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Ashlanders challenged to lose 5,000 pounds in low-carbon diet

While some Ashlanders will be sweating to lose a few pounds in the Plan-it You health challenge, another local diet promises adherents will lose 5,000 pounds in 30 days.

That's 5,000 pounds of carbon, subtracted from dieters' carbon footprints.

Matt Sheehan, the founder of the Jackson County Sustainability Network, wants to see groups of Ashlanders meeting to follow "The Low Carbon Diet," a workbook produced by The Empowerment Institute.

Dieters determine their baseline carbon usage with an online calculator then meet weekly to report their progress and swap ideas for losing even more. The typical American household consumes 54,600 pounds of carbon a year according to the institute.

After a month of taking steps such as insulating water heaters, adjusting refrigerator temperatures and replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescents, participants will have lowered their footprint by about 5,000 pounds.

"It just seems so timely since we have a new president coming on line and there's so much talk of hope and new directions, and yet at the same time we're faced with so many challenges economically as a nation and as a state," Sheehan said. "I've heard more of a push for the individual at a grassroots level to take action steps on how we can all lower our carbon footprint."

Sheehan is working with Cynthia Salbato, creator of the local online community adventure game Plan-it You, to include pieces of the low carbon diet in the game's environmental challenge.

He also hopes to convince the mayor or the City Council to endorse the program and challenge other cities in the Rogue Valley to a yearlong competition to see who could lower their collective footprint the most.

A group meeting in Talent made up of both Ashland and Talent residents has already completed one round of the low carbon diet and is gearing up for a second session in February.

"It was just a lot of fun and it helped all of us to motivate ourselves because our national government is not responding quickly enough to this challenge," said Cynthia Care, who led the group. "It's going to be up to the citizens as well as the government."

Most of the group members were already doing several of the suggestions targeted at newcomers to green living, said Care, who eats locally, takes the bus when she can, tries not to buy new things, grows many of her own vegetables and raises chickens. Even she found new tips such as putting radiant foil behind her radiators to direct heat into the center of the room.

The biggest challenge for her was dealing with her carbon footprint from air travel, she said, but working together with friends made the process enjoyable.

"People could do it on their own as well, but in a group you have group wisdom, you have more people with good ideas coming together," she said. "It's kind of exponential learning when you have a group working on a project and it makes it more fun."

Sharon Anderson, who will need the next incarnation of the group, said meeting together gave her hope for tackling a problem as big as climate change.

"It's a very practical way to approach this big subject," she said. "It's giving you an opportunity to do something rather than just throw up your hands and say, 'It's up to the government and they're never going to do anything.' It's taking control into your own hands and seeing what you can do about it."

Sheehan hopes that attitude spreads throughout Ashland and beyond.

"If we look at the individual impact that one family has, it may not be huge, but the collective effect on the environment if you look at a community or a whole city or the Rogue Valley or the state, it could be massive," Sheehan said. "It's not just for bragging rights with your green friends."

People interested in joining can contact Cynthia Care at jardinducare@yahoo.com.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.