Tag Archives: climate change

Climate Change, Environment, Resource Conservation

If you are a regular reader of this blog you may be confused as to where I stand on climate change, the environment and conservation of resources. Perhaps I can clarify my thinking just a bit. This might be a little difficult because my normal state is confusion.

Climate change may effect the way we live.
A Guy Taking Pictures / Foter.com / CC BY

On conservation of resources, I am a hawk. One thing is certain. Many of the  natural resources we depend on for daily living are from finite, non renewable sources. Many are already becoming harder to find and as a result expensive. Prime examples are petroleum products, many metals,  water, and arable land. Another bloggers outlook.

Our stewardship of the environment requires our utmost diligence. Keeping our surroundings clean, healthy and pleasant is essential for our quality of life.This does not mean I am unwilling to accept change, whether natural or caused by human presence.

Sea levels may rise as a result of climate change
Theophilos / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

A more complicated issue is climate change, or more specifically, global warming. Do I believe global average temperatures are increasing? I definitely do, at least in the short-term (using thousands or millions of years as the terms of reference.) I do think the degree of warming is very small and still within the range of natural variation.

Do I believe human activity is the cause?

Well probably in part. Natural causes must be part of it, but our numbers are so great that the impact on our planet is profound. I think we have changed the climate profoundly on local and regional scales and probably a little globally.

A much bigger question is what the results of warming will be. Will it be harmful or beneficial. Can we effectively do something about it and do we want too.

Scientists are predicting anything from mild results to catastrophe. Alarmists such as Al Gore or David Suzuki, are virtually predicting the end of the world. I think their crystal balls are cracked.

Climate change puts coastal cities at risk.
Climate change puts coastal cities at risk.Werner Kunz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

A scientist can safely predict outcomes when they have past observations or positive experimental results for reference. For example it is pretty safe to say the world will end as a charred ball when our sun expands in a few billion years. An astronomer can look back over billions of years and see billions of examples of a star’s life cycle. Of course, the assumption still has to be made that no other catastrophe will happen in the meantime, and It really doesn’t matter if the prediction is wrong. What about the science.

Our climate is so complicated, and the earth so large that no laboratory experiment can have much relevance. Even computer models have little chance of true accuracy. There are too many assumptions in the data used and even tiny errors can make huge differences over long periods or large scenarios. I suspect that many predictions reflect the modelers bias.

The other problem, is that there is little past experience to draw from. We have no examples from the past of similar planets with over 7 billion people. In fact changes are happening so fast that we have little chance to analyze or even digest them. In my lifetime, earths population has increased from approximately 3 billion. There were many dire predictions for the future when I was a youth. Almost none have come to pass, although, a few still might..

Climate change, will it cause more flooding.
Gregg Jaden / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The focus has been on carbon dioxide as as control knob for global temperatures. It has been largely blamed or any global temperature increases we may have seen since the beginning of the modern industrial age.

Recent research, however, seems to indicate that carbon dioxide may be far less effective at increasing temperatures than some would claim. This would throw the results of model runs into doubt and could explain the discrepancies between model results and observations to date.

I do not believe quick, effective, action can be taken by governments outside of encouraging less use of products with a large carbon footprint and helping industry to lessen emissions. Drastic action could have unforeseen effects and most certainly would be harmful to economies. I do think that markets can effect an answer if more people demand clean power and cleaner transportation. Alternatives are rapidly becoming less expensive.

  A tax on carbon  would supposedly encourage industry and people to use less carbon producing energy. I don’t think it would have any  significant effect on climate. But it will increase the cost of of practically everything we consume and put more pressure on people living in poverty. The income of wealthier people simply seems to increase as the cost of living increases and their consumption is unlikely to decrease significantly. 

Energy is already a huge cost to industry. Reducing cost increases profit. Profit is the reason for industry, so it follows that industry already has a big incentive to reduce energy usage. It seems that incentives to further reduce consumption would be more effective than taxes and be less damaging to economies.

Cap and trade policies could be a little more effective, but how do you apply them to the whole world? They only effect consumption by increasing the cost of energy. “Grandfathering the privilege to pollute would take money from low-income consumers and give it to the predominantly wealthy shareholders of energy companies.”  This is a quote from a document advocating cap-and-trade. There are dangerous assumptions here. I don’t think low-income individuals are the biggest consumers, it is pretty obvious the wealthy are. Shareholders of energy companies are often pension plans and funds, the beneficiaries of which are usually lower or middle-income people. Of course this is by our standards. Low income to us is quite rich to much of the world. Once again, the key is to reduce the need and the desire for polluting products.

You may not be aware that large amounts of cash are given out as subsidies for the use of fossil fuel. Don’t blame the developed nations entirely here. It is emerging nations that give direct subsidies (about 480 billion,according to the IMF,) mainly so the poor can afford fuel.

Upper Kananaskis Lake, Kananaskis Country, Alberta
Beautiful Albertamadlyinlovewithlife / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Some seem to think that curtailing oil sands operations would be beneficial. It probably would only hasten the depletion of conventional oil and perhaps encourage the development of more harmful sources. Opposition to pipelines is another tack that some seem to take. Again this leads to far more dangerous and more carbon intensive forms of transport. The Bakken oil produced from North Dakota is seen as an alternative to Alberta oil sands. This actually may be more harmful. Much of the produced gas from this field is flared due to a lack of infrastructure to collect it. Burning it produces carbon emissions and any that escapes burning is primarily methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas. Alternatives are not always as benign as they seem.

This is an article in Forbes magazine about Bakken flaring which uses some identical arguments to many I have heard defending oil sands emissions.

The developed nations, with the USA and Canada leading the pack, use by far the most fossil fuels and produce the most carbon emissions per capita. That means we could have the most effect on an individual basis. I firmly believe that we should make every effort to reduce our personal use of energy. That goes further than just driving less or building more efficient homes. It means an overall reduction in our acquisition of consumer goods. This would also be damaging to economies. Perhaps that could be countered by more investment by governments, and industry, in alternative energy sources, and in carbon capture and storage..

Arctic scenery may alter with climate change.
Alessio Mesiano / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Crude oil has largely been singled out as a villain in carbon emissions. The fact is that several other industries have huge impacts. Coal fired power plants seem to be often overlooked. Sad, since their emissions are more localized and more conducive to carbon sequestration or storage. Since this was written, governments have begun to target coal plants by mandated closures.  Cement production is similarly a huge emitter. The real villain, though, is our own individual excessive use of energy. 

In the words of the late Jacques-Yves Cousteau ” Overconsumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today.” Well we are certainly the villains in over consumption and need to address it. Third world countries are where most of the population increases are coming from. Some, such as China are trying to address this problem..

Do I think there is effective action that can be taken by governments? In a word, no. That doesn’t mean that I think we should not continue trying to reduce our impact. It means that I think we would be well advised to prepare for changes that may happen. Build stronger houses that are more energy efficent. Gradually move human occupancy away from flood prone areas and away from coastlines at risk from rising sea levels. Use more renewable resources to replace non-renewable. Clean up our world through personal commitment. Plant trees. Plant a garden. And, most importantly, use and waste less of everything.

A climate change strategy.
Many rewards in planting a garden and it aids the environmentvanherdehaage / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The beauty of this approach is that it does no harm. It is a personal choice that should not create enemies or even create discomfort for your neighbors. If the dire predictions turn out to be wrong, then no harm has been done and less valuable resources will be consumed. If enough people followed this route, carbon in our atmosphere may be reduced or at least increase at a slower pace.

Living with fewer toys or less possessions does not mean a lower standard of living.

Do I walk the walk? I am trying, but I know there is room for improvement. I only wish I had done more, sooner. I don’t buy tickets to see jet setting celebrities who use more than their share of resources to tell us what we are doing wrong. Many have increased their wealth by crying wolf.

If you agree with most of this article, please share it. If you disagree with any part, or have suggestions, please comment. I can still learn, even at my age.

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A Sustainable Lifestyle

The environment is our individual responsibility and the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle by each of us is the only plausible way to reduce our impact through industry and population.

“How can we have an organic agriculture or horticulture and manage our landscapes to sustain themselves over generations on one hand, then consume goods from industries managed in ecologically damaging ways on the other? It’s pointless designing an organic garden and then buying a gas guzzling car or building a house from concrete and steel, when we can use local materials with less embodied energy”. A quote of (Maddy Harland | Wednesday, 23rd January 2013) in Permaculture.

I would add. How can we boycott or protest the actions of industry while not living a sustainable lifestyle ourselves. How can we, in good conscience, engage in civil disobedience and action against government policies that we encourage by our own lifestyle choices. How can we expect industry and government to do differently from our own example.

View of the Utah Copper Company open-pit mine workings at Carr Fork, as seen from the railroad, Bingham Canyon, Utah  (LOC) Mining for resources has a negative impact on local ecology.
Environmental impact of resource extraction. A copper mine in UtahThe Library of Congress / Foter.com

I would wager that, no matter how environmentally conscious you are, you still have a lot of room to improve. There are likely many ways that you can reduce your foot print. Some are easy and minor, but others would require major lifestyle changes.

The richer nations use the most resources and generate the most pollution and waste. Poor countries, on the other hand have alarming birth rates and poor practices of land use.The simple weight of numbers leading to desertification and other environmental damage.

The current environmental catch phrase is climate change. Global warming is really the issue, but the wording is not nearly as frightening. Everyone seems to be afraid of change but nobody wants to take responsibility. It is easier to blame industry and government.

So is global warming real? It certainly appears to be. It is less clear what the effects may be, how fast they will happen, and how damaging they will be. It is also arguable as to what can be done, if anything, to stop or slow the warming.

A coal power plant produces considerable carbon emissions and other pollutants. Much of the coal is produced from open pit mines, creating more damage.
A coal-burning power planteutrophication&hypoxia / Foter.com / CC BY

What is the cause? There seems to be a correlation between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and average global temperatures. It follows that human beings, by their use of fossil fuels, may be part or all of the cause. It may also be that most of the warming trend is from natural causes, but I don’t think there is any doubt that humans are having an effect.

What would have happened if there were no humans on the planet? Well, it is probable that the earth would have followed past trends and gradually warmed to a peak and then cooled. The end result would have been another ice age. Each successive ice age would likely be more severe as the geological activity of the earth lessens. The question is, are people causing a catastrophe or simply delaying the next ice age.

The real question is far more personal. What is the effect going to be, on ourselves, on nations or on the human race as a whole? More severe storms may cause a greater loss of life and more property damage. Rising sea levels may inundate large portions of some nations such as Bangladesh or the Maldives. Large scale migrations and border conflict could be the result. Habitat may be destroyed and extinctions of wildlife may occur.

Polar Bears Play fighting. Polar bears are one species at risk from global warming.
A species at riskFoter.com / CC BY-SA

My own feeling is that, although we may be terrified of change, we can adapt to any changes that may occur. Whole cities can be relocated over a period of a century or so. We can build our shelters to withstand much fiercer weather. Agricultural zones may change but there is little evidence that production would be reduced. Already the corn belt seems to be moving north. A much greater variety of fruit can now be grown in the north as a result of milder winters and the development of hardier varieties. The time span may not be long enough for some other species to adapt but it is almost certain that the niches will be refilled by different species.

Most scientists seem to agree that human use of fossil fuels, leading to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, is the root cause of global climate change. I am not so sure. Scientists have a poor record when it comes to predictions. You only have to read past issues of science magazines to see this. Science fiction writers often do better. What is pretty obvious is that drastic action to curb CO2 emissions could lead to greater social upheaval than the effects of climate change.

Does that mean we should not bother to reduce our burning of fossil fuels. A most emphatic NO. Fossil fuels are a diminishing and finite resource. Already they are getting difficult to find and more expensive to produce. Petroleum products and coal are such valuable resources for other uses that future generations may question why we would burn it so carelessly.

Diesel and gasoline engines in large trucks use a lot of fuel. ATV engines produce a lot of pollution and careless use can create damage to ecosystems.
Fuel burnersDiamondBack Truck Covers / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The real culprits here are not industry or governments. It is you, me, our friends and neighbors. Our insatiable demand for bigger, better and more is unsustainable and may leave our grandchildren a world of want. It is up to you and me to change the way we live. We have to learn to use less.

You may wonder where I am going with this in a blog that is primarily about building yourself a house. Well it is also about building smaller, more efficient and less costly. It is about building stronger houses with a longer useful life. It is about choosing designs and materials to lessen environmental impact. It is about reusing material and appliances to lessen the strain on our resources.

There are many significant factors to address. I intend to further discuss the choices in design, materials and construction methods in future articles. In particular, their environmental impact.



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