This Diet Does Work
A local expert’s “Low Carbon Diet” can help you cut your CO2 output — and save money in the process
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Gershon’s book “helps people who want to do the right thing but don’t know how,” he says
It Takes a Clean Village
In 2000, Gershon was hired by the city of Portland, Oregon, to try to institute his model for carbon change. Even with such concrete instructions, Gerhson found it was still hard to get people to take action. “We discovered that people need a support system,” he says. “It’s like losing weight. You need Weight Watchers to provide support, peer pressure, and peer motivation.” A program he developed created “ecoteams” — small neighborhood groups of five to eight households — which banded together to foster environmental change literally in their own backyards.
“People were often motivated by the fact that they didn’t know their neighbors and wanted to,” he says. “To get to know them, and at the same time improve things together, was very appealing to people. We developed a simple script for neighbors to reach out to one another and invite them to their home for three reasons: to help conserve the planet’s resources for the sake of their children, to get to know each other, and to make their neighborhood healthier and safer.”
Testing this model in Portland, Gershon found that those three simple ideas motivated upwards of 85 percent of those approached to say they were interested, and about 40 percent to actually attend the meeting. “That’s a remarkable number; you never see participation that high,” Gershon says.
Even more remarkable, he found that participants were actually reducing solid waste by 40 percent, increasing water efficiency 32 percent and energy efficiency 15 percent, cutting their miles driven by 8 percent, and saving about $250 a year in the process. “It’s extremely gratifying and exciting,” he says.
Since then he has consulted with 25 U.S. cities and towns (including Portland and Bend, Oregon, as well as the Rockland County government here in the Valley), and overseas. “We now have the whole package for people and communities to take effective action,” he says. “It can help people to very systematically reduce their footprint by about 25 percent.” The book contains a section of support tools to help form an ecoteam in your neighborhood.
Now, what about Gershon’s own oversized footprint? He used some of his own principles to cut it in half. “I installed triple-pane windows, better roof insulation, a solar hot-water system, I purchase green power from the utility company, and many smaller things,” he says. “I got down to 45,000 pounds. And by purchasing carbon offsets, my home is now carbon-neutral.”
Gershon hopes that his program has reached the tipping point and will spread across the country. There is still time to save the planet, he says, but not much of it. “Will we get there? Do we have the will?” he asks. “Yes, if people understand the problem, see that a solution is available, and say to themselves, ‘If not me, then who? If not now, when?’ ”
The Top Carbon Cutters
Low Carbon Diet lists 24 areas in which you can reduce your carbon footprint.
Here are some examples:
CO2 Savings (per year, in pounds)
Cut weekly trash by one garbage can size
Maximize home energy efficiency
Reduce miles driven by 20% a year
Tune car engine regularly and keep tires fully inflated
Set thermostat at 65°F when active, 55°F at night
Practice fuel-efficient driving
What’s Your Carbon Footprint?
To calculate your own carbon footprint, and to learn more about the Low Carbon Diet program, go to www.empowermentinstitute.net/lcd