Davis will soon slim down its carbon footprint with an environmental diet.
The city of Davis plans to reduce carbon emissions by as much as 50 percent by 2013 using do-it-yourself methods from Empowerment Institute CEO David Gershon’s “Low Carbon Diet.” The program begins in fall 2010.
Part of the city’s larger Cool Davis Initiative, the Low Carbon Diet is expected to attract the participation of 75 percent of Davis households.
“[The Cool Davis Initiative] is an effort to engage the community around carbon-saving actions, and one of those tools we’re looking to use is the Low Carbon Diet to help people make [carbon] savings within their own households,” said Mitch Sears, Davis’ sustainability director.
The City Council voted in November 2008 to take on an even greater challenge: to achieve total carbon neutrality, or absolutely zero carbon emissions, by 2050.
“[Davis will be] the first nation in the country to be carbon neutral,” Gershon said. “[It] is among the top five communities in the country prime to be a leader in climate change.”
Davis has had a history of dealing with conservation-related issues over the past 30 to 40 years, according to Sears. Davis was the first community in the country to feature bike lanes, which were established in the 1950s, and made strides in energy conservation when it rolled out the Prime Time program in 1980 to reduce peak energy usage by 20 percent.
“One of the first utility-scale solar power plants in the country is built on city property, just north of town on Pole Line road,” Sears said.
The Low Carbon Diet asks households to use an accompanying workbook to independently reduce carbon emissions through small changes in everyday routines, such as taking shorter showers to conserve water or driving less to reduce gasoline consumption. Participating households then band together in “Eco-Teams” that serve to provide a sense of camaraderie and social pressure to commit participants’ permanent involvement.
“What we needed to get people to actually follow through on their intentions was a peer-support system,” Gershon said, claiming participation is further incentivized by the “co-benefit” of building a closer-knit neighborhood. “What I’ve learned is if you create a checklist, it’s very difficult to get anyone to change their behavior.”
Gershon wants students to take part in the program as well.
“We want to engage students to do the organizing around this model,” he said, referring to the city’s attempt to enlist students to manage certain activities of the Low Carbon Diet. “UC Davis is a key part of the puzzle.”
UC Davis students already help reduce their carbon footprint on the environment. Sophomore biological sciences major Carmen Craven said she has been trying to pass on her own sense of environmental consideration to her roommates.
“If everyone just took five minutes less in the shower, that would make a big difference,” she said. “We save water by not using the dishwasher. During the summer, we keep all the windows shut.”
Others like Jenna Paul-Gin, a sophomore psychology and human development double major, feel Davis lacks certain commonsense environmental precautions.
“There’s no compost program,” Paul-Gin said. “In San Francisco we have a big compost program, but not in Davis.”
A pilot program for the carbon-reducing diet took place in Davis in October of 2008, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 5,398 pounds per household and drawing over 100 participants, according to the city of Davis website. Its success ensured another test-run in October 2009 and ultimately the continuation of the program on a much broader scale today.
In the introduction of the Low Carbon Diet workbook, Gershon writes that fossil fuel-borne carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of global warming, and that the average American household releases 55,000 pounds of carbon dioxide through its energy use every year. Contrastively, a typical household in Sweden annually generates 15,000 pounds.
YARA ELMJOUIE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.