Alan Eccleston of Hadley comes up with idea for voluntary carbon tax which gains momentum

Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2015

LEVERETT — It dawned on Alan Eccleston as he was silently worshipping at the Mount Toby Friends Quaker Meeting one day that if the government is not willing to tackle carbon-induced global warming, why can’t people impose a carbon tax on themselves?

“There are things we can do now. We don’t have to wait for the government,” said the organizational development consultant from Hadley. “There’s general agreement that a carbon tax is necessary to make the systemic change that would make a worldwide and planetwide difference. Yet there’s no government willing to move ahead on this.”

But Eccleston said he realized, “There’s no reason why we can’t withhold money and have our own tax, and focus on what has to change in our own lives and across the board. By doing that, we align ourselves with our deepest values and where we want the world to go.”

Out of his own spiritual calling, Eccleston was able to convince several other members of the Quaker meeting to take action despite the world’s inertia and to organize not only a Mount Toby group, but also a website — — that’s helped spread the idea to others as well.

Now Quakers at the Northampton Friends Meeting as well as the Amherst Unitarian Society are participating, as well as the Beacon Hill and Hartford and Storrs, Connecticut, Friends Quaker groups.

The Leverett group’s Climate Witness Committee selects a beneficiary to receive the carbon tax money every three months and tallies the total of 15 members’ voluntary pledges — based on electricity, heating or transportation fuel used, or a lump sum.

As of Dec. 31, 2014, 40 people in six groups had made over $6,500 in donations to organizations like or Citizens Climate Lobby, according to Eccleston’s site.

Some of the contributions have gone to Peoples’ Action for Clean Energy, Interfaith Power and Light, the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network, Habitat for Humanity and even planting trees on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Eccleston has also presented the idea to the national organization, Quaker Earthcare Witness, as well as to Connecticut Valley Quarterly Meeting, representing other western Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut gatherings of Quakers, some of which are also working on setting up the voluntary program, also possibly presenting it to the New England Yearly Meeting in August.

Although the Climate Consciousness Group at Mount Toby had been considering the crisis and ways of addressing it, Eccleston said there was no “last straw” that convinced him a voluntary tax was needed.

“That’s the problem,” he said. “Things keep getting gradually worse, like the frog in hot water that keeps getting hotter and hotter until it dies. Climate change is a very long-range problem, and it’s very hard for people to focus on something that may take 10, or 30, or 50 years to realize in its most dire consequences.

“People are aware of it but also aware that as an individual, it’s very difficult to do something you’re confident will make a difference. By joining with others in a voluntary carbon tax, you start to unite as a body of people, however small, that’s addressing a problem that’s immense, far-reaching and long-range.”

Eccleston said a collaborative group of consultants he belongs to has also agreed to take part, as well as several individuals who have made pledges on the website to contribute. The site has pledge forms people can fill out and a calculator to use in calculating energy use.

“I’m very encouraged,” he said of the effort.

At Mount Toby, the voluntary effort over nearly two years has been in the $4,300 range for installing more energy-efficient windows at the Leverett meetinghouse, as well as for Quaker Earthcare Witness, the All Things Local cooperative store in Amherst and a Habitat for Humanity home-weatherization initiative.

“None of us is going to change it by ourselves,” said Mary Link of Ashfield, a Mount Toby member who contributes to the fund. “But each drop of water — or to use Pete Seeger’s metaphor, each spoonful of sand — eventually adds up. Doing it also helps me pay attention to my energy use. It’s like counting calories — you start paying attention, and you wind up paying attention in a different way.”

The Canadian province of British Columbia has had a formal carbon tax since 2008, and Massachusetts has been considering legislation filed by Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, to do the same.

But Eccleston said the voluntary self-tax is a start. “We keep track ourselves, and give to the organizations we feel are working to actively mitigate the problem,” he added.

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