No, I don’t mean stop breathing. I mean stop being a producer of CO2. This post isn’t about how, though; it’s about why.

I had the idea a while ago to do a carbon footprint blog post to illustrate what we must do to protect ourselves, and ward off, if only in very small ways, the local effects of dangerous climate change. So this blog post is just bit about what that is, the crazy complex issues that surround it, and what is in store if we just stick our heads in the sand. And I am writing this blog post off the cuff, giving a lot of information that might better prepare you to take it in when I come back to me-and-my-house, and my biz, and why taking green action is not only awesome, it’s doable.  Get ready to activate several browser windows, save some files, and maybe 45 minutes of your time. Sorry I can’t spoon feed this, but learning is good for you and confusion makes you ask questions, right?

In 2010, I gave this presentation to a management class at McGill. It will be helpful to read as part of this blog post. It is a terse, 33 slide powerpoint that also went into transparency land, where I explained basic molecular chemistry of atmospheric gases (N2, NOx, CO, CO2, O2, O3, CH4, and then a few more complicated ones), and drew the carbon cycle straight out of a text book from 1992, the year of Rio and the Kyoto Protocol, the year where our carbon dioxide output into the atmosphere was at its last point of being able to be equally taken up again by our oceans and forests. That was at 350 parts per million – 350 molecules of CO2 per million molecules of atmospheric gasses.

Segue: There is a grassroots activist/advocacy group called 350.org doing some of the important work that needs to be done to protect this beautiful blue and green planet of ours, and the atmosphere it breathes. The Climate Reality Project and the Rocky Mountain Institute are two other strong workers on this issue; the Climate Reality Project is focusing on getting carbon pollution reduced and eliminated in various ways, including the no-brainer market mechanism of putting a price on it (I particularly like that they want to protect snow, one of my favourite things, and that they shame climate deniers). RMI focuses its efforts on new energy and energy efficiency. Two of RMI’s founders, Amory and Hunter Lovins, contributed (I believe, perhaps they were just cited many times in the lengthy bibliography) to Lester Brown’s book Plan B 3.0, and presumably its predecessor, Plan B 2.0. If you want to read this book, I will gladly e-mail you a pdf for your tablet or computer; it has a license to distribute freely. 

Back to ppm: The conservative (meaning we can be Pollyannas until we get there) estimate of dangerous CO2 in the atmosphere is 450 ppm, but we are not there yet and we already see the effects that have been predicted. Moreover, CH4, NOx, and some other gases released as pollution and thawing permafrost act stronger than CO2 as greenhouse gasses. It is up to the IPCC to conclusively say, but I have read enough news that it seems plain to everyone that we have triggered the feedbacks. We don’t know how far the feedbacks will go, and they can become very, very severe. If you want to know how severe they could go, I do mention the worst-case in presentation linked above. You can also read Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer, a writer who specializes in military and international affairs. It’s the military’s job to know all about the insecurity scenarios of the world, and while the scientists of the world have been quietly freaking out for a couple of decades now, the army has been, too.

Only the billionaires rejoice, because destruction pays, and who pays better than a demoralized, angry public? Frankly, these billionaires should be liquidating their bank accounts to solve this problem. Those that don’t, deserve no mercy when disaster and the insurgency comes. Yes, I said it. That’s why they’ve already set their security up. They wouldn’t need to, if they did the right thing and fixed what they broke.

So just as one student asked when I was done giving that presentation, what is it that I, just one person can do, to help with such a monumental task?

I have two things: 1) Measure your carbon footprint and take steps to reduce it (link is to an excellent recent article on GreenBiz.com).  I will discuss this further with my next blog post. And 2) read my follow up presentation on 10 Things You Can Do, and take any or all of its recommendations to heart.

I’m sorry if your head hurts now, after that powerpoint presentation and visiting the worthy websites linked here. Mine does too, a bit.