In September 2019, Threads of Life became carbon neutral, purchasing our 2019 electricity from a small hydro generator in Sumatra and offsetting our 2019 fieldwork air travel emissions through a community small hydro generator in China. Going beyond carbon neutral, we have offset 200% of our emissions in line with bringing atmospheric CO2 levels back to the 350 parts per million that science estimates we need to achieve by 2100.
The weavers Threads of Life works with are on the front line of climate change. If we are to honour our commitment to support culture, livelihoods and the environment for these people, then Threads of Life must do what it can to address climate change.
Be they in the savannah woodlands of southeast Indonesia, or the forests of Sulawesi and Kalimantan, the weavers we work with are feeling the direct negative impacts of a warming climate. In southeast Indonesia, where rainfall is decreasing and becoming less predictable, food security is imperilled. Research into the potential impacts of climate change for the region make for sobering reading. A WWF paper (1) estimates up to 0.3C of warming per decade, 15% decline in rainfall across southern islands, and a 30-day delay in the monsoon after a 75% decrease in rainfall during the preceding dry season. And these predictions were made in 2007; most scenarios have been revised for the worse since then.
The website for the September 2019 Climate Strike says, “The climate crisis is an emergency – we want everyone to start acting like it. We demand climate justice for everyone. Our hotter planet is already hurting millions of people. If we don’t act now to transition fairly and swiftly away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy for all, the injustice of the climate crisis will only get worse. We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart.” (2)
In parallel to this, the demands of the ongoing Extinction Rebellion protests (3) are threefold: tell the truth about climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025, and move beyond politics to make decisions on climate and ecological justice through a Citizens’ Assembly. These necessarily ambitious demands are aimed at governments, but could equally apply to corporations. As a for-profit enterprise, Threads of Life takes these demands deeply to heart and is seeking to abide by their spirit.
Acting now means Threads of Life’s operations becoming net zero carbon as soon as possible. I have been working on this since March (as you can read in this blog post). Initially I researched installing solar panels, but the policies of Indonesia’s national power company make that prohibitively expensive. I looked at solar heaters for our hot water needs, but found that they use solar power only 60% the time in Ubud, the rest of the time using mains electricity. Throughout all of this I have learned more and more about carbon credits, finding that when researched properly and purchased accountably, they need not be permits to pollute (4). Certainly, offsetting is not the whole answer, and is not a substitute for carbon sequestration, but it is a worthwhile stop-gap while those answers are found.
So, as of September 2019, we are purchasing Renewable Energy Credits that effectively mean we are buying this year’s 49 Megawatt hours of electricity from a small hydro power plant in Bengkulu, Sumatra. We have also offset the 42 tons of CO2 emissions (5) from the flights we make visiting the weavers we work with across Indonesia by buying carbon credits from the Grouped Small Hydropower plant in Huóshui, China. We are doing this with SouthPole (6) as the best organisation we have yet found for addressing emissions in the global south. Having addressed by far the main sources of our operational emissions, our next step towards achieving full carbon neutrality by 2025 will be documenting and either avoiding or offsetting the fuel we use in ground transportation throughout a year, and through supporting organisations involved in the challenging work of reforestation in Indonesia.
Moving beyond politics-as-usual to embrace climate and ecological justice includes recognising that avoiding or offsetting current emissions is not enough. We need to sequester carbon too. The idea that a 1.5 Celsius temperature rise is the target has always been a political idea to which the science has been shaped (7). With 415 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere, we are already at 1 degree of temperature rise, and from bleaching reefs to melting permafrost we are seeing irreversible damage to the ecosystems upon which our survival depends. The widely quoted work of James Hansen (8) suggests that a return to less than 350 ppm by 2100 should be an initial target. To achieve this starting from 415 ppm in 2019, we must both stop further emissions and sequester a further 65 ppm in 80 years.
I have not been able to find any calculations of what this reduction over 80 years means in terms of what we have to do today. So, I have worked out my own scenario:
• Climate justice further means that those from high income countries need to sequester more than those from low income countries. This is because high income countries make up 16% of global population but generate 39% of emissions, which is 240% of their share by population (9). That is, the high income lifestyle emits 240% more than the average human lifestyle, and therefore should sequester carbon at 240% of the average rate.
• Therefore, to achieve 350 ppm by 2100, those from higher income countries need to sequester carbon at a rate of 2 ppm per year (65/80×2.4=2).
• This is the same rate as we have been increasing the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since it was last at 350 ppm in 1987.
• In summary, we need to avoid, offset and sequester at twice the rate we are emitting. Though Threads of Life works in Indonesia with low income weavers, our business certainly participates in the lifestyles of higher income countries, and so we are avoiding or offsetting 200% of our emissions.
There will certainly be other ways of coming up with an answer to this question, but what is abundantly clear is that the longer we leave it to start this process, the more emissions we will have to both avoid and sequester. To anyone who has read this far I want to say, start doing something now. These actions are costing Threads of Life just 0.5% of turnover. If we start now, it won’t cost the earth to save the earth.
(5) I calculate air travel emissions using https://www.myclimate.org