Church of Sweden man sought to reduce carbon footprint

Joakim Book Jonnson says using his bicycle and buying locally grown food were two of the best ways to reduce his carbon footprint. Photo: Joakim Book Jonnson
Joakim Book Jonnson says using his bicycle and buying locally grown food were two of the best ways to reduce his carbon footprint. Photo: Joakim Book Jonnson
Published August 16, 2012

Joakim Book Jonnson, a salesman for a security company and a member of the Church of Sweden, transformed his urban commuter life when he decided to leave, at least temporarily, no ecological footprint.

Simply put, he gave up emissions for Lent. Jonnson, who lives in Molnlycke, a town near Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden, managed to live in the spring of 2012 for 46 days with 80-90 percent reduced emissions, according to a news release from the World Council of Churches (WCC).

At times, he admitted, his project – called “40 Days – No Emissions” – made him furious.

“For the love of God, I wanted to give up! I spent hours, days, weeks being furious for all sorts of things: plastic wrappings around vegetables, people driving cars, my roommate leaving the lights on,” he said in an interview. Sometimes Book Jonnson asked himself why he was even trying.

He found his answer in the people around him — friends, family, even perfect strangers — who offered a surprising number of emissions-reducing solutions.

“To my great surprise, friends, strangers, teachers, parents and family all told me tip after tip of what to eat, how to wash, how to live. There seemed not to be enough problems to deal with all the solutions, proving once again that we already know what to do,” he said.

Book Jonnson said that he never would have launched his project without the support of his peers at Youth for Eco-Justice, a 2011 event planned jointly by the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

“If it wasn’t for the inspiration, meeting all those bright people who knew so much more about climate change, about sustainability, about biodiversity than I did, I would never, ever dream of starting anything like 40 Days,” he said.

Since then, Book Jonnson has, in turn, spread the word of his emissions-reducing solutions to as many people as possible, both in person and through a blog he kept that recounted his experience.

“I’ve had the opportunity of speaking to so many people about these ideas,” he said. “I even visited an international conference within the Youth Chapters of Church of Sweden. A couple of times every week, new people called me, sent me a message, or commented on the blog, telling me what a good inspiration I became for them, how weird the world works and how easily it could be changed.”

Ultimately his project changed the way he thinks about reduced emissions. “After a while, I realized that the most difficult part was accepting that I’m only responsible for my own emissions. I can’t go around blaming everyone else for theirs,” he said. “I have to reduce mine, and be happy with it. After all, I started the project in order to be a role model for how a sustainable life could look like. Blaming everyone else certainly isn’t part of it.”

The WCC is an ecumenical fellowship that brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries. It works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.


Four emission-reducing tips learned from “40 Days – No Emissions”

1. Buy locally grown food. This is the most visible lifestyle change that stuck with Book Jonnson after his 40 days were over. “I don’t hesitate paying a higher price to get locally produced food anymore. In the end, it’s all worth it.”

2. Use your bicycle. Book Jonnson, who commuted via bicycle the 15 km to his workplace, acknowledged that the hills and the physical exertion posed a challenge. But he ended up – unexpectedly – valuing the extra time.  “I had 30-45 minutes of reflection each way, which I never imagined was useful and relaxing.”

3. Eschew plastic, paper and wrapping. Book Jonnson had to search some specialized stores to find food that wasn’t wrapped. Then he transferred his no-wrapping rule into the other facets of his life: “I also learned that I really don’t need a paper towel for everything, and I might as well use my cell phone for writing a few notes,” he said.

4. Keep company with eco-conscious people. “Seeing the fighting spirits of thousands and thousands of people gave me all the inspiration I needed to pull this through,” he said. Connect with Youth for Eco-Justice on Facebook and Twitter.

(Susan Kim is a freelance writer from Laurel, Maryland.)


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