Green giving with carbon credits program at Marion Institute
By Pamela Marean | September 15, 2013 12:00 AM
An environmental miracle is happening in $7 increments.
Thanks to the ingenuity and ambition of the Marion Institute anyone can offset the greenhouse gases that their energy usage causes by buying carbon credits that cost $7 a ton. For each $7 payment from homeowners and businesses here on the SouthCoast and beyond, the Marion Institute is planting crops of young trees to rejuvenate a rainforest in Colombia. The renewed foliage turns atmospheric carbon dioxide back into oxygen through photosynthesis, helping to reset the balance that manmade climate change and deforestation has brought about.
Their motto is "Lose a ton with our $7 carbon offset diet!"
South Dartmouth resident and carbon credit buyer Laurie Robertson-Lorant doesn't want to be held up as any shining example of what a good eco-aware citizen should be because she's focused on the ways she could do more. Still, she said, it's important for everyone to "support things like carbon credits that are healthy for environment and for all living things while combatting the things are poisoning us."
Americans reportedly contribute a full 25 percent of all the carbon dioxide warming the planet even though the U.S. represents just 4 percent of the planet's population. Of these numbers, Executive Director of the Marion Institute Desa Van Laarhoven said, "If I'm taking more need to give back more too. If I'm taking from carbon dial I need to give back to carbon dial."
The Marion Institute offers each of us a way to be responsible for trying to reverse the big American carbon footprint trend through contributing to the planting of trees at Las Gavoitas, the small village in Colombia where a rainforest is being renewed.
Las Gaviotas has been restoring its rainforest for 30 years, and the Marion Institute has encouraged others to contribute to that project since 2005. Contributions can be as little as $7 for one ton of carbon to help offset the cost of a family SUV instead of a more fuel efficient car.
A simple calculator on the Marion Institute web site (http://www.marioninstitute.org/serendipity/gaviotas-carbon-offset-initiative/carbon-calculator) can help individuals determine how many tons per year a household produces. The typical American, they figure, produces 21 tons of carbon. At $7 per ton, a $147 contribution to Las Gavoitas buys a clearer conscience for those who need to drive cars in the daily commute to work or fly across country on a regular basis. Every dollar plants one tree. So far trees have been planted on almost 20,000 acres. Satellite images, Van Laarhoven said, show what once had been reduced to desert now being restored to working rainforest complete with diverse canopies and hearty undergrowth natural to the region.
Though a non-indigenous Caribbean pine tree is used to start the process, that resilient tree simply refreshes the soil with water and nutrients it pulls from the underlying aquifer. It allows ancient rainforest seeds still in the soil to germinate and grow, eventually overtaking and shading-out the pines. The result is a genuine rainforest habitat.
This ingenious method of creating a carbon dioxide-to-oxygen natural system is a model for other parts of the world and can offset close to 145,000 tons of carbon a year. Ninety percent of every donation goes directly to planting trees. The United Nations and the World Watch Institute have praised Las Gaviotas for its accomplishments. Villagers sustain the project where previously there was barren land, making the endeavor both eco-healthy and socially responsible.
Still the Marion Institute doesn't want people to simply buy carbon credits and continue to live lifestyles that expend energy and produce greenhouse gases without any effort to make greener choices. Van Laarhoven herself said she drives a Prius, hangs her laundry on a line to dry, brings her own take-out containers to restaurants, and buys extra carbon credits when she has to jet around the globe for business.
"For me it's such a common sense issue to consider my carbon footprint and calculate it out. I don't live a perfect life; I still do things like bring in to-go containers and last weekend I went to Georgia. But I also do things like plant trees. I try to model behaviors that show that I think about my impact on the planet," Van Laarhoven explained.
Robertson-Lorant agrees. She teaches sustainability courses at Bridgewater State University and at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She lives her life supporting local farms, recycling, and trying to conserve or eliminate fossil fuels as much as possible (like looking for a way to replace the old oil-burning furnace in her basement with a more eco-friendly option).
For the average person, things like "not throwing your Dunkin' Donuts Styrofoam cup out onto my lawn" are probably more accessible goals than paying for carbon offsets when some of them are "struggling to pay for medicines they might need."
For her roof, Robertson-Lorant chose shingles that are embedded with reflective beads so that they last longer than asphalt shingles that absorb the light and heat and also cause heat build-up in the house. Again, she emphasized, some of these things might seem out of reach for someone on a tighter budget but composting and using the dish washer only when it's full are possibilities for everyone.
As for Las Gaviotas, "anything helps," she said. If calculating your carbon usage and paying that bill seems too much to ask, Robertson-Lorant encouraged people to remember that every $7 donated helps support the planting of 7 trees, the cleaning of a water supply, and the health of an eco-village with all its inhabitants.
Aside from rebuilding a rain forest from what was formerly slash-and-burn desert, Van Laarhoven said the visionaries at Las Gaviotas have been responsible for the development of "over 30 low-tech inventions including wind turbines and seesaws that bring up water from a deep acquifer. Their way of visiting problems is very holistic."
Feeling that she's part of the solution is what motivates Van Laarhoven and the Marion Institute to make the Las Gavoitas Carbon Offset program a central part of their focus on a few special offerings that they call "Serendipity Projects."
"I appreciate the oneness, the connection the sense of relief that I'm part of something significantly bigger than myself. I'm fortunate enough to say that spending $150 a year [on carbon offsets] is worth it for me. Offsetting my carbon doesn't dismiss me from flying 10 more places, but of my carbon expended last year spending something for offsetting or countering it makes for a more stable planet," Van Laarhoven explained.
She encouraged people to do whatever they can to care for the planet at home. "Even more than buying carbon credits for people who don't financially have means to do this right now is buying coffee that's certified Fair Trade, or bringing your own mug (to the coffee shop) or making your own coffee at home."
"Doing things in your own life helps the next generation make the world a better place," she added.
For more information visit the Marion Institute at www.marioninstitute.org, with a carbon calculator that makes it easy to figure out what are an individual or a family's carbon expenditures per ton per year.
Desa Van Laarhoven, Executive Director of the Marion Institute
source: SouthCoast Today