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San Francisco's Carbon Neutral Opportunity

By Jordanna Thigpen

July 20, 2006

We know that climate change (and don't say "global warming" - otherwise, someone in denial will regale you with tales of "our record-breaking cold weather last winter") is real. It has far-reaching and deadly implications. The perfect convergence - the perfect storm, if you will - of the effects of climate change has already begun. Our ship is listing badly to the right. Too late to return to port?

It is never too late. We all know, or at least are capable of learning, what we have to do on an individual level. Our world is not a $10.99 All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

But the bottom line is that even if we as individuals sacrifice and cut back and sell our cars and stop air traveling and wear natural fibers and go vegan and just take a damn breath and enjoy life, governments at all levels will still be overconsuming, with no responsibility for their roles in climate change.

Individuals, families, and organizations can currently purchase carbon offsets. What if San Francisco passed a law to mandate purchase of carbon offsets for all our municipal carbon use, to make us America's first carbon neutral city?

The average American produces 10 tons of CO2 emissions per year. 25% of the total carbon emissions come from individuals, although that figure does not include consumer goods. The process of carbon offsets is simple: one pays a fee to nonprofits like carbonfund.org, SELF, or the Carbon Neutral Company. The money goes to support renewable energy resources and projects to encourage energy efficiency.

For example, according to the UK-based Carbon Neutral Company, when I fly roundtrip to Santa Fe in August, my trip will produce .4 tons of CO2. I can choose between three separate packages to spend my approximate $10 in offsets, ranging from supporting native forests in Wales, to contributing to solar panels in Sri Lanka.

Every city department is a vociferous consumer. Everything from office supplies, MUNI routes, electric lights and HVAC, the IT systems in every building, to street construction and improvement, releases the deadly perfume of CO2. By mandating each department to purchase carbon offsets, our City could alleviate the effects of our own existence, and set the standard for municipal government everywhere.

It is a radical, and necessary act, and one which will ensure our survival.

Supervisors just passed a record-breaking $5.7 billion budget. Some argue that it was excessive, and certainly some departments are badly in need of an audit. Imagine if the audits turned up misspent funds, which could then be spent on carbon offsets? We could start out with a fraction of the department budgets spent on offsets, with the goal of becoming completely carbon neutral by 2020.

We could go even further and do as the Department on the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the UK is considering, and mandate personal carbon allowances. Too radical? Welcome to the 21st Century.

Climate change is happening. We can set the benchmark here in San Francisco if we ask our government to take proactive steps towards erasing our carbon footprints.

The world is waiting.

District 6 resident Jordanna Thigpen is an attorney, small business owner and President of the San Francisco Small Business Commission. You can usually find her at work and she doesn't get to Ocean Beach often enough. Email Jordanna at jgthigpen@gmail.com.




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