What do we mean by “Zero Carbon”? Ultimately, it means living individually and collectively in a way that returns the earth back to the atmospheric CO2 balance ideal for life. It is now economically within reach for many families to live in balance; contributing a net of zero pounds of CO2 averaged over years and our lives. More compelling is the big picture. A rapid conversion to 100% renewable energy world wide starts adding to the global economy immediately. That’s right, it is costing us more to stick with the fossil fuel industry we have, than to begin massively investing in renewable energy in all sectors of the energy economy. This points to the second (arguably more important) aspect of what we can do as individuals: Speak out and influence change in our private and public (government) arenas.
Clearly, we can’t do without carbon (symbol, ‘C’), as it is the basis of organic chemistry, and all life (organisms) on Earth. We need carbon, but we have a complicated relationship with it; in particular, with its ability to burn (combine with oxygen) and release heat. There is no question that burning carbon (fossil fuels) has been an essential component of human industry and production, but it comes with significant downsides, and, we have failed to act on the knowledge of these downsides that we have had in our possession for decades.
Carbon is recycled on the surface of the Earth by the biosphere; literally, the living coating of the earth in the oceans, soils and the atmosphere. This natural process began as long ago as 4 billion years (the earth is about 4.6 billion years old). This recycling process is a finely balanced one, with hundreds to thousands of macro processes all contributing to keep the surface at the average temperature that humans evolved to thrive in.
For the vast majority of our species’ history, we lived like other species, with comparable impact on the biosphere. But, this was destined to end; the industrial revolution brought a step-function change in human impact on the biosphere. Starting in the 18th century, human development increased dramatically; driven by the burning of first coal, and then petroleum. These fossil fuels had been sequestered by the biosphere and literally buried away from the living world for millions of years. (They are called fossil fuels because they are the remnants of living matter from ancient times.) It is this sequestration that produced the carbon balance average of about 280 parts per million (ppm) over the last million years, leading to a perfect climate for humans and other complex life.
Today, NOAA (the United States’, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) acknowledges: “The global average atmospheric carbon dioxide in 2018 was 407.4 parts per million (ppm for short), with a range of uncertainty of plus or minus 0.1 ppm.” and, “…the last time the atmospheric CO2 amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago, when temperature was 2°–3°C (3.6°–5.4°F) higher than during the pre-industrial era, and sea level was 15–25 meters (50–80 feet) higher than today.” A Google search for “human impact on carbon cycle” produces ample additional references establishing human fossil fuel use to this carbon increase. This article, “The Simple Proof of Man-Made Global Warming” (also a podcast), provides the simple, high school science explanation in two basic chemistry facts that removes any question of our responsibility for the jump in atmospheric CO2 from 280 to over 400 PPM (and climbing) that we see today.
So, what should be our response? Ideally (from a Western consumer perspective), we could vote with our wallets and buy low, zero, or net-negative carbon products. But this assumes that producers of all types of energy products have a level playing field. The reality is that we are subsidizing fossil fuel production and consumption with public tax revenues. And, this wealth transfer from working people to billion dollar corporations is dwarfed by the external costs in public health and infrastructure produced by fossil fuel consumption, which are not reflected in market prices. The message that the consumer is responsible, rings hollow in the light of these major market distortions. Yet, we do have great choices, and the personal economics, even in the presence of large, public fossil fuel handouts, can still be compelling. Ultimately, there’s a great sense of satisfaction in taking control of a large fraction of your carbon footprint. This site is here to help you do that in a way that’s right for you.