Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Solutions: A Carbon Campaign

A Proposal for Sustainable Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The author, Roy Morrison. This picture was taken in a tropical rainforest. Photo taken by his wife, Luanne Bakero

Roy Morrison. This picture was taken in a tropical rainforest. Photo taken by his wife, Luanne Bakero

By Roy Morrison

The following is a grassroots campaign to support a sustainable global carbon dioxide emissions standard of three tons of carbon dioxide per person per year.

The Proposal is a Town Meeting and City Council resolution campaign to instruct local, state and congressional representatives to support detailed community planning, action, and investment on local, state, national levels to reach a sustainable global personal carbon dioxide standard of three tons per person per year.

Globally, 21 gigatons is roughly the amount of carbon dioxide sustainably removed by natural carbon sinks in the ocean, soil, and biomass. With a global population of more than seven billion, three tons of carbon dioxide per person a year means close to a sustainable 21 gigatons of carbon a year.

The three tons per person per year goal can be pursued by a household, a neighborhood, a city, a state, a nation. A greenhouse gas audit is the first step toward liberation. The next step is developing plans for reduction, sustainability, and justice. The plan is designed to lead to local action and organizing that will pursue ecological economic growth and social justice. The essential role of government is to provide the financial tools, technical support, market, laws, regulatory rules to help every town and city to follow this ecological growth path. This is the 21st century application of thinking globally and acting locally.

Currently, the world’s people emit, on average, 4.8 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year, and the number is rising. But the average hides very uneven responsibility and the magnitude of what is required in different places. In the United States, the average is 17.0 tons carbon dioxide per person per year (2011), China’s average is 6.7, Costa Rica’s is 1, Bangladesh’s is 0.3.

Reaching the three tons of carbon dioxide per person per year standard rests on investing many trillions of dollars in the global efficient renewable energy and ecological production infrastructure. This means putting millions to work at good jobs, building sustainable communities and a prosperous future for all. If we do not do this, we are inviting ecological catastrophe and self-destruction later, and economic contraction and global depression now. Ecological global growth is about building a real economy to replace the financial bubble economy of collapse and bailouts. As many gigawatts of cost-effective renewable energy systems are phased in, for example, gigawatts of polluting fossil fuels will be phased out.

Bernie Sanders addresses a town meeting in Derry, NH. Source Wikimedia Commons

Bernie Sanders addresses a town meeting in Derry, NH. Source Wikimedia Commons

This global 21 gigatons global-emissions limit needs to be combined with ecological practices in agriculture, forestry, and aquaculture to remove more carbon from the atmosphere to achieve long term sustainability. This means sequestering carbon dioxide in soil and biomass, both on land and at sea, on a enormous scale. It also means richer soil, more sustainable food production from agriculture and aquaculture, more trees, and more sustainable forests. This is a key part of local ecological planning for three tons of carbon dioxide per person per year.

Three tons carbon per person per year is the clear goal. Where are we right now? How do we get to 3 tons and below? These are the key questions, but from an immediately practical viewpoint, we need to ask more questions. What needs to be done? What tools, capital, and new laws help us to make these changes? Local action plans means addressing questions of long term planning for ecological and social justice, for good jobs and healthy stable communities.

A global convergence on three tons person per year carbon dioxide emissions will be an expression of an ecological civilization. The planning and work for this can proceed from the household, village, city, state, and national levels. We all can participate, starting where we live. Individually and collectively humanity can become part of the solution to the ecological consequences wrought by the conduct of industrial business as usual.

Ecological global growth (EGG) is a radical reform, and uses the means at hand for ecological ends. It is the agenda for both doing good, and well for all of us. EGG is meant to act as an organizing strategy and direction for building an ecological civilization from where we are, rich or poor, undertaken with or without the blessings and support from politicians and bankers, regardless of who sits in the White House.

Why Three Tons of Carbon Dioxide per Person per Year Matters?

Vermont town hall meeting in Huntington. Source Flickr

Vermont town hall meeting in Huntington. Source Flickr

Right now most people probably have no idea of our personal, business, neighborhood, or state carbon dioxide emissions per person per year. Many people know in general terms how much energy they use at home. Most people get billed every month, usually for fossil fuel related energy purchases, unless we have our own renewable resources, like wood, or an ultra-high efficiency passive house, or our own solar and wind generation. Almost none of us has a good idea of what we emit and what changes we can make to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions.

Similarly, on a cumulative basis, we have no idea of global carbon dioxide balance, and what are the effects and consequences of specific polices. What does it mean to phase out coal in ten years or twenty? What does it mean to plant ten million of trees per year? Grabbing onto plans for 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year on all levels will begin to inject realism, discipline, and urgency to move ahead toward an ecological future and away from climate catastrophe.

Working for EEG is meant to make everyone part of the solution instead of part of the problem. There are lots of low hanging fruit. This is not just the job for individuals, but communities. The benefits are designed not just for people with money, but everyone. This is not just about shopping and new consumption patterns, but direct community action and social change.

GHG Reduction Plans and Self-Protection Plans

A local point of entry to global ecological transformation is local and regional plans for greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation and adaptation. Greenhouse gas mitigation plans are a frank admission that the affects if climate change are already upon us. The best we can do is to mitigate inevitable future consequences by reducing GHG to sustainable levels and take steps to adapt to minimize the effects of climate change. We must recognize that adaption without reducing GHG is futile. But even the best mitigation actions will not prevent inevitable increase in damage from climate change that will require adaptation to protect ourselves. As terms of art, mitigation and adaptation could have been better. Instead, we will use GHG Reduction Plans and Self-Protection Plans instead of Mitigation Plans and Adaptation Plans.

Whatever they are called, these plans are open local efforts to first understand local situation and vulnerabilities and develop opportunities for sustainable energy, economic, and social transformation.

It is the local door to a sustainable and prosperous ecological future that, by their nature, will address what the community is and what it wants to be, and therefore engage issues of social and ecological justice. What exists and what is needed and wanted locally, in sum, is the basis for helping inform and guide the development of state, national, continental, and global policy to meet the sum of local needs. This is engaged do-it-yourself local action with grassroots political implications and potential impacts far beyond. It can be an invitation for local organizing and action, for national, and global organizing.

The desperate need that inspires work for ecological change can share the same spirit as grassroots risings against all odds that motivated the Colonists who met in taverns and farmhouses and made a revolution; or those that occupied Tahir square; or Wall Street. This is spirit of “Acres of Clams” that we sang while occupying the construction site of the Seabrook nuclear plant, “Why sit home and wait for a meltdown? Come fight for your freedom and land, my friends. Come fight for your freedom and land,” written by Clamshell Alliance activist and song writer Charlie King (music from the traditional tune “Rosin the Bow.”) A non-violent global rising that starts from many local seeds is likely what is needed to move us quickly enough to prevent climate catastrophe and to prod politicians, of all stripes and flags, from good intention to action.

Assessment of Community GHG

Building Community GHG reduction and self-protection plans (or mitigation and adaptation plans) begins with an assessment of community GHG emissions along with climate change self-protection needs. Local change is at the root of the global. Dealing with fine local details is very much engaging with the thousands or things that will be the basis for measured data collection. It is also the basis for development of local plans and goals as the focus for local organizing and community economic and social development. Community plans are the basis for finance and support. This is very much global ecological economic growth in action that can engage all relevant aspects of community life.

There are about 100 global mega-cities, each with four million or more people, and in total about 10% of global population. Obviously dealing with a mega-city is quite different from a New England village of 2,000.

And large cities are collections of neighborhoods that have their own sense of community and integrity. Copenhagen is a good example of urban sustainability planning with substantial local power and input given to neighborhoods in the planning process. It is far different from the top down planning typified by the efforts of master builder Robert Moses in New York City in the mid-20th century that created monstrosities such as the Cross Bronx Expressway and urbanization at the expense of mass transit and local neighborhoods, local economies and culture.

Good execution of the plan must also be more flexible. The Dodgers left Brooklyn after their proposed new stadium site was rejected for the sake of following Moses’ plan, which called for the property to be a parking lot.

The Cholla Power Plant, near Joseph City, Arizona. Wikimedia Commons.

The Cholla Power Plant, near Joseph City, Arizona. Wikimedia Commons.

Local GHG emission profiles may differ substantially from typical direct and indirect emissions patterns determined by the IPCC. This is led by fossil fuels, which account for over three quarters GHG; agriculture, forestry, and other land uses (AFOLU) accounting for less than one quarter GHG; the balance from other GHGs such as refrigerant fluorocarbons.

The first goal is assessment and inventory of community GHG emissions, and survey of particular climate change vulnerabilities. The assessment serves as a basis for reduction and can include a wide range of economic, health, and social benefits for the community. Planning for GHG reduction and self-protection can represent a powerful impetus for the development and improvement of long range community plans and community organizing and economic development.

Community GHG assessment, reduction, and self-protection tools need to be of broader scope than institutional or industrial facility based GHG reporting. An accessible methodology is the World Resource Institute’s Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories. This is a good place to start.


This is a comprehensive tool developed for cities and considers for reporting stationary energy, transport, waste, industrial processes and product use, and AFOLU.

For self-protection, communities need to engage in a comprehensive vulnerability assessment and sensitivity analysis. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Vulnerability: Making Informed Adaptation Decisions provides broad guidance. Of direct relevance to U.S. municipal planning is the University of Washington Guidebook for Local, Regional and State Governments, Chap. 8 Conducting a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (

Important considerations include:

  • Are the systems associated with this area already able to accommodate changes in climate and to what extent? For example, what is the ability of plants and animals to respond to climate changes; are water systems designed to respond to decreases in rain by using reclaimed water resources?

  • Are there barriers to a systems ability to accommodate changes in climate? For example, do we rely on 100 year stream flow records to judge flood risks, when climate change is rapidly making these historic records no longer accurate? Are there multiple uses for our water and forest that cannot be adequately accommodated under climate change? Habitat can shift only so far up the mountain; sea walls and dikes have inherent limited ability to protect from rising water.

  • Are the systems associated with this area already stressed in ways that limit their ability to accommodate climate change? For example, an already stressed hemlock population may be unable to withstand further temperature and insect insults. An economically distressed community may have inadequate air conditioning resources and little ability to obtain them.

  • Is the rate of projected climate change likely to be faster than the adaptability of the systems in this area? This is obviously relevant to both plants and animals, and human social fabric. The speed as well as the magnitude of change is crucial.

  • Are there efforts already underway to address impacts of climate change related to systems in this planning area? We need to evaluate the efficacy of existing adaptation efforts.

Agriculture and Forestry

The aim is to develop and implement best practices for crops and land, pasture, energy, forest, and manure and fertilizer management in order to enhance productivity, soil health, sustainability and profitability. The use and integration of these programs for both GHG reduction and self-protection is clear. This includes:

  • Crop and land management: Long-term rotation of annual and perennial crops (e.g. alfalfa or grass hay), cover crops, switching from conventional to zone tillage combined with cover crops (at least 30% residue cover after planting), no-till combined with cover crops, irrigation improvements, change from annual to perennial crops and conservation set-asides.

  • Fertilizer Management: The 4R concept, right source, right time, right rate, and right placement when implemented will reduce potential emissions;

  • Manure Management: This can include composting, and use of methane digesters for farm to energy programs quite relevant to broader GHG efforts. There is methane and nitrous oxide reduction by changing the diet of ruminants. More easily digested feed and/or feed that has a high polyunsaturated fatty acid content can reduce methane emissions, as well as improving efficiency through improved grazing management, improving genetics and other practices.

  • Pasture and Grazing Management: Pasture and grazing management practices has potential to reduce agricultural GHG by increasing carbon sequestration and decreasing methane emissions. Increased carbon sequestration can be greatly improved using managed intensive rotational grazing (MIRG). According to Juan P. Alvez, of the Gund institute for Ecological Economics, at UVM, “Grazing animals emit more methane than confined ones. However, grazing (particularly MIRG) farms have lower net CO2 emissions because they do not heavily rely on grain for feed. Confined livestock feedstock requires soil tillage, cultivation, irrigation, fertilization, pesticide application, and machinery, transport, drying, packaging and delivery.”

  • Forest Management: Maximum GHG emission is from deforestation and soil disturbance. There is a wide range of good management and log impact logging practices as well as conservation easements to both increase biomass and reduce GHG.

  • Farm Energy Management: The farm represents an energy intensive sector to target for both fossil fuel reduction and the use of biomass from farming and renewables.

  • Forestry and GHG Mitigation: The millions acres of forest and representing an enormous amount of sequestered carbon and can also be the basis for a sustainable future. In 2012 there were 766 million acres of forest in the U. S. Globally there are slightly fewer than four billion hectares of forest (or 10 billion acres, with 2.47 acres per hectare). The pre-industrial world had 5.9 billion hectares. Forestry acreage loss is decreasing annually, 46 million acres in 2014, down nine percent from 2013 and down 20% compared to 2012. This is moving in the right direction, but for global survival and ecological justice we need to be replanting and caring for our forest globally as basis for sustainable lifestyles, ecosystem health and habitat. It is essential to develop clear management plans for good logging and management practices including reforestation, minimizing soil disturbance, protecting riparian areas to support increase of biomass and minimization of GHG emissions.

Tools for Meeting Renewable and Efficiency Targets

There are a wide range of tools that can be used and adapted for large scale mass implementation of renewables and efficiency. States like California, Vermont, Hawaii, New York, and now, the District of Columbia, that have strong commitments for an increasing use of efficient renewables and a reduction in carbon have a number of useful practices. These include plans such as an efficiency utility in Vermont, “Efficiency Vermont” that is able to invest in efficiency, and California’s Renewable Auction Mechanism (RAM) that uses competitively bid feed in tariffs for meeting renewable goals. But these current plans need to be expanded to assure a quick and economically beneficial efficient renewable transformation for both the rich and the poor.

These include mass retrofits for efficiency and renewables, done through competitive bidding. The technology is now being used to perform infrared scans of all buildings to identify insulation and infiltration retrofits and create a computer generated three-D map. The technology for scanning houses for Google Earth and Google Map and by cable companies for free riders can be put to socially useful purposes. Over a period of several years we can dramatically improve building envelopes, appliance efficiency, lighting, reduce water use, install renewables, vehicle to house electric car charging and battery storage, air to air heat pumps and ground source heat pumps to replace all fossil fuel fired boilers and furnaces.

This can be financed in a number of ways including creative use of existing or new utilities. For example, instead of investment in power plants to be added to the rate base, the old utility model before retail competition, a 21st century could be allowed to invest in efficiency and renewables, and put that into the rate base after fair competitive bidding . Or the utility could be limited to distribution only and be required to purchase a combination of distributed renewables and efficiency either from renewable or efficiency companies, or as a bundled power – efficiency product. Amory Lovins’ plans for buying and selling efficiency “negawatts” are quite applicable. There is already a strong Energy Performance contracting industry globally that can become an active partner in developing mass efficiency and renewable retrofits.

Alternatively, large scale renewable purchases can easily be financed through the use of renewable energy hedge finance agreements between renewable developer and energy users. I designed, with my associate Pentti Aalto a 6.2 megawatt renewable hedge between SNHU and the Iberdrola wind farm in New York State. The renewable hedge is based on a long term fixed price, e.g. 10 to 20 years, for energy agreed to between user and developer. The energy user gets long-term predictable prices; the developer an assured income stream. The renewable hedge is applicable on a very large scale though hedge agreements – for example, for a whole class or utility customers, or a whole town or city. No money is paid up front. Finance is done by banks or finance institutions, public or private. There is little risk, and interest rates should be low.

The whole city hedge using distributed renewables and efficiency eliminates the basic risk of renewable pricing based on far way markets. This type of hedge could be structured to be closer to the fixed bid price of the RAM in California for feed in tariffs. The experience of an efficient renewable world is free of the wildly fluctuating prices based on varying prices of fossil fuels on the margin. We would pay affordable and relatively fixed costs with energy used much more efficiently.

Municipalities can be a logical basis variously for mass efficient-renewable energy hedges, energy purchases from efficient renewable energy providers, and development of public power renewable-efficiency companies. I wrote the first draft of the New Hampshire’s law authorizing municipal aggregation for electric utility retail competition, the first such law in the nation. The NH law should be changed to be an opt-out, as opposed to the opt-in basis that limited its use in NH. This concept with opt-out clauses is now increasingly used in several states such as MA, to facilitate purchase of electric energy for all municipal residents in an opt-out basis. It can be used now for the mass purchase of efficient renewables.

This can be undertaken on any level from one building to a town, a state, or a nation. Please share with relevant activists and politicians.

The author is ready, willing, and able to discuss, answer questions, and attend meetings for those interested in organizing.

Roy Morrison’s latest book, Sustainability Sutra will be published by Select Books in NY in March 2017. He is working on solar farm development with Greater Boston Capital Partners. You can reach him at, 603-496-4260

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