Campus Currents

Light on Their Feet
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Illustration by Jesse Kuh/

Afew years ago, Denise Blaha was creating climate visualization maps. The results scared her out of her researcher's seat and onto the soapbox.

"I was seeing a drastically different planet and, suddenly, my climate change work became personal," recalls Blaha, who works in UNH's Complex Systems Research Center. She began a personal campaign to shrink her family's carbon footprint. Then she took the effort on the road. She gave half a dozen talks to local groups about the relatively modest steps people can take to help save the planet.

Afterwards, she discovered other people were shocked, too. Blaha's message caught the ear of Julia Betjemann Dundorf '90, who soon joined the effort, bringing her skills in activism and networking. Eventually, these and others' efforts morphed into the New England Carbon Challenge.

So far the program has convinced more than 2,000 households to pledge carbon reductions totaling 13,500,000 pounds of CO2 for a collective savings of $1.4 million, by taking such simple steps as turning down the thermostat, sealing door and window leaks, washing clothes in cold water, switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and driving less.

Of course, even if every U.S. household changed its personal consumption habits in like fashion, global warming would not suddenly grind to a halt. But since, on average, the residential sector accounts for about 40 percent of all the emissions of heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels in the United States, the coalition's work represents a critical first step towards the eventual adoption of energy efficient homes across New Hampshire, New England and the country.

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