Hey you. Yes, I mean you. No, I don’t mean stop breathing. I mean stop being a net producer of carbon dioxide. This post doesn’t say a lot about how; first, it’s about why.
This post is about the complex issues surrounding climate change, and what’s in store if we just ignore the talk and the warning signs. Also, I’m writing this blog post off the cuff, giving a lot of information that might better prepare you to take it all in when I keep talking about taking action at your home. Because taking action on climate change, as is not only awesome, it’s doable – by YOU. Even though it’s an overwhelming issue.
In 2010, I gave this presentation on the Economics of Climate Change to a management class at McGill. (It will be helpful to scan through as part of this blog post.) It’s a 33-slide PowerPoint where I also went into using transparencies to show the basic molecular chemistry of atmospheric gases (N2, NOx, CO, CO2, O2, O3, CH4, and a few more complicated ones). I drew a graphic of the carbon cycle taken out of a text book from 1992 – the year of the conference in 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 when the world’s atmospheric carbon was at 350 parts per million (ppm) – 350 molecules of CO2 per million molecules of atmospheric gasses. In fact, there’s a grassroots activist/advocacy group called 350.org doing some of the advocacy work needed to protect this beautiful blue and green planet of ours, for the atmosphere it breathes.
The Climate Reality Project and the Rocky Mountain Institute are two other organizations that work on this issue. The Climate Reality Project focuses on getting carbon pollution reduced and eliminated in various ways. The presentation above discusses the necessary market mechanism of putting a price on carbon pollution, to stop it from being treated as an externality, even though climate change has a very steep cost . RMI focuses its efforts on new energy and energy efficiency. Amory and Hunter Lovins, two of RMI’s founders, were sources in Lester Brown’s book Plan B 3.0, and presumably its predecessor, Plan B 2.0. These books have a license for free distribution.
Back to ppm:
The conservative estimate of dangerous CO2 (meaning we can act like Pollyannas until we get there) in the atmosphere is 450 ppm, and we are not there yet, (checked again in 2018), except that we already see the predicted effects (ice caps melting, ice sheets calving, drought, hurricanes, floods, and war over ravaged resources). Moreover, CH4, NOx, and some other gases released as pollution and thawing permafrost act even stronger than CO2 as greenhouse gasses.
Controversial or not, it’s the IPCC’s job, to say what’s conclusively happening from a literature review of all climate science. I’ve read enough news that it seems plain to me that we have triggered the feedbacks – the changes that trigger themselves, even if we start holding back our own pollution. We don’t know how far the feedbacks will go, and the results can become very severe. If you want to know how severe they could go (I do mention a worst-case scenario in presentation linked above, 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, some billionaires rejoice because destruction pays, and who pays better than a demoralized, angry public? These billionaires should be liquidating their bank accounts to solve this problem, rather than building fortresses so they and their friends are OK.
As one student asked when I finished my presentation: What is it that I, just one person can do, to help with such a monumental task as preventing climate change?
I have two things: 1) Measure your carbon footprint and take steps to cut it. And 2) read my follow-up presentation on 10 Things You Can Do, and take its recommendations to heart.
I’m sorry if your head and heart hurt after you’ve taken in all that the presentation and links can say. So does mine.
Also published on Medium.