, we have achieved nothing of significance in reversing the trend to runaway global warming. There are growing cracks in the techno-optimistic belief that a shift of the economy over to renewable energy will save us. Increasingly, faith in consumerist, production focused, globalized, big-business solutions is harder to justify.

Those aware of the cracks have been trying to find real fact-based solutions. If we are all now partaking in making the world uninhabitable for our children and grandchildren, we need tangible habit building, positive actions to meet the challenges with methods that are achievable in a short timeframe.

What is needed is a new mind-set and a mobilization like the one our grandparents achieved during WW2. Each and every person needs to ask themselves daily, what am I doing to make the world less vulnerable and to help the “war effort”. If the answer is I don’t know what to do, then one must try to understand more about the science behind the challenge and find a way to contribute.

Simply put the solution is to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. These three R´s are in order of impact. The largest impact we can have is to reduce our consumption in the first place. Most of us are aware of the negative impact of transportation and the importance of choosing low impact options. However, many are still not aware that the global food system represents half of the world´s total negative footprint[1]. A new study showed that for every kilo of homegrown vegetables, two kilos of carbon is not being emitted as the grower does not need to buy from a globalized food system[2]. Growing your own 'victory garden' is a real measurable way to do something tangible to combat global warming.

A few years ago I started growing my own vegetables. Gradually, I have made it a part of my life to the point where most of what I and my family eat comes from our garden. These habit changes have lead me to an ecosystem view of growing and saving seeds. Doing something tangible about global warming is not only good for your health, the environment and the people around you, but it can put you into a deeper understanding of the world you live in and help you achieve Ecosystems Resonance. Growing your own helps reduce your footprint; saving seeds enters you into reuse cycles of maintaining our genetic resources, and the ecosystem you partake in will be recycling nutrients if you are growing organically and with the seasons.

The positive-feedback loop of growing my-own led me to the wonderful world of sharing seeds and the opportunity to partake in a gathering of Europe’s Community Seed Banks called Lets Liberate Diversity[3] in France. This raises a dilemma, as flying has a large footprint but partaking in saving seeds is important work in maintaining biodiversity which is massively impacted by global warming. Following are a few calculations to put the footprint of flying into perspective.

My flight from Norway to France costs 100 €, takes 2.5 hours and had a carbon footprint of 125kg[4]. I returned by rail which cost 300€, took 2.5 days and had a carbon footprint of 45 kg. Most people would not consider rail as an option on such a long trip. Time is money and carbon budgets do not impact them directly, so they externalize the costs to future generations. Our current globalized system not only permits us to externalize, it encourages us to do so with cheap flights. But if we want to be a part of the solution we have to internalize and take responsibility. Responsibility is not the cheap fast option, it’s the slow, mindful grown-up choice. Each day we are faced with real options with real impacts on the future of our planet. We can choose to go to the store and buy bananas and avocados shipped to us from other continents, or we can choose to connect with our environment and take the time to do it right.

A flight from Oslo to Mumbai and back releases 1120kg of carbon per passenger. A flight from Oslo to Melbourne and back releases 3820kg of carbon per passenger. That would take 1910kg of home-grown vegetables to offset. That is a lot of home-grown vegetables!

Balancing our individual carbon budgets has to be a big part of the answer moving forward. If we want a future for our children and grandchildren, we have to not only think about a stable economy for them to inherit but a stable ecology. Calculating carbon is a real economic choice. Sadly, this reality is not linked to our man-made economy at this point. Until it is linked, it will take concerned citizens all over the world making the calculations and choosing to balance their eco-economic budgets.

If enough of us raise our consciousness and awareness about the real economy that internalizes what is currently externalized it will create a much-needed new feedback-loop toward an economy that reduces, reuses and recycles; which is the answer to the question “what is the solution to global warming?”