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Spring 2007 Issue
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Book Review: Wind River Wilderness
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By Jim Sherwin
It's not easy being green, but carbon offsetting makes it possible.

There are times when Jim Henson, via Kermit the Frog, hits the nail on the head: it’s not easy being green. Henson’s Muppet was in no doubt attributing his chronic discontentment to the color of his amphibious skin, but in the context of an era in which people are feverishly concerned about the health of our planet, it’s an apt, albeit clichéd, summation of the difficulties of adopting new, environmentally friendly habits. The more urgent the race to reduce waste and slow global warming becomes, the more choices emerge, roadblocks appear, and questions arise. Fortunately, one tool, carbon offsetting, is as easy to do as it is effective.

Few people can completely eliminate waste. No matter how much one reduces, reuses and recycles, concessions are inevitable, and carbon offsets make it possible to compensate for the pollutants we invariably emit. If it helps to illuminate the concept, think of a cause to which you would devote your resources, such as education. Not everyone has the skills to teach, but those who don’t have the option to donate money, volunteer at a fundraiser, or organize a charity event. Likewise, the person who lives in a suburban neighborhood and cannot part with driving may buy carbon offsets. Each offset finances an environmentally sustainable project, such as wind farms or solar arrays. Supporting clean sources of energy offsets those sources that emit carbon dioxide and ultimately contribute to global warming, hence the term carbon offsetting.

NOLS invests in carbon offsets. Even though powerful environmental sustainability initiatives have reduced waste at NOLS locations worldwide, and our staff, students and instructors are contributing to our “Creating a Climate for Change” campaign with our bus sponsor Stonyfield Farm, NOLS leaves a carbon footprint that is bigger than we would like it to be. NOLS’ partnership with the Charlotte, Vermont-based green energy company NativeEnergy allows us to buy carbon offsets for the things we cannot avoid, or for the things that are more difficult and costlier to avoid than we anticipated.

NativeEnergy is not the only company that supports clean, renewable energy projects. The reasons NOLS chose to foster a relationship with them, however, are evident when speaking with NOLS grad and NativeEnergy program manager and marketing specialist Thomas Hand.

Thomas is unlike any salesman whose pitch you have endured. He fields inquiries from individuals and companies interested in reducing their carbon footprint, informs callers about carbon offsetting and global warming, and then works with clients to establish a plan for supporting alternative sources of energy.

Despite the subtle semblance of a salesman, Thomas is an educator. “Our product is helping other people reduce impact,” he explains, and teaching is the most effective way to do that. Thomas and, by extension, NativeEnergy’s commitment to progress through education is a mission that aligns perfectly with NOLS’. Thomas’ dedication to environmental education demonstrates why NOLS and NativeEnergy make a perfect match and how carbon offsets are a powerful weapon against global warming.

Although Thomas began working for Native-Energy in 2006, his passion for environmental advocacy developed in the preceding years. While attending Middlebury College, Thomas and fellow NOLS graduates Logan Duran and Lindsey Corbin traveled on the Middlebury Bio Bus, the inspiration for the veggie-powered NOLS Bus. Listening to Logan and Lindsey’s stories about NOLS and attending an information session with NOLS Admission and Marketing Director Bruce Palmer inspired Thomas to enroll on a 2003 North Cascades Mountaineering course.

It was on his course when Thomas saw the invaluable role of education in the cause to reverse the global warming trend. Working on the Bio Bus mobilized his mission, but watching his coursemates’ opinions transform over thirty days in the field demonstrated the varying levels of environmental awareness and how influential a little knowledge can be. It comes as no surprise that Thomas pursued not only a career in education, but also a career that makes clean energy simple and accessible for everyone.

NOLS operates along the same principles under which NativeEnergy operates. Student leadership, technical skill and environmental awareness fall on a very long spectrum. To bridge the gaps, instructors keep one foot firmly planted in education. It is a great unifier and the only source for growth. The successful instructor enables students, regardless of ability or confidence, to reach goals. The successful environmental advocate enables people, regardless of experience, to contribute to the fight against global warming. As NOLS and NativeEnergy continue to empower people through education, our green spaces will be safer.

To offset your carbon footprint with NativeEnergy and support NOLS sustainability projects, click here.

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