Rotarians battle changing climate

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Pick up a newspaper, turn on the television, or even watch a presidential debate and it won’t take long to notice that Americans are increasingly concerned about their impact on the environment.

Peter Sephton, who splits his time between a house in Northwest Woods and another in the town of Sheffield in his native England, still sees plenty of differences in the way people on either side of the Atlantic view the phenomenon of climate change.

“I know here it’s pretty controversial,” Mr. Sephton, 64, said during a presentation at an East Hampton Rotary Club meeting at Bamboo restaurant on Monday, April 14. “In Europe, it’s more accepted that it’s a problem.”

In an effort to spread awareness about climate change and help cut CO2 emissions across the world, Mr. Sephton and his wife, Christine, started the CO2 Offset Trust, a non-profit organization that funnels donations toward projects designed to combat carbon pollution, in February.

The East Hampton Rotary Club, of which Ms. Sephton is a member, is one of nine clubs in four countries that have donated $1,000 to the cause to become founding groups of the trust. Through their own connections and those of other Rotarians, Mr. and Ms. Sephton have enlisted two rotary clubs in the United States—the East Hampton club and another in Tempe, Arizona, where the couple vacations—along with four in Britain, two in Australia, and one in South Africa, to become founding members.

Since Rotarians are allowed to be in only one group, Mr. Sephton remains a member of the club in Sheffield, where the couple spends six months out of the year, and Ms. Sephton, 62, is a member of the East Hampton Rotary. The pair has lived part-time in Northwest Woods since 1998, and they returned to Sheffield last week, but plan on coming back to East Hampton later this spring.

In a phone interview on Thursday, Mr. Sephton said that getting people interested in the issue of climate change—particularly in the United States—will go a long way toward reducing CO2 emissions and their impact on the environment.

“When the U.S. embraces anything, it does it with great gusto and energy,” Mr. Sephton said. “We hope to have the trust in the right place at the right time.”

Though he is now retired, Mr Sephton used to head the regional transportation department for the town of Yorkshire, and he explained last week that he has long believed that the growth of industry would have enough of an impact on the planet to change its climate.

The new organization has seven trustees, which include Mr and Ms. Sephton and Bruce Siska, a member of the East Hampton Rotary Club, the only trustee from outside the United Kingdom.

In a phone interview on Monday, Mr. Siska said that the majority of the East Hampton Rotary Club’s 30 or so members believe in climate change and support Mr. Sephton’s goal, while three are four are skeptical about the issue—an opinion he said “is understandable.” Having been a member of the East Hampton club for 38, years, Mr. Siska said he knows that Rotary can make an important difference in cutting CO2 emissions and improving the environment.

“I think that Rotary has the manpower and personnel throughout the world to make an impact,” he said.

Mr. Siska will be traveling with the Sephtons to the Rotary International Convention in Los Angeles from June 15 to 18, where they will present the C02 Trust to other club members.

In his presentation on Monday, Mr. Siska pointed to statistics showing that 11 of the hottest years in the United Kingdom have been within the last 13 years.

Arguing that many people in the United States are more skeptical than the British about the notion that climate change is caused by humans, Mr. Sephton stressed that he was not making a political point, but wanted to convey the magnitude of the problem.

“The point is we can’t wait and say it might be human activity.” Mr. Sephton said. “It does make sense to do ?something and do it quickly, cause if we wait until 2050 and say, ‘Well, the ?scientists were right,’ it might be too late.”

The CO2 Trust currently directs the funds it raises toward two environmental projects, although Mr. Sephton said he hopes to have “hundreds” of projects in the future. For one of the projects, Mr. Sephton said, members of the Rotary Club of Harrogate, England, are sponsoring the planting of trees in the country’s Nidderdale Valley. For the second, the Rotary Club of ?Fresno, California, is donating ?integrated solar cookers to people in impoverished countries to help improve quality of life.

During his presentation, Mr. Sephton suggested that individuals donate to the trust when they travel in order to offset the carbon emissions from their trip. The trust’s website, www.co2offsettrust.org, includes a page where users can make a general calculation of the amount of carbon they are polluting from a plane flight, and it offers a suggestion for how much one should donate to help counterbalance those emissions.

Mr. Sephton also offered tips for people to have a personal impact on the environment by bringing reusable bags to the supermarket, replacing regular lightbulbs with energy saving bulbs, and speaking to elected officials or companies about taking a stronger stance on lowering carbon emissions.

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