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The psychology of carbon reduction

Niall Anthony Murphy
Although Nature Based emission reduction projects tend to be more popular, the idea of investing in other types of projects, such as fuel switching, can seem less attractive at first glance. However, these projects also have significant co-benefits that should be considered. 
This article will provide you with a better understanding on this type of emission reduction projects. 

Not pointing blame
Sometimes carbon polluting can’t be put down to choice and behaviour, rather it is just a consequence of living a normal humble life. For example, 1 billion tons of carbon a year are released into the atmosphere from ‘burning biomass indoors.’ That is, burning wood and other fuels just for cooking.
These practices are prevalent in the developing world. In fact 2.5 billion people fully rely on burning biomass indoors for food. However, the consequence of this is that 1.5 million people a year, mainly women and children, die from respiratory diseases due to the indoor smoke being inhaled. 

The synergy of climate contributions
Projects like improved cookstoves in Africa and Latin America are simple solutions that have  many benefits. More fuel efficient stoves reduce the time and expense spent gathering fire materials, and reduces the amount of trees and other biomass used.
The benefit of improved health from less smoke produced and inhaled make these projects ideal for contributing to the development goal of gender equality as it is usually women who cook and gather the materials for burning. As a result, this solution offers them better health and more free time to engage in other economic activity to help increase their income.
People must be allowed to cook in order to eat, and this will never change. And further, people have a right to cook in order to eat, despite the carbon it produces. So cookstoves are a perfect example of reducing unavoidable carbon, while improving people’s lives.

Waste Not Vietnam
Like in many Southeast Asian countries, the population of Vietnam is rapidly expanding as it has grown from 80 million people in 2000 to 95 million people today. The rising population puts a strain on the national energy grid. The Vietnamese government has even said they expect major power shortages starting in 2021 throughout the country. This will particularly impact the rural poor, as electricity is directed to cities and industrial activity.
Vietnam’s economic growth has led to an increased consumption of meat. At any given time there are 26 million pigs in Vietnam to service this rising demand, generating a lot of notoriously damaging and dangerous waste. This waste degrades into methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
By turning to Biogas some of the unfavorable consequences of pig waste can be turned into something positive. As a result, converting pig waste to electricity helps address a number of problems: the uncertain future electrical supply for rural communities, the costs associated with conventional electricity, and the environmental nuisance and hazard of pig waste.
But it’s also important to note that just like the cookstoves project there are ancillary benefits. Less money spent on electricity means more money for other things. Also, locally created energy creates local jobs and local knowledge for the alternative energy industry.

The psychology of choice
The temptation to invest in emission reduction projects like forest planting, which capture existing carbon, rather than reduce the carbon produced in everyday life, may be more attractive. Perhaps it is more psychologically satisfying to invest in something that doesn’t have to be justified through facts and data, and is easier to explain to others.
But facts don’t lie. As people will continue to cook and will continue to eat meat, which will produce unavoidable emissions, we need innovative solutions to address these vital activities. As mentioned through the projects above, addressing and decreasing emission sources are not only crucial to tackle climate change, but also result in co-benefits that support the lives and development of local developing communities. Understanding the benefits of these projects is crucial in making them as attractive Nature Based Solution projects. 
Article written by Niall Anthony Murphy