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September 17, 2008

Fighting Global Warming in Your Own Backyard

Five small towns show us how.


p(photo-credits). Copyrighted image from Ashton Hughes Parish Council publication.

Global climate change hits us as an overwhelming, yet distantly abstract problem. It’s worth losing sleep over, but with the cool summer we’ve had here (only a few days over 90F—a rare blessing) not too many people in Minnesota are complaining about long nights spent tossing and turning.

Because global warming seems so far away, it’s easy to set aside our concerns in favor of more pressing personal and political business. What’s more, fixing global warming doesn’t seem to have much to do with our own lives—the promising solutions come chiefly through international treaties like the next stage of the Kyoto accords and top-level policy shifts, such as the commons-based Cap-and-Dividend proposal.

These worthy goals deserve our active support, of course—but convincing billions of people around the world to undertake the inconvenient task of lowering their carbon footprint calls for something more. Saving the world motivates people far less than saving the tiny part of it they call home. People are most inspired to make change when they can see the results in their own backyard.

That’s why it’s worth taking a look at Ashton Hayes, an English village between Liverpool and Manchester, which according to E magazine (not available online) has gone as far as any place toward becoming carbon neutral. Residents got fired up by this idea when proposed by local environmentalist Garry Charnock in 2005, and since then they have made impressive strides in installing solar panels and energy efficient appliances, cutting back on driving and airline flights—which has added up to a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions according to a study by students at the University of Cheshire.

“Most people have saved money on fuel bills,” Charnock says, “and it has definitely brought the community together.”

The same spirit can be found in the aptly named town of Greensburg, Kansas, which was 95 percent leveled by a tornado in the spring of 2007. In rebuilding their town, citizens have decided to make Greensburg a model of environmental sustainability with state-of-the-art energy-efficient architecture, wind power, and a new emphasis on making the town comfortably walkable.

Meanwhile Rock Port, a small town in the far northwest corner of Missouri, is the first U.S. community to power itself solely by wind power.

Three small communities on Lake Superior in Wisconsin—Washburn, Bayfield, and Ashland—have declared themselves eco-municipalities by pledging to follow sustainable guidelines developed in Sweden.

In a different yet complementary way than Cap-and-Dividend, these towns are pioneering a commons approach to global climate disruption. Indeed, community-wide efforts to go carbon neutral could be jumpstarted by rebates on energy bills that people would see under Cap-and-Dividend proposals.

For more information on “Ashton Hayes.”:http://www.goingcarbonneutral.co.uk/

For information on Rock Port, Washburn, Ashland and Bayfield, see the “Green Guide.”:http://www.thegreenguide.com/blog/ecopol/1458