Cool JP fights climate change household by household

April 2, 2010
By

Jillian Taratunio

JP Home & Garden

Imagine a murky cloud of 25,000 pounds of carbon dioxide hovering over each household in Jamaica Plain. This greenhouse gas, among others, sits in the air for long periods of time, allowing sunlight to get in, but not out. The trapped energy causes the Earth to heat up. According to scientists, that could lead to frequent storms that resemble the nor’easter experienced here earlier this month as well as the storm this week.

In addition to damaging infrastructure, a surge in the number of severe storms would drive up insurance and health care costs. An increase in Earth’s temperature would also mean JP residents would be subject to droughts, heat waves and new diseases.
Although that future appears grim, Cool JP—a new campaign that aims to lower JP’s greenhouse gases, that is, its carbon footprint—hopes to educate residents about simple ways to reduce energy output and save money to illustrate that cutting carbon can be accomplished by changing everyday habits.

JP is one of the first neighborhoods in Boston to join Cool Mass, a campaign of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN), with the goal of reducing the community’s carbon footprint by 25 percent in three years. Cool JP has already launched a series of events, aspiring to make JP more secure, comfortable, affordable and socially engaged through energy-saving organizing and community mobilization.

Judy Kolligian, a Sheridan Street resident since 1973, hosted a Smart Energy Party, a gathering where people discuss ways to save energy in their homes, on March 4. “I combined Cool JP with my love of throwing parties,” said Kolligian, a board member of Boston Climate Action Network (BostonCAN).

About 24 people assembled at Kolligian’s house to enjoy one another’s company and to view presentations about tankless hot water heaters that diminish the amount of carbon dioxide emitted, tax rebates for energy efficient work on homes and ways to lower energy output. She said she hopes to start a group for people who want to have solar hot water units on their roofs.

Sheridan Street has been dubbed the first “Green Block,” an area where neighbors collaborate to “green” their homes. State officials have begun to invest in energy efficiency by offering businesses and residents rebates on insulation, windows and heating and cooling systems.

Viki Bok, a board member of BostonCAN, said Cool JP tries to think about green and global warming issues at the neighborhood level as “a community effort that residents can join and get the energy, momentum and knowledge of their neighbors.”

Bok estimated the carbon footprint of JP using data provided by the City of Boston, to determine that each household emits about 25,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year from electricity, oil and natural gas. “Cool JP wants to go into homes and see how they compare to the average, then work with them to bring the number down. We have not found anyone who cannot bring down their energy usage,” said Bok.

Low Carbon Living groups, a program of Cool JP, brings several households together to calculate their individual carbon footprints based on their utility bills, using the “Low Carbon Diet” workbook. They work on changing their habits, and reconvene in about three weeks to calculate how much they brought their footprints down and to propose more changes to make in the following three to six months.

Everyday habits represent about half of US residents’ carbon footprints, according to MCAN. Loie Hayes, Coordinator of BostonCAN, said Cool JP works to convey basic information to residents about ways to make lifestyle changes to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

“Taking a reusable bag to the store, or buying a large bag of chips versus 20 individually wrapped bags will generate less garbage. Garbage sitting in the dump creates methane [a greenhouse gas], so less garbage means fewer emissions,” said Hayes.

Hayes suggested switching from an incandescent light bulb to a compact fluorescent light bulb, which uses less energy and reduces carbon dioxide emissions. She also recommended checking tire pressure monthly. If it’s too low, more gas is used, meaning more carbon dioxide is emitted—and more money is spent—for every mile driven. Accelerating and breaking slowly also saves gas.

Cool JP plans to network with businesses, schools, churches and other organizations to devise plans to reduce JP’s carbon footprint.

The Home Energy Coach Program, set to launch in a few weeks, will analyze a household’s utility bills to calculate how much carbon it’s using, then “identify things people can do themselves with cheap materials that don’t require a lot of skills,” said Hayes. A training program will be developed to teach others to become Home Energy Coach Trainers. “It will be neighbor-to-neighbor outreach and visits,” said Hayes.

Volunteers can become captains of a “Green Block,” build partnerships with organizations in JP, host Smart Energy Parties, build the web site, learn to weatherize homes and calculate the carbon footprint of homes and buildings. For more information, visit www.bostoncan.org.

“We want to bring energy use down and consciousness up,” said Kolligian.