Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Proposition - Reducing our Greenhouse Gas Emissions

I have a proposition.

Since the summer, I have looked into climate change and the message that over 2000 climatologists are trying to convey. I have to tell you that the prognosis for us is terrible if we don’t do anything (or very little) to stop it. A gloomy thing to say I know and I apologize. But before you make a fast exit from this blog and pour yourself a stiff sarsaparilla - WAIT. This message is really quite positive. Just read on….

As some of you know, world diplomats have met in Montreal in December to discuss how their countries are doing (or not doing…Canada?) on the Kyoto Protocol and how to move forward.

There are many myths out there on climate change, some of which have been perpetuated by western political and business leaders, the media…and us. I have listed those myths below.

Ok, So Here’s my Proposition…I’ve spoken to several of you about climate change, and while you agree that it is happening, many of you, like me, feel a little overwhelmed by it all.

I’ve decided to make it less overwhelming and actually do something to cut my own greenhouse emissions, which overtime are considerable (North Americans each contribute upwards of 20 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. That’s 1,800 tons if one lives to 90*).

Please join me.

I want to start small and build over the years towards reducing my greenhouse gas contribution by 60% - the amount scientists say is necessary to slow down greenhouse warming (World goal: 60% by 2050). I’ll start by giving myself small tasks to do on a weekly basis.

OK ok, some of you are thinking, yeah right, fine enough for me and a few others to do this, but no one else will.

Consider this….
Do we want to be the generation that did absolutely nothing to stop climate change despite the warnings or will we be the generation that prevented a global catastrophe by beginning a quiet movement that paved the way towards sustainable living?

In fact, the movement has already begun.

Whether you are between 10 and 80, you/me are the last generations to address this problem in time before the damage becomes irreversible and massively destructive. This is a fact - according to over 2000 climatologists. You can roll your eyes at what I am writing and consume like there’s no tomorrow – but the days of endless consumption are numbered. Will you find this out the hard way?

If we don’t start, who else will? (well, some of us have already started). Besides, I have a feeling that reducing my emissions is going to save me money and enrich my life in many ways. And, I don’t want my little niece and one week year old nephew to live in a society that is slowly breaking down because the environment can no longer sustain it.

The Goal
I pledge to reduce my greenhouse emissions by 60% by January 2009. I’ll be 40 years ahead of the world goal. I invite you to join me. Tell your friends. Pass it on.

David Suzuki invites us to reduce our emissions by 10% a year. That’s 60% in six years. I think I can cut my emissions faster than that. Some of you may feel the same. Some of you may need a bit more time. Whatever works for you. Baby people steps or baby giraffe steps. Just take steps. Keep moving forward.

Email Installments
I’ll send you a short email (much shorter than this one I promise), with one or a few things to start doing over the course of the week (i.e. make sure the lights are out when not using them, pick a day when you don’t drive your car or buy produce you know you will use and not throw out, etc.). We will look at transportation, home, office and waste/recycling. There will be three stages: waste reduction, lifestyle choices and updates/forum.

I will also include a link to a site or short account on what others are doing to move forward or backward on sustainability; in the news; and. links to Canadian and American organizations that connect you to your political reps on certain issues.

Every week I will post these installments on this blog with an invitation to you to make comments on the issues raised and your experience in reducing your greenhouse emissions.

If you want to receive my weekly emails, please let me know at

Here are some myths that have been dispelled….

Climate Change continues to be debated among climatologists
Over two thousand climatologists (over 90%) have concluded that the average earth temperature (15 degrees Celsius – or 59 degrees Fahrenheit) has increased by .06 degrees Celsius in the 20th century primarily due to human activity. The temperature will continue to increase to a whopping 5 degrees C by the end of this century if we do little to reduce our greenhouse emissions.

Natural greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, water vapour) make up a small percentage of our atmosphere. They block some of the solar heat from escaping so that life on planet earth can be warm and cozy (for the most part). Without these gases, the average temperature on our planet would be -18C. Hardly beach weather.

Scientists have confirmed human activity has been primarily responsible for increasing greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. How can they tell? Through the reduction of radioactivity in carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide from the planet surface (from living and dying plants & animals) is radioactive. Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels has no radioactivity. So, increases in greenhouse gases, decreases in radioactivity. Even Watson could figure this one out…. Not only that but other human produced gases such as nitrous oxide (from fertilizers) and hydrofluorocarbons (cooling agents, aerosol) have joined the greenhouse gas soup.

There is a small group of scientists who have challenged these conclusions. They are the ones who work for corporations, like…oil and fertilizer companies for instance.

When it comes to listening to the majority of scientists who have come to a consensus on an issue (through rigorous studying and testing), or a small group who represent company interests, who are you going to believe?

I don’t mind if it gets a little warmer. Winter sucks! What difference will an increase in temperature make, anyway? Bring it on, baby!
When you take the frigid cold of our poles, the unbearable heat of our deserts and jungles and everything in between, you get an average temperature of about 15 degrees C. It’s been this way for over 400,000 years, the time when Human Sapiens Sapiens walked the earth. Yes there are fluctuations, but it has all evened out to about 15 degrees. This average temperature sustains our species and all other species (animal and vegetable) that currently call Earth home. Many of these species, which we rely on for sustenance, are highly vulnerable to change, as we are currently witnessing. There is an intricate ecological connection, a balance with which we are meddling. This balance is starting to unravel.

During the last Ice Age, the planet was about 5 degrees C cooler than it is now. If we do very little to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions now, the average temperature of our climate will increase by 5 degrees C. Ironically, some parts such as Europe may get a lot colder due to the disruption in the Atlantic conveyor belt.

Big business and cars are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases
They certainly don’t help. Households make up a fair chunk as well. We use coal and oil for electricity and heating. We send tons of waste to the landfills every year which creates methane. We eat great quantities of beef, and the beef industry is another contributor to methane – thanks to farting and burping cows. Bizarre but true. There is also a little thing called “embodied energy”, the energy it takes to make things. Most things man made have a greenhouse price tag to them.

So yes, businesses are major contributors. But they’re only creating products for us. And we are consuming them.

Addressing climate change is bad for business and will put me out of pocket
This assumption has always puzzled me. How in the world does making your business and home more energy efficient costly? Sure you may have to make an upfront investment, but the overall savings can be considerable.

Much of the problem resides in waste. Waste in electricity, fuel, food, etc. Cutting down on much of your waste will free up a lot of your money.

Yes, some companies must invest millions to pollute less and it’s up to our governments to give them incentives to do so. Our current economy also thrives on waste. How many products are built to last?

This all has to change. If it doesn’t, the economy will get a real kick in the stomach.

Think about New Orleans. The city was warned that it would not withstand a class four hurricane. It needed to secure its levees and floodgates at a cost of about $2.5 billion. Decision makers decided against it. Now they’re a cleaning up a devastated city, with thousands of people and animals dead or misplaced and with damage estimated at over $100 billion.

Because the planet is warming, we can expect stronger and more frequent hurricanes to ravage Mexico, the Caribbean and American Gulf Coast. We can also expect shortages of fresh water, increased frequency of deadly diseases, crop failure, not to mention coastal flooding (the North Pole is expected to fully melt by the end of this century. Great big pieces of Antarctica are breaking away – when Antarctica goes, so does New York City, New Orleans, Florida, much of the Netherlands, Bangladesh and other low lying areas, including Eastern Canada and my guess the delta area in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.) If you are considering buying property in these areas or thinking about a career in insurance, you may want to reconsider.

To my fellow Canadians who feel that our country isn’t in any danger, on November 11 the Toronto Star reported: “Canada is more vulnerable to climate change than any other industrialized nation but is dangerously unprepared to deal with the ‘unavoidable’ impacts, warns a study specially commissioned by Prime Minister Paul Martin.” The unpublished report was prepared by a 24 member advisory committee made up of business and labour leaders, academics, environmentalists and civic activists. Why is Canada more vulnerable? We can anticipate large-scale damage to our forests, fish and agriculture thanks to higher temperatures and less reliable precipitation. It is anticipated that large swaths of Ontario’s boreal forest are likely to die over the next century and that parts of our coastal regions will flood. Meanwhile, we are in for a water shortage crisis.

Once the great Pandora’s Box of climate change is open (and it is opening), a great big vicious circle is in danger of ensuing. Here’s one example: under the artic tundra, which has been frozen for hundreds of thousands of years, lie great stores of methane. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, many times more effective in keeping in the heat than carbon dioxide. Once the artic thaws by the end of the century, that methane will be released into our atmosphere.

We can do little about climate change if the developing world doesn’t stop polluting.
This has been the cry from Canada and the US for many years now. Ha!!

North Western countries and Australia make up 20% of the world’s population and yet consume 80% of the planet’s resources. The largest contributor by far of greenhouse gas emissions is the US, followed closely by Canada and then Australia. China and India are getting up there to. Lord only knows they’re trying.

We are the world’s biggest consumers and by consuming we burn fossil fuels. Our society is dependant on oil and coal to heat, move and get things made. We were raised with a belief that we have progressed to this point and things will only get better. Crank up the heat and throw out the cell phone that’s out of fashion and the copious food in our fridges that’s gone bad. Eat until you’re stuffed.

It is up to Canada and North America to make a real commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions and invest in clean energy sources: hydrogen-technology, and energy generated from the sun, wind and waves, not to mention geothermo. Forget about nuclear. It’s clean, until you have to find somewhere to put the radioactive waste that will thrive for hundreds of years.

The Canadian response to reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been embarrassing. Its emissions have increased by 24% since 1990 (the US’s emissions have increased by 13%). Its alternative-energy sector produces just 4.5% of Canada’s total energy production. Meanwhile, the Canadian government devotes $1.6 billion in subsidies each year to the oil industry. We are investing in something that not only heats up the planet but is drying up, and drying up fast.

Canada is behind the pact, when we have the potential to show great leadership on this. The U.S. government, while highly invested in oil, has actually directed a lot more money than Canada towards research and development in clean energy sources such as hydrogen-technology – Canada: $215 million, US: $3.8 billion, EU: $2.5 billion.

We’re screwed.
There’s still time. The planet will continue to warm, but by how much depends on us (2 degrees or 5 degrees C). Would you rather wait until it’s too late or do something now?

Much has been made of the negative consequences to our economy and way of life if we try to reduce our greenhouse gases.

What if by reducing there are positive consequences to our economy and lifestyle?

The Sierra Club of Canada also addresses some of these myths.

*from Climate Change Begins at Home, by Dave Reay – p. 154. An accessible read. Dave is himself a scientist who studies climate. AND, he actually has a sense of humour.

Also, some of my information has been taken from the No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change, The Walrus and newspaper articles as mentioned.

No comments: