(This article appeared in the 11/27/19 issue of Tompkins Weekly.)

Inequality and the climate crisis are our community’s biggest long-term threats. It may seem utterly overwhelming to try to address them at the same time, but together we can take action and make a powerful difference.

Sustainable Tompkins is running a Seal the Cracks winter campaign that provides everyone the opportunity to tackle both problems at the same time.  They run a local carbon offset program (Finger Lakes Climate Fund) that is aimed at making sure everyone is included in a clean energy, equitable future by using offset donations to help lower-income neighbors make energy improvements.  Now, more than ever, we need to come together as a community to build resilience in the face of the climate crisis and make sure no one is left behind. By offsetting your own carbon emissions, you can help others in our community.

This winter’s carbon offset campaign is grounded in more urgency than ever. We have 10 years to get off of fossil fuels, but we must ensure that our solutions are equitable and easily accessible to lower-income community members and families. We know that to successfully and justly transition off of fossil fuels, this is the only way it’s going to work. This campaign is also based in the new era of Ithaca’s Green New Deal. The Ithaca Common Council passed the resolution this June and voted for a substantial budget and staffing earlier this month. Without a doubt, Sealing the Cracks is a Green New Deal solution for our entire region.

We know that many of the homes in this area are in need of insulation, air sealing, and new modern heating systems. We know that these efforts can be pricey, and a disproportionate burden is placed on lower income folks.  That’s where Seal the Cracks and the Finger Lakes Climate Fund comes in.

For every ton of CO2 emissions that we offset, we help folks in our community make their homes more energy efficient and take that ton of CO2 back out of the atmosphere. It’s local. It’s transparent. It’s direct. Since 2010, we’ve given out 32 grants worth $52,308 to offset 2,469 tons of CO2. These projects to air seal, insulate, and install heat pumps increase community members’ comfort and security, reduce energy bills and health issues, all while providing local jobs.  The Climate Fund has given grants to lower-income businesses, nonprofits, homeowners, and renters. Typically, these offset grants leverage about five times more investment in energy improvements by filling the gap in financing.

The goal of this winter’s Seal the Cracks campaign is to raise $12,500 to help more families in need. Offsetting is quick, easy, and affordable. For example, a flight to the West Coast can be offset for only $25, while 5000 miles of a typical car commute is about $50, and the cost to offset a month of typical NYS home energy use is only $15. 

It is super easy to make a local carbon offset: go to FingerLakesClimateFund.org and start thinking back over the past year… where did you travel and have you taken responsibility for the carbon emissions from your trips? How about your business or your home? (You can reach zero carbon by offsetting the remaining fossil fuel use in your buildings.)

Right now, our offset dollars are going further than ever. Partnering with HeatSmart Tompkins and NYSERDA, Sustainable Tompkins can now offer an extra $2,000 to income-eligible families to change out old furnaces and boilers to high-efficiency heat pumps. Income-eligible applicants can also get extensive subsidies through our local offset grants, plus incentives from NYSEG and NYSERDA. Pooling this extra support means we can help lower-income residents be in the vanguard of the move to clean energy. There hasn’t been a better time to do your part in offsetting your emissions to increase this accessibility. 

For example, one of our more recent Climate Fund grant awards went to Adrienne Cook in the Town of Ithaca. Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance offset their event travel for $109, which became part of a $2,200 grant to install high performance air source heat pumps. Her new heat pumps not only heat and cool her home, but also provide hot water. This spring, she had solar panels installed on her roof. Now, she has a fully zero carbon home – all on a limited budget. None of this would have happened without our community doing its part. In this way, Adrienne could afford to do this necessary work and quickly said goodbye to almost $3000/yr in heating bills from her old fuel oil boiler!

The Climate Fund needs your ongoing support and offsets to continue helping folks in the Finger Lakes Region with more local carbon offset grants. So remember! Offset any travel emissions associated with your Thanksgiving and Winter holidays – whether you were the host or the guest! While you’re at it, why not offset any other travel you did in 2019? Please also urge your favorite business to take responsibility for their greenhouse gas emissions this year.

Let’s Seal the Cracks and reach our $12,500 goal during this Seal the Cracks campaign to offset another 500 tons of emissions and help at least six more families get climate resilient.