Lesley Marcus Carlson, cofounder of Carbonfund, answers questions
With what environmental organization are you affiliated?
I am the president of Carbonfund.org.
What does your organization do?
Very simply, we make it easy and affordable for individuals or businesses to reduce their climate footprints to zero. We help people understand their impact on the climate and mitigate it by supporting energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other carbon-offset projects.
Because we are a nonprofit organization, offsetting your climate footprint through Carbonfund is also tax deductible. And at a cost of just $5.50 to offset a ton of carbon dioxide — the average person is responsible for about 10 tons a year — our prices are the lowest, by far, of any group doing what we do. Also, because we want you to reduce your footprint each year, we give energy-saving recommendations. Our hope is that each year your donation to Carbonfund will decrease as you emit less and less. Can a for-profit company say that?
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
My husband Eric is the original environmentalist in the family. His background is in energy efficiency and climate change, while mine is in public policy and democracy building. We both worked in Washington, D.C., for many years before being sent overseas to work for nonprofits in central and Eastern Europe for six years. I worked to improve civic participation in government, and Eric developed energy-efficiency and climate-change strategies, policies, and projects.
While overseas, we both saw firsthand the environmental destruction caused by years of abuse, authoritarianism, and just bad policies. We saw the science of climate change become more accurate and the effects become more apparent through higher temperatures, more severe storms, and the melting of the Antarctic ice shelf. We also saw the global community adopt Kyoto while the U.S., the world’s largest emitter by far, rejected it. And the birth of our two daughters prompted us to really do something about it.
We thought, how do you solve the problem of climate change, how do you get beyond small incremental changes — as this train is speeding toward us — to zero climate-change impact? And Carbonfund just seemed the most direct path to reducing climate change.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
Born in Kenmore, N.Y., just outside Buffalo, and I now live in Silver Spring, Md.
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
It astonishes me that in its first energy bill in years Congress has done relatively little to promote energy efficiency or renewable energy, and nothing for fuel efficiency.
Who is your environmental hero?
Amory Lovins — he has a knack for finding the value proposition in his ideas, squeezing out the costs and profits so they are both environmentally and financially profitable. He understands the world we live in.
Who is your environmental nightmare?
The oil industry. Don’t these people live in communities? Have kids? Want to pass on a better life to them? Care about the world? I have no patience for people who purposely obscure facts for their own profit. I have no issue with profit; I have a huge issue with profit at the expense of honesty, the planet, my children, and our common future.
What’s your environmental vice?
I raised my daughters in disposable diapers.
What are you reading these days?
Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety.
What’s your favorite meal?
Sarma, the Serbian version of stuffed cabbage, hands down. A friend used to make it for me and even brought some to the hospital for me when I had my baby.
What’s one thing the environmental movement is doing badly, and how could it be done better?
We are not getting the message of the enormity and interconnectedness of the climate problem out to a larger audience. We need to illustrate that severe hurricanes like Katrina, wildfires, ecosystem depletion, increased temperatures, and the melting of Greenland are all connected ecological events.
The other thing we are not doing well is showing how easy some of the solutions are. Is it really that difficult to imagine a world where 80 percent of new homes have a cost-effective solar hot-water heater? And couldn’t each family somehow survive with one car that gets 35 to 45 mpg? How about a two-cents-a-gallon gas tax to increase our energy efficiency and renewable budgets sixfold? Gas prices went up by a dollar a gallon over the last year — is two cents really going to dismantle the U.S. economy? C’mon.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
A cap on CO2 emissions and a gradual but real reduction.
What was your favorite band when you were 18? How about now?
That was 1985, so I was listening to the Eurythmics, old Police, and Genesis. I was also really into the song “Walking on Sunshine.” Now I listen to 440 (from the Dominican Republic) and Marshall Crenshaw to get me jazzed.
What’s your favorite TV show? Movie?
TV: The Vicar of Dibley, an old BBC show now in repeats. Will & Grace is my favorite current show. Movie: The Natural.
What are you happy about right now?
My little girls (ages 2 and 4) are best friends.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?