Wake Forest Rotary learns about the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group

Posted By Brad Walker

Rotary International’s newest focus, supporting the environment, and how clubs can get involved was the program topic from Karen Kendrick-Hands, a Wisconsin Rotarian who earlier addressed the District Foundation Summit in August.  Karen introduced ESRAG (Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group) as a resource for club projects related to the environment.  As she noted, “Rotary cannot effectively serve humanity if we don’t have a plan for the planet as well.” 

Earlier this year, Rotary Foundation Trustees and Rotary International unanimously approved adding this seventh focus to its six existing focus areas.  With a global population now approaching 8 billion, Foundation Trustee chair Gary C.K. Huang observed then “that it’s time for Rotary to use our collective resources to invest in a smart and efficient way to protect our environment.” Karen believes this new focus gives clubs an excellent opportunity to pursue new members, new projects, new partnerships, and new funding opportunities.  Joining ESRAG would help local clubs to pursue these goals through networking, project ideas, and other resources, she said.  

For example, one current project, the ESRAG Feral Freon Project, seeks to collect CFC refrigerants such as Freon, commonly stored in cylinders, from companies that have already agreed to sell them to Tradewater, a mission-based project which will certify and destroy the greenhouse gases, and then sell the valuable offset credits to other companies needing to meet emission standards.  

According to the project webpage, “Proper disposal of refrigerants equals eliminating 2.5 years of CO2 emissions.” Or, more visually, imagine a single 30-pound CFC canister being equal to two tanker loads of gas in terms of environmental impact. Rotary Clubs located near targeted cities can join that effort with 2-4 trained volunteers who then follow all RI protocols. 

Other doable projects focus on empowering women through  better cooking methods, promoting skills in green industries, and better health and hygiene management. A downloadable handbook with 11 themes for other Rotary activities related to World Environmental Day or other future commitments is available here

Rotary’s focus on the environment was sparked in 1990-91 by RI President Paulo V.C. Costa who set lofty goals for the organization, promoting an image of “environmental advocate” along with its well-recognized humanitarian role, Karen said.  Then, in 2017-2018, RI President Ian Risely challenged all clubs to address climate change concerns by planting at least one tree.  Trees absorb carbon dioxide which, along with methane gas and refrigerants such as those described above, is one of the foremost causes of greenhouse gases.  

Since then, some 4.7 million trees have been planted, Karen said, yet climate change problems persist, as observed by 2018-2019 RI President Barry Rassin, who openly addressed concerns at the annual convention that his Bahaman homeland will one day be washed away by rising water levels.  

Interestingly, Rotary founder Paul Harris was himself a conservationist, being a founding member of the Prairie Club, formed in 1908 to organize hikes into the countryside for inner-city residents of Chicago.  He met his wife then too!

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