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Why does carbon neutrality matter?


"If we don't change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3 degrees [Celsius] this century. Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency? That is why I call today on all nations worldwide to declare a climate emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached. Thirty-eight countries have already done so, recognizing the urgency and the stakes." —António Guterres, 9th Secretary-General of the United Nations

1. The entire world must achieve it soon.

The largest group of scientists ever assembled in human history is called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their mandate for the entire world is that we become carbon neutral by 2050. The stakes could not be higher.

A report commissioned by the US Army found that the US military could collapse by 2030 from all of the stresses put on it by climate change. Credible voices from the Pope to the World Bank warn the climate crisis could cause over 100 million climate refugees.

In the Midwest, we’ll experience more tropical diseases like West Nile and Zika. Researchers report we’ll experience higher temperatures, longer heat waves, more heat stroke from extreme heat, and respiratory illnesses from poor air quality.

2. It’s just the right thing to do.

Our carbon footprints have a social cost. Researchers at Stanford University found that each ton of CO2e causes $220 in damages. These damages include decreased agricultural yields, harm to human health and lower worker productivity. Low-income and minority populations pay the highest social costs of carbon. For example, according to Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, African American children are 2-3x more likely to die from asthma attacks caused by poor air quality.

And not everyone is equally responsible. 71% of the world’s emissions come from just 100 companies. The world’s richest 10% produce 50% of all global emissions. The environmental justice movement is gaining attention and support and champions these forgotten truths. Carbon Neutral Indiana agrees society needs to hold responsible those who cause the most damage. We also understand the current climate movement lacks ethnic and class diversity.

But many individuals, and organizations of varying sizes, are able and eager to clean up their own “carbon trash.” The average American household’s footprint is 40 metric tons of CO2 equivalences (mtCO2e). That means they are shifting $8,800 in damages onto others (40 tons x $220/ton). Those who become carbon neutral -- taking responsibility and cleaning up their carbon footprints -- honor the universal principle of “do no harm.”

3. It provides traction and thus positive momentum.

Research frameworks like Project Drawdown rank climate solutions by efficacy. Climate activism is scattered across these solutions -- from reducing plastic waste to installing solar power, from reducing food waste to installing electric vehicle charging stations. And on and on.

These diverse solutions are a blessing in that individuals can engage where they are most passionate. They can also be a curse, however, in that they scatter our focus and increase communication silos.

According to the IPCC, the mandate is to become carbon neutral. All of these solutions will help us get there, but carbon neutrality is the north star.

Furthermore, carbon neutrality doesn’t need to be a goal we achieve in thirty years. Parts of the world can achieve it today. First small parts like households and businesses. Then larger and larger parts like cities, states, and countries. This is how Carbon Neutral Indiana raises awareness of the global goal, shows it’s achievable, and creates positive momentum.