University of Vermont

University Communications

Cutting the Carbon

Release Date: 03-03-2009

Author: Thomas James Weaver
Email: Thomas.Weaver@uvm.edu
Phone: 802/656-7996 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Carbonrally map

This Google map from Carbonrally.com shows the geographical distribution of the 16,475 rallyers who have reduced CO2 emissions by more than 1,913.46 tons to date, an amount equal to turning off the electricity of 1,872 homes for about one month, according to the site. (Map courtesy of Carbonrally.com)

Some of the citizens of Canyon, Texas, are recycling their old cell phones, swearing off meat two days a week, and spurning bottled beverages. In Watertown, South Dakota, a circle of residents are composting kitchen waste and clippings, and cutting down on idling the car. In Levittown, Pennsylvania, people are airing up the tires at the gas station, walking into Starbucks with their own reusable cups, and drying their sheets on the line.

Taken individually, all of these good, green habits knock carbon emissions back a notch. Taken as a whole, and linked with efforts by thousands more of the like-minded, they keep tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The reach and power of many is plainly seen on Carbonrally.com's Google map, which presents a sea-to-shining-sea portrait of collective commitment — zip code by zip code, green bar graphs display the pounds of CO2 being spared. Though the site is just months old, 16,470 rallyers have reduced more than 1,913 tons to date.

Carbonrally.com is the brainchild of Jason Karas '89, a graduate of UVM's Environmental Program, who saw an opportunity to use the social networking power of the Internet to slow global warming. In 2007, he made the leap from working in the mobile telecommunications industry to starting up the Carbonrally initiative. "There are some serious issues that we're dealing with as a society, and the mass market is waking up to this," Karas says. "We saw a need for some real tools that everyday people can use."

"Small actions. Big impact." is Carbonrally's tagline and it's an ethic that shapes the challenges at the heart of the site. As rallyers accept a challenge, a new habit that will shrink their footprint, the efforts are made real by estimates of the pounds of C02 reduced. (Recycling that cell saves 94.1 pounds; composting yields 30 pounds of savings in a month; just saying no to meat two days a week, 13.2 pounds.)

Competition, Karas notes, is also key to Carbonrally. Some rallyers unite in teams by workplace, school, or other affiliations, and as the effort has spread virally, teams have shown up in unexpected places. Musician Otep Shamaya, with 943 members rallied on "OTEP's Green Team," is a Carbonrally force. When NBC put up a $10,000 prize to back campus eco initiatives, supporters of Notre Dame and Syracuse set aside the football long enough to compete in Carbonrally challenges. Turning out nearly two thousand new members last fall, the Irish prevailed. Combined, the two universities eliminated eighty-five tons of CO2.

Last September, Carbonrally moved in a new direction when it linked with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to create a statewide challenge putting schools in competition with one another. The partnership was sparked when Doug Kievit-Kylar G'90, pollution prevention planner in the agency, read a Time Magazine article about Carbonrally and contacted Karas at his Boston-based headquarters. It was a natural fit as the state looked to build environmental education efforts.

It's been a whirlwind start-up for Karas, particularly during the period when he still had his day job, a three-year-old at home, a new daughter on the way, and was working late at night to get Carbonrally off the ground. "I definitely had limited sleep last spring, but when it's something you're really excited about, you don't feel tired," Karas says. He adds that lots of coffee — reusable cup, 1.25 pounds CO2 reduction per week — also helps.

Read more about the Vermont School Carbon Challenge.

Editor's Note:

This article originally appeared in the winter 2009 issue of Vermont Quarterly Magazine. The full issue is available online. Print copies may be requested from University Communications, (802) 656-2005, or via e-mail, tweaver@uvm.edu.