08 July 2013

Carbon Recovery 12.0

Recent reports have shown that climate change is occurring faster than scientific estimates had predicted. Despite repeated warnings over the past 50 years we have not managed to curb our addiction to carbon. In fact we have barely started to take any real action. In the next several weeks I will be developing and sharing with you a 12 Step Carbon Recovery Program.  Like so many things in life, most of us have to hit bottom before we are ready to make real life changes. Will hitting bottom require us to go through major environmental crisis or can we take charge of our own carbon addiction after careful scrutiny of our carbon footprint?

Thomas Berry coined the term Ecozoic Era for the challenging era we are confronted with as a result of our addiction to the burning of fossil fuels. Berry compares the current climate change challenge before us with Earth’s two greatest mass extinction eras: the Paleozoic Era and the Mesozoic Era, and proposes that a “degraded earth produces degraded people.”  We are challenged to take personal responsibility in climate change and enact positive changes that will contribute toward mitigation of, and adaptation to this new climate.

This is me enjoying nature at Big Bear, California.
I have decided to step up and make personal changes in my life that will lessen my carbon footprint and to reconnect with the natural world.  These changes are not simply a matter of acting on a minor scale by recycling, carrying my reusable coffee mug to Starbucks and turning off the lights as I leave the room. It’s time to make a more personal systemic change to act mindfully in mitigating climate change.

I have chosen the 12 step recovery framework as developed by successful addiction recovery groups to model the Carbon Recovery 12.0 Program. The steps will include coming to realization about the depth and breadth of carbon addiction, reconnecting with the environment, taking a carbon footprint inventory, identifying who, what, when, where and how carbon addiction causes harm, making amends in real ways through mindful systemic change, and spreading the word through local “Meetups”, social media sharing of personal stories, and starting local 12.0 groups. Intervention will also be touched on as a way to push heavy carbon users and climate change deniers towards taking a real look at the scientific evidence that unequivocally shows that burning fossil fuels is the major contributor to current changes in our environment.

This week I will share the first three steps along with my own personal journey.  Please also join the new Meetup, Pittsburgh Environmentalist 12.0, to participate in the program and check back in the next weeks as the journey continues. I will begin at a grass root level with a website and will employ social media to build base support. This program is being offered as a pilot project to local environmental organizations and civic groups of which I am an active member. I encourage you to go through this process with me, or simply follow my journey.

Step One:  We admitted that we were addicted to carbon-based energy and our lives have become un-sustainable.

When I read the latest report on the state of global warming I have to admit that my first and second emotions were fear and helplessness.  How can one person make a dent in the major climate change issues our world now faces?  It feels rather akin to attempting to turn back the hands of time; an impossible task.  But once the deer in the headlights stage passed, I began to pull up my bootstraps.  I began to look at my personal contributions on a daily basis to the problem; I saw that just like the layers of an onion, my own mindless carbon addictions are multi-layered. Once I peeled one layer back, I exposed yet another.  I can see that I am living as a “taker” on this earth, and as Ishmael wrote so insightfully, "The Takers' story is 'The world belongs to man.' ...The Leavers' story is 'Man belongs to the world.'".  How often have I thought to myself, "I am running late, and although I had planned to walk or bike to my next appointment, I will have to drive in order to be on time?"  These cop outs do not allow me to take personal responsibility for my footprint. 

Step Two:  Came to believe that Mother Nature will continue to provide for us on planet Earth if we learn to walk lightly again.

When I look at scientific evidence of evolution, it is clear that living beings can adapt to environmental changes IF those changes occur slowly over time. The Gaia Theory, developed by James Lovelock proposes that all living organisms and the inorganic environment evolved together as a single living system and the interconnectivity of these greatly affects the chemistry and conditions of Earth. Earths ecosystem is intricate, balanced, and malleable; when humans tilt the weight too heavily in their direction, all of the other elements on Earth tilt, too. Isn’t it time to return to a balanced harmony with our environment?  This is the essence of sustainability:  to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), the Brundtland Commission).

Step Three:  Made a personal daily pledge to walk lightly in harmony with Mother Nature.

So I have decided to make personal changes in my life that will lessen my carbon footprint and pass on this idea to others. How can I maintain these changes over time?  I see that it will take a daily commitment to be more mindful. I will also have to connect with Nature on a daily basis.  “The Natural Wildlife Federation” suggests that everyone get outside for an hour a day through its One Green Hour program. This seems so simple, and the benefits of an hour outside are so great.

Evolving a relationship with nature reconnects us to the natural world.  Environmentalist Aldo Leopold wrote about the mind, nature, body connection in his 1940 publication, A Sand County Almanac. “A land ethic … reflects the existence of an ecological conscience,” he wrote, continuing, “This in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of land.”

Thank you for joining me on this journey and I look forward to your feedback.


Berry, Thomas, The Ecozoic Era,Eleventh Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures
October 1991, Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Quinn, Daniel, Ishmael: An Adventure of Mind and Spirit, 1992, Bantam Turner Books, USA.

World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, 1987, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Leopold, Aldo, Sand County Almanac, 1949, Oxford University Press, New York.


James Dalkin said...


I enjoyed reading your twelve step method and learning that you will begin your personal journey to reduce your carbon footprint. It will be interesting to see if you are able to get the "number two" person to join your movement. As demonstrated in class that second person may be the most influential to allow your movement to appear safe enough for others to join. I look forward to reading how others will react as you move through the twelve steps.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie, I really like the idea of "carbon recovery". I don't often think of it as "addiction" per see, rather a situation that each of us have become accustomed to due to external factors. Having said that, the treatment for the problem could be dealt with the very same way, and I think your 12-step program could be beneficial to a lot of people. By calling it an "addiction", you also put the social stigma on the problem, which could lead to more people becoming aware that we do, as individuals, have a real problem with our carbon footprint.
Your blog made me think of an environmental writing course I took in my undergrad and Indiana University that I wanted to share with you. My professor would have us read a lot of Native American short stories. A lot of the stories focused on the confusion, anger, and emotional distress of these people when they witnessed the relentless neglect and overuse of the world by European settlers. After reading, we would come to class and the professor would have us write about something in our own lives from the point of view of the author, and share the story with the class. It was my big "wake up call" for me, and the class was often very emotional for everyone. This was the time where my personal views on things like carbon footprint and sustainability became an active part of my life. This is just one idea of a "strategy" that you could use in your program to get people to accept responsibility. It worked for me! Good luck, and I look forward to hearing more about your project!

Unknown said...

Bonnie, your idea of the 12 steps for carbon addiction recovery is very clever. The title calls for attention and attracts the reader to see what is next. This framework that you are creating reminds me of a Sustainability Operating System (SOS) as applied to an individual. I enjoyed reading your blog but it was not clear to me the scope of the carbon addiction recovery project. Are you going to have goals and leading indicators for the completion of the program? I see one of the steps in your program will be to set a baseline using the carbon footprint calculator. Perhaps that is a good place to include goals. I would like to know more about the process you used to define the 12 steps for carbon addiction recovery. Is it mostly a description of your own personal journey or you looked at other sustainability frameworks or discussed it with a set of stakeholders?
It seems that you will engage initially the local environmental organizations to which you belong and that the target audiences for intervention are heavy carbon users and climate change deniers. Will interventions be one of the steps for participants of the program? If that is the case understanding the language of the target audience can help convey the message in a way that relates to them.
Thanks for sharing.
Erica Ocampo