Monday, February 17, 2020

Slowing Climate Change Doesn't Have to be so Confusing!!

Some people insist that we can't put it on individuals to make the changes necessary to affect climate; we have to change industry and vote differently and all that jazz. But it's only with individual efforts to change our behaviours AND to effect industry and petition politicians, as individuals, that anything will change. Here's a rundown of everything that causes the big issues today, why it doesn't really, and why that other thing should be our focus, and why, just maybe, we really have to DO ALL THE THINGS and ALL AT ONCE if we hope to eke out an existence on this beautiful planet!!

What's everything? Here's the solution in a nutshell: As much as you can, given your own personal limited resources, try to plant trees, petition the government, vote in climate-focused politicians who aren't full of shit and who won't invade other countries, reduce car and plane travel, reduce energy usage, reduce meat eating, avoid plastic, reduce unnecessary purchases, don't think you need kids to feel complete, and spend some more time in nature. Think of the money you'll save and the benefits to your body and soul by buying less crap and walking in the park for the afternoon instead of driving to the mall! It doesn't really matter which is the best and brightest method because no one thing can be at the expense of all the others. We have to do them all as much as we can manage!!

Last summer, in Mother Jones, Jackie Flynn Mogensen wrote that we have to stop trying to get to Mars, and just "plant some damn trees"! She writes about a study that came out last year that said that expanding forests can "seriously make up for humans' toxic carbon emissions. . . . global tree restoration is 'our most effective climate change solution to date.'" And people really have taken up the tree planting including Mr. Beast, popular with the kids these days, who's planting 20 million trees!

Planting trees definitely helps, but we can't ONLY plant trees and then bask in the glory of our actions.

Erie C. Ellis, Mark Maslin, and Simon Lewis, all scientists, say that planting trees won't work and might detract us from what's really important. They say that nothing will work unless the government regulates carbon pollution:
"Planting trees would slow down the planet’s warming, but the only thing that will save us and future generations from paying a huge price in dollars, lives and damage to nature is rapid and substantial reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuels, to net zero by 2050. . . . Focusing on trees as the big solution to climate change is a dangerous diversion. Worse still, it takes attention away from those responsible for the carbon emissions that are pushing us toward disaster. . . . The only way to stop this planet from overheating is through political, economic, technological and social solutions that end the use of fossil fuels. . . . Trees do take up carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. But this uptake merely replaces carbon lost when forests were cleared in the first place, usually long ago. Regrowing forests where they once flourished can undo some damage done in the past, but even a trillion trees can’t store enough carbon to head off dramatic climate changes this century. . . . Carbon pollution from fossil fuels is the overwhelming reason global climate change is such an urgent problem. Solve this, and the need for other climate change solutions is not nearly so urgent."
So, it's all about regulation? How do we make that happen?

Dr. Mayer Hillman, a social scientists who studies trends in behaviours says nothing will work unless we all VOTE for people who will actually legislate climate initiatives.

That's true, but we can't ONLY vote. We voted in Trudeau because of his promises around climate and indigenous rights, and look how that turned out! AND in light of some cities banning single-use plastics (a big part of the problem) thanks to the work of the politicians in those jurisdictions, the plastic industry just found another way to make MORE plastic!! They're slippery buggers, that lot!
"Companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Saudi Aramco are ramping up output of plastic — which is made from oil and gas, and their byproducts — to hedge against the possibility that a serious global response to climate change might reduce demand for their fuels, analysts say. Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, now account for 14 percent of oil use, and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050. . . . There are a lot of these facilities that are in the permitting process. We’re pretty close to it all being too late. . . . Still, convenience — like consumers’ taste for eating and drinking on the go — is a big driver of plastic use in wealthy nations."
And if it's all about getting government on board, then we can do even better for the climate by decreasing the size of the U.S. military. An article in The Intercept says that waging peace must be part of any climate change strategy:
"An economic system that demanded endless growth and endless consumption was always too much to ask from a planet whose resources are finite. . . . It may not come as a surprise that the largest industrial military in the history of the world is also the single biggest polluter on the planet. A recent study from Brown University’s Costs of War project surfaced this startling fact: The U.S. Department of Defense has a larger annual carbon footprint than most countries on earth. With a sprawling network of bases and logistics networks, the U.S. military is the single biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world aside from whole nation-states themselves. . . . That massive additional burden on the planet might be justifiable were it all being done in the name of vital national security interests, but the biggest components of the U.S. military’s carbon dioxide footprint have been in wars and occupations that were almost entirely unnecessary. To put it crudely: The U.S. poisoned the planet for vanity projects. . . . The fact that fossil fuel emissions have been the major driver of climate change adds another grim irony to these wars. For decades, the heavy U.S. military footprint in the Middle East has been justified by the need to preserve access to the region’s oil reserves. The industrial extraction of those same reserves has been one of the major drivers of global carbon dioxide emissions. In other words, we have been killing, dying, and polluting to ensure our access to the same toxic resource most responsible for our climate disruption. . . . Faced with a planet that is clearly at the limits of the abuse it can take, the groundwork is still being laid for more exploitation and violence."
But, we can't ONLY focus on the military; there's that other big problem suggested above: the power that corporations have, like Amazon, to squirrel around any legislation and lobby politicians to turn a blind eye to their shenanigans. Every politician has their price:
"While Amazon is often touted for its logistical expertise and ability to optimize every part of its supply chain to make these quick shipping and delivery practices possible, the outcome isn't always efficient. According to UPS, fulfilling e-commerce orders with small delivery windows has resulted in 'more miles, fuel and emissions per delivery.' In order to meet the demands of shoppers, Amazon has started to work with a giant network of third-party couriers across the country who are able to get packages to their final destinations. Many of those companies that Amazon contracts with use large diesel trucks and vans that produce considerably more emissions than most consumer vehicles, which have become more fuel-efficient over time. Research from the University of California, Davis found that "rush deliveries" are far less efficient than standard shipping practices because drivers may end up covering longer distances to deliver items or taking fewer items in a single trip. . . . there's no denying that the company's packages are increasing the amount of waste that has to be processed one way or another. . . . Recent research suggests that the information and communication technology (ICT) business (i.e., server operators like Amazon) account for two percent of global CO2 emissions — the same amount attributed to the notoriously wasteful aviation sector."
This industry practice isn't going to stop unless people stop expecting same day delivery and stop buying SO MUCH STUFF! I am so guilty of this with books, and I'm going to dust off my library card next time I feel the urge to shop, even though that means no longer writing copious notes in the margins. It's the price we all have to pay. Making products and delivering them to us is very GHG intensive. One way to curb GHGs, then, is to buy only what's absolutely necessary. Damn the economy. Really.

Luckily, we've also got the Bezos Earth Fund offering up a cool $10 billion to fund MORE SCIENCE so we can be really sure about it all before we actually make any changes in our lives. He also wants to "explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change." He expects Amazon to be carbon neutral by 2040, and, as part of this pledge, ordered 100,000 electric delivery trucks from a company Amazon has invested in. Yup. In case you're new here, that paragraph is dripping with sarcasm.

And then there are all sorts of questionable documentaries insisting our eating habits are the number one cause of this mess (like the Game Changers and Cowspiracy and  What the Health). Eating less meat will definitely make an impact, even if it's not the highest impact. Does it need to have the most climate impact to get people to eat less meat?? We have to stop being so competitive about this and just remember that EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS. Try a hearty meatless chili tonight. It's the spices that make it yummy!

One study ranked individual actions for their effect on GHG emissions and suggests we need to focus on the top four and, specifically, target behavioural and attitudinal changes in teenagers in order to make a difference:
"We recommend four widely applicable high-impact (i.e. low emissions) actions with the potential to contribute to systemic change and substantially reduce annual personal emissions: having one fewer child (an average for developed countries of 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year), living car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoiding airplane travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight) and eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year). These actions have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies like comprehensive recycling (four times less effective than a plant-based diet) or changing household lightbulbs (eight times less). . . . It is especially important that adolescents are prepared for this shift. They still have the freedom to make large behavioural choices that will structure the rest of their lives, and must grow up accustomed to a lifestyle that approaches the 2.1 tonnes per person annual emissions budget necessary by 2050 to meet the 2 °C climate target (Girod et al 2014). Furthermore, adolescents can act as a catalyst to change their household's behaviour (Maddox et al 2011). While the cumulative emissions impact of any behaviour depends both on the magnitude of the action and its behavioural plasticity (the proportion of the public likely to adopt a given action assuming the most effective intervention (Dietz et al 2009)), the first step to understanding cumulative impact is to know the effectiveness of the action for a single person."
Steve Westlake, with a PhD in Environmental Leadership, agrees with them and argues that
"Clearly, in terms of global greenhouse gas emissions, a single person’s contribution is basically irrelevant (much like a single vote in an election). But my research, first in my masters and now as part of my PhD, has found that doing something bold like giving up flying can have a wider knock-on effect by influencing others and shifting what’s viewed as “normal”. In a survey I conducted, half of the respondents who knew someone who has given up flying because of climate change said they fly less because of this example. That alone seemed pretty impressive to me. Furthermore, around three quarters said it had changed their attitudes towards flying and climate change in some way. These effects were increased if a high-profile person had given up flying, such as an academic or someone in the public eye. In this case, around two thirds said they fly less because of this person."
But then others say that the fashion industry uses more GHGs than flying!! We have to stop buying new clothes!! BUT from a global perspective, flying is nothing - about 3% of total GHG emissions, but IF you fly, it's likely your biggest GHG contributor - bigger than everything else you did all year combined. Except, apparently, for buying clothes. Wha....?? 

Whatever! Right?!! Do all the things you can do the very best you can do them. Just actually try to DO them.

And don't make people feel like traitors because they're imperfect. We're all imperfect, we just need to, individually and collectively, try a little harder. Check out this exchange:

Bicycle Lobby bills itself as a satire site, so I wasn't really sure how to read that initial tweet. It might be suggesting that car owners are traitors, or it might be making fun of people who say things like that because it so clearly can end up driving a wedge between all the people trying to work for change. Either way, I thought it best to come clean with my own transgressions just in case. I'll sacrifice myself to be first to insist on environmentalist status while also having a car regardless the hatred I might get from any narrowly defined groups. (I also sometimes fly!)

And then the lovely Lorne, from Politics and its Discontents, responded,

I did drive north this weekend with my youngest, and it was a bit of a treacherous drive in an old beater of a car that doesn't always cooperate. It's a tiny car, at least, and amazing on gas. But I was spurred on by the thought of some fresh air and forests, and I wasn't disappointed. I exchanged the use of a car and used up some personal GHG allotment for the benefit of my mental health from being in the woods just for a little bit. We need time in nature to recharge and to remind ourself about what we're fighting for.

The car use was significantly positive enough that I don't berate myself for it. BUT some people feel the same way about taking several plane rides a year to exotic locations and buying many outfits while eating steaks, daily, on plastic trays with the heat cranked. I recognize the problem with my own argument justifying my occasional drives north. So maybe we can't do all the things, and we can't expect anyone else to, but we also can't keep on like we always have. We HAVE to do better. We have to raise the expectation for ourselves and keep our GHG tally in mind when we take advantage of all the many luxuries we have at our disposal.

What's the big deal, anyway?

I was in high school during the early Reagan years, and I was pretty sure we were all going to be nuked by the cowboy in office. In fact, I blame my druggie, drop-out years on Reagan because if there's no future, why make an effort in the present?? But then everyone backed off and things got a little safer and the future became more possible, and I sobered up and went to university. But now things are very different.

Now, as a teacher of teenagers and a mum of young adults facing this future, I don't know what to say to keep them going. Maybe it's still possible that they'll have a healthy and peaceful future, but ONLY if we can do all the things. All of us. As much as we can, whatever that ends up looking like for each of us. It's too soon to give up.

1 comment:

Owen Gray said...

Progress is always achieved in many small steps, Marie.