How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Being the change we want to see in the world - a personal approach to climate change

Gasoline, natural gas, coal and crude oil are not necessities for life. Clean water and air, shelter, food and the companionship and love of other humans and non-humans are actually what we need to survive. Unfortunately, the quest and lust for all that we do not in fact need is undermining the viability of the ecosystems that underpin that which we do. The showdown in North Dakota stands as a stark monument to this conflict, as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies have been protesting for months to save their land and water supply from the risks posed by the Dakota Access Pipeline. For now, it appears that the Standing Rock Sioux’s battle may have been won, but the war rages on with casualties mounting and no end in sight.

Alberta's Tar Sand Settling Pond and Refinery
President elect Donald Trump has vowed to remove all restriction on the development and exploitation of fossil fuels in the United States. With a Republican Congress, he will undoubtedly make good on this promise. We cannot control Trump's and Congress's actions, but collectively, humans (with a conscience about the scientific facts surrounding global climate change) can reduce the demand for fossil fuels. By reducing the demand and eliminating markets for carbon-producing products, the companies that profit from fossil fuels lose their incentive to develop new reserves. In other words, if we aren’t buying gasoline, natural gas, heating oil, plastics and other fossil fuel derivatives, building pipelines, fracking, mining tar sands, etc., will become costly and economically unfeasible.

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in Kentucky
In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report, based on thousands of peer-reviewed studies, which states that in order to keep average warming below 2°C (3.6°F), net global emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) will need to be reduced by 40 – 70% by 2050 and further reduced to zero by 2100. This scenario will stabilize CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere at 450 parts per thousand (ppt). The IPCC also reports that the consequences of average warming increases greater than 2°C would result in ocean acidification (e.g. severely reduced productivity in ocean ecosystems), sea level rise of up to seven meters, displacement of people, economic losses, increased poverty, reduced water availability, increased severe storms, coastal flooding, landslides, etc. In recent days, my beloved mountain home in Southern Appalachia burned due to a severe drought caused by climate change. Thousands of acres of forest burned, thousands of structures were destroyed and people died. Climate change is real, and it will affect all of us.

Corn Production in the Deserts of Utah
Our human lives are punctuated by activities that belch carbon dioxide into the atmosphere on a daily basis. The cozy creature comforts of home are maintained at ideal temperatures via electric heat pumps, air conditioning and oil and gas burning furnaces. Plastic packages, plastic bags, Styrofoam boxes and throw-away utensils line landfills and roadsides to satisfy an insatiable lust for convenience. Most communities have shunned the development of public transportation for the convenience of personal automobiles, complete with a vast infrastructure of roads, highways and fuel stations. While other countries invest in high-speed rail, the U.S. continues to throw billions upon billions of dollars upon an infrastructure that revels in the combustion of gasoline. Our food supply is outrageously destructive in terms of the production of GHGs. Globalization means that we enjoy blueberries and other fruits and vegetables, out of season, any time of the year, all over the world. Millions of acres of corn and soy have replaced prairie, rain forest and arid biomes in order to artificially feed cattle, crammed on feedlots that belch out methane and other GHGs in such intense concentrations that they can be smelled from miles away.

A Cattle Feed Lot in Colorado
 Climate science is settled and has been for a long time. Now we have to figure out what we are going to do to stop the catastrophic trajectory of the runaway greenhouse effect humans have unleashed upon the planet, via their opulent and short-sighted behaviors. The dramatic recommendations of the world’s leading climate scientists at the IPCC will completely undermine the fossil fuel industry and put them out of business. Given this scenario, nobody should wonder at the fossil fuel industry’s concentrated obstruction of any mitigative measures and their comprehensive campaign to spread climate change denial pseudoscience. Saving the planet will require completely disassembling the fossil fuel energy infrastructure and replacing it with something else. And, since almost every U.S. politician relies on campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, expecting our government to fix the problem is like hiring foxes to take care of the chicken coop. Sadly, most people are sitting around waiting for just such an improbable occurrence. With the election of President-elect Donald Trump and a Republican Congress, at least we are now dealing with the reality that our government will do nothing for at least four more years, so perhaps we will now be willing to take matters into our own hands.

Oil Field and Soy Production in Kansas
My personal plan is to exceed the IPCC’s recommendations for GHG reductions over the next several years. I am assuming that most other people will not do the same, so I am aiming to reduce my GHG footprint by 10% per year for the next 10 years, until my personal net footprint is zero. I will commence this exercise on January 1st, 2017, so by 2027, my lifestyle be GHG neutral. If other conscientious citizens of Earth do the same, we can single-handedly solve the climate change problem, in spite of our inept political systems.

The first steps to achieving this goal is to actually determine one's GHG footprint as follows: 
  • ·       Determine consumption of food and consumer goods (I will keep all receipts for all purchases in December and then derive an average consumption rate)
  • ·       Determine any consumption rates for other products, such as plastic bags, wood (e.g. for the fireplace) plastic utensils, food containers, etc.
  • ·       Determine a transportation footprint by keeping track of all gasoline purchased, all air miles, all public transportation miles, etc.
  • ·       Determine an electrical footprint by collating all utility bills.
  • ·       Determine any other GHG producing activities.

In January, I will attempt to reduce each of the above GHG producing activities by 10%. Some areas will be easier than others. For example, by eliminating my consumption of beef and lamb, I can easily and significantly reduce my GHG footprint for food consumption. I can also do away with (almost completely) consumption of disposable plastics. Other areas, such as my transportation footprint, will be more difficult. Conceivably, I will need to replace some of my car miles with biking and/or walking, and I will definitely have to reduce my travel activities. I will also be able to reduce my electrical footprint by improving the insulation in my 1850 Asheville home and by adding some passive heating design. I am looking forward to this great experiment and hope you will all join me. I am happy to make myself available to assist anyone interested in determining their GHG footprint and offering advice on how to reduce it. Let the resistance begin!

More Clean Air and Water, Natural Landscapes and Other Organisms Instead!