The Happy Atmosphere Challenge

I have been hating climate change for over two decades. Willing it to be untrue. Sure that the scientists (one of whom I am married to) were missing something, that our beautiful, resilient planet would have some trick up its sleeve.

Reading about it, I shut down. I’m either hopelessly bored by all of the jargon or what I hear is all the things I do that are bad. Invisible gases will doom the earth and humanity and all I need to do is stop using electricity and driving. It is that simple.

It is not on one’s bucket list to be a “greedy American”. You don’t want to doom the planet or for little kids growing up on islands to be afraid they won’t have a home say, next year. But your house was built in 1940, your job is fifteen miles away, and you can’t afford a Tesla.

Plus, it seems like your feeble efforts to save 2% of your fuel by taking heavy items out of your trunk is a teardrop in the ocean of climate change and you know your neighbor doesn’t give a flip about the climate. You notice her sprinkler watering the street every morning, see her back door open all day in 95 degree heat, smell her grilling those juicy feedlot ribeyes.

Better hope that a widdly-wee machine is invented to fix the problem, if it actually turns out to be as bad as (more and more) people say it might be. It’s too big for one gal.

In the midst of this hopelessness, or denial, you might receive emails from well meaning NGOs about what you need to do. Call X to “demand” action (though I am not sure, in a democracy, that one ought to demand). Reject the big bad oil or coal companies that we oppose (yet depend on to get to work each day or to run hospital equipment). Divest — do not give your money to the bad guys. Telling stories designed to make you feel — thinking this feeling will prompt action.

But this fear and anger, guilt and sadness — these are paralyzing.

I say this because I have spent many more hours than I would have preferred reading the science, seeking to (mostly) understand it, and recognizing it is dangerous and unfair in its potential impacts. And in all this time (I wrote my first article about climate change in 1999) I have taken few steps in my personal life to decrease my ‘carbon footprint’.

I might go on Facebook and feel upset about Paris, or any other thing, might sign a petition or make a phone call. But hells teeth my house gets a slight bit less comfortable if I turn the thermostat up by two degrees. What we need is a global agreement, not my messing around with my thermostat or declining a trip to Mexico!

(The answer is too big for one gal. Of course. That is why all of the governments on the planet have been working for 24 years to come up with a solution that they could all work towards together. An approach recognizing that the wealthiest countries on Earth got to where they are in part from burning stuff and sticking gas in the air (unknowingly at first) and wanting to make sure countries who have burned less don’t remain impoverished but also don’t burn the same amount of stuff we did to get where we are.)

But back to my inaction: If I were to use one of the available “carbon calculators”, a tool to help me understand the volume of invisible gases that my family creates through different activities (driving, heating, etc.), I can come up with a number, say, 50 tons each year. Then I can take steps, large and small, to decrease this number. Maybe I work really hard and cut it in half – in half! That’s not an easy feat, but do-able. But after all that work, and expense, I am still generating 25 tons of emissions each year. After all that effort I am doing less bad. But still bad. Focusing on that number, and on decreasing it, in the end still draws my attention to what I don’t want to be doing.

It is difficult to summon the energy, the spirit, the will to act from hate, or from fear, or against something. There is a powerful surge of emotion but those emotions drive me straight into the arms of my beloved world-building, pastoral iPad games – a world of no feelings and cheap, endless serotonin and dopamine. But what I know about myself is this — that I miraculously somehow seem to find the energy to act from love, from optimism, and for something. I have not managed, in twenty years, to take substantial action to do less bad. But I have a hunch that I could take a lot of action to do more good.

So that’s the plan. And in this spirit, I have come up with a challenge for myself — and for anyone else who might also be motivated by doing more good. A moderately epic battle to support good guys everywhere. And when I finish the challenge, I will decrease my energy bills, improve my health, breathe cleaner air, have less road rage (this would be a pretty big win), support job growth, support local farmers, waste less food, educate girls (which is good for girls and boys), increase carbon in soil and forests (where we like it), drive innovation in energy, batteries, lighting, appliances, and transit, and incidentally send fewer invisible gases to the sky (details on challenge activities can be found here or downloaded below).

The challenge is meant to be played as a game – on your own, as a family, with a friend, a group, or a virtual community.

I take on this challenge accepting that doing something, taking some concrete action, may not fix the problem. Doesn’t change anyone’s mind, might not change the world, takes time to figure out, and can cost money (and save money, there is a bright side!). But doing something– in this spirit — is good for me. It directs my thought towards what is possible, what is feasible, what I can support. For me, it’s the only option.

The challenge is a work in progress that will be updated as I go. I’ll share further thoughts and resources under the Happy Atmosphere Challenge. If anyone else in this wide world decides to take the challenge, I would love to hear about it, either in the blog comments or through the contact form. Resources or tips shared via comments will improve the challenge and be added to the resource section. Corrections or different opinions are very welcome. You can subscribe to the blog to receive further details, resources, and updates for the challenge.

I am hopeful. Hopeful that there is something we don’t yet understand that will mean that all of the models run by all of the scientists don’t come to pass. Hopeful that the pace of innovation is breathtaking and people are working — this very minute — on solutions that, given our investment and support, could store carbon back in the earth by 2050 (more about the book Drawdown in future posts). And hopeful that – one month from today – I’ll (finally) be able to report on the multiple steps forward – towards the good – that have eluded me for too long.

Download the Happy Atmosphere Challenge Now!

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The Happy Atmosphere Challenge

The purpose of this challenge is to take action – in your daily life, now – to support innovation, people, and practices with an overall objective of more carbon stored on earth, less blanketing the atmosphere. It focuses on a few main areas:

   ** Support Energy Innovation and Job Creation
   ** Support Transit Innovation and Efficient Cars
   ** Support Farmers, Soil Micro-organisms, and Forests
   ** Use Stuff Up – Support the Reuse Economy, Recycling Jobs,
          Efficient Manufacturing, and Recovery of Usable Assets
   ** Support Humanity

Some areas also include a number of actions that help decrease costs. For example, if you switch your energy to 100% renewable, it will (currently) cost you more for energy. If you figure out ways to cut your energy use at home, it makes going renewable more affordable. Actions in the scoresheet are divided by ease and cost. Some actions send a signal to the market about alternatives we want, some are practices that collectively could have transformative impact, some help build awareness, and almost all reduce the volume of emissions you and your family are contributing.

The list of actions is a menu of choices, not a list of requirements. You can think of each action you take as an experiment. You might try something and realize it isn’t as tricky as you thought, and that it will save you money or help you live a healthier life. The challenge is not intended to make you feel bad about what you don’t or can’t do. We all have different life situations. If you take the challenge and score 25 points, that is 25 points of trying something.

View or Print Challenge Scoresheet

How to play

The challenge is designed to be played as a game, on your own or as part of a group. Print the scoresheet and tape it to a prominent location in your home (recommend kitchen wall or wherever you plug in your phone). A printed scoresheet is a key part of the method! For daily actions, put a hash mark in the box for each day you perform the action. For all other actions, when you earn points, write the relevant number in the right-hand column.

Anyone who plays will qualify for a badge in the following tiers: Bronze (1 – 250 points); Silver (251 – 500 points); Gold (501 points or higher). In working towards a badge you can take as long as you like.

To play as a group, invite group members, set a time period for play (suggested time is three weeks – of course this has not yet been tested) and an overall group points objective. Or set an objective and add players to the group until you think you can reach the objective! Team members contribute varying numbers of points to the team goal and support one another in taking different actions, providing resources, and celebrating success. You could consider a team ‘leader board’ to recognize those making the largest strides. Teams should identify a reward for reaching the group objective – a potluck dinner, dance party, picnic. A variation on group play is to divide the group into teams (the marketing department versus the research team) and have a contest to earn the most points.

For those with children, I am working on an abbreviated family challenge and will post soon. In the meantime, consider taping additional sheets of paper on the wall with selected actions (for example, ‘No food in trash’), explaining the goal and rationale to the kids (a sneaky way to encourage everyone to finish dinner). But please make sure there is no shaming associated with this challenge – only celebration for group success.

What actions are in the Happy Atmosphere Challenge — and why did you choose them??

The complete challenge (instructions, scoresheet, rationale) can be downloaded here:

Download the FULL Happy Atmosphere Challenge here!

In time, additional resources will be shared/linked to from this page.

Everyone who takes the challenge is encouraged to say hi to the Jenny Goodguts community and report on points earned, successes, challenges and resources. Help build a tool to do more good! If you have thoughts, suggestions, or corrections, please leave a comment or use the contact form to send a note.