This past weekend I re-read an old issue (April 20) of the NYT Magazine I had kept around. It was their Green issue, which incidentally sparked a little controversy in that it was not in fact printed on any recycled paper. In it, Michael Pollan's "Why Bother?" essay really piqued something in me. Pollan alludes to the ending credits of Al Gore's acclaimed-enviro-doc "An Inconvenient Truth," where after 90 minutes of spelling out the sheer magnitude and urgency of the global environmental crisis, we are asked to change our light bulbs. It almost sounds like the cry of the defeated, saying "Why Bother?" The scale of the damage is so large that one individual's modest changes to his or her regime will have scantly the effect of a drop in the bucket.
Pollan goes on to challenge the idea that the only real change will come from legislation, money and policy reform. It's precisely our mirco-choices that will affect change.
"Because the climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle — of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences."
Cambridge, MA-based startup Carbonrally brings a little friendly competition to the carbon reductions effort, allowing individuals or teams to compete in weekly green challenges. The simple and specific nature of the challenges, like, "Power Shower," reducing your shower time from 8 to 6 minutes, let's you visibly measure your carbon emission reduction. That two-minute shave off your morning shower can reduce CO2 emissions by 15.3 lbs over one month. Amongst the whole Carbonrally community, 1222 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 6.42 tons by completing this challenge so far, which apparently is equal to turning off the electricity of 5 homes for about 1 month.
The social features of the Carbonrally site allow teams to complete challenges together, vying for top billing in the community's leaderboard. GOOD Magazine featured the site a few months ago, noting that Google had a few departments square off in head-to-head competition. As of now the site appears to be not only paper-free but also revenue-free, operating as it calls "a web based activism platform." Encouraging, especially given my recent post about startups needing to push themselves to find better uses for these emerging web tools. I'm encouraged, and hope this can sustain momentum (read: active users) after this "green press" wave dies down.
You can help them out by voting for the site in Time Magazine's Top 100 new web sites of 2008. Currently, they're sitting low on the list with a dismal 32 out of a possible 100. Give them a little help.