In 2009 Wayne Sentman initiated a novel CO2 offset program for the San Francisco based non-profit marine conservation organization, Oceanic Society. Wayne worked to form a partnership between Oceanic Society, a Boston Public School (Warren Prescott School), and a Harvard University, graduate student founded education non-profit, Quen.ch. The basic premise of this 2009 pilot project was to have students voluntarily pledge to not eat red meat for various time periods helping offset the carbon footprint of a selected Oceanic Society expeditions.
This project helped participating students understand sources of CO2 and how it contributes to the idea of global climate change. Students participated in examining ways that their own behaviors contribute to this issue. Through Wayne’s efforts, Oceanic Society has developed this project to utilize commitments from the students to make temporary changes in their CO2 producing behaviors as a way to offset ecotourists CO2 footprints related to air travel.
Through their participation, students also learned about the specific marine conservation projects they supported, by having Wayne (Oceanic’s biologist) visit the classroom beforehand, and after, the project completion. Additionally Wayne (along with the collaborators) used modern technologies to engage the participating students through SKYPE to have real time Internet connections to the classroom from the field sites allowing for interactive question and answer sessions.
This Pilot program initially started with 50 5th grade science students and eventually went on to include 60 additional 6th and 7th grade classes as well as the school’s “Green Team”. The students participating managed to recruit family members (and in one case a family cat) to also participate. In all over 400 students and family members pledge to “give up” red meat for defined time periods resulting in over 15,000-lbs of CO2 being offset.
Through the collaboration efforts this project also had the students create blogs about their experiences, and present them in public forums at the Massachusetts General Hospitals “Be Healthy Family Fair” and the New England Aquarium’s “World Oceans Day” family event. Also in December of 2009 raw foods expert Jenna Norwood was moved by the student’s efforts and came to the school to give a “Green” smoothie demonstration to the students and families. Even the food servers at the participating school pledged to give up red meat and independently developed meat free alternatives to the school lunches during the weeks of the pledges.
The student’s pledges helped to offset the CO2 generated by three different Oceanic research projects and ecotourism trips. One to Palau to study coral reefs and learn about shark conservation efforts, another to Belize with National Geographic explorer, Sylvia Earle, and another to Midway Atoll to study green sea turtle populations. In Belize and Midway Atoll Wayne was able to SKYPE live from the field to let the students see firsthand the projects that were being carried out with their support. At Midway students viewing the SKYPE session were treated to the sounds of more than 70,000 Laysan albatross chicks in the background, in Belize they learned about what we were eating at the field station from the local Belizian chef, Wanda.
The collaborative aspect of this project also allowed for experts from Harvard to come visit the classes at Warren Prescott School and helped to develop lessons plans for the teachers based on student feedback. This helped it to go beyond a simple sacrifice of red meat to benefit world traveling ecotourists and wildlife researchers. Talks were given throughout the year to the classes about where CO2 comes from, exploring alternative food choices to factory produced red meat, explaining concepts introduced from the field SKYPE sessions (marine debris, watersheds, CO2 impacts on coral reefs), and local organic farming efforts. Students also were given a tour of Harvard’s green buildings, recycling projects, and community organic garden during the project.
Wayne’s efforts at getting students to pledge to temporarily modify dietary preferences away from red meat is a novel way to initiate an ecotourist carbon offset program. Successfully implemented in the coming years, involving more schools from across the globe, this program will have long-term impacts related to personal CO2 footprints and offer widespread educational opportunities about the hidden CO2 costs of beef production.
Currently very few environmental campaigns focused on greenhouse gas reduction carry an “eat less meat message.” One meaningful outcome of this novel offset program will be to make this message more visible especially among younger individuals. Finally connecting these student’s efforts (through in-class lectures and web based technologies) to an international ecotourism organization (and community) helps students from an inner city environment connect to nature in unique ways. Their participation was rewarded with experiential based learning opportunities that had never been available to them, this developed their awareness of how they could participate in worldwide conservation efforts and connect to a global community right in their own backyard.