The Environment, Global Warming and You

Climate change, or global warming, are the current environment buzzwords. Many scientists, and environmental activists, are busily predicting calamitous consequences for mankind, and the planet, if immediate action is not taken to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. They may be right.

What to do about it? Many activist groups, and political opportunists, are trying to force governments around the world to enact strong environmental legislation. At the same time, most are trying to convince industry to abandon their investments in fossil fuels, and concentrate on renewable energy projects. To their credit, many corporations in the energy sector are putting considerable effort into renewable energy.

Can the strategy of the activists work? I don’t think there is any possible way they can have sufficient effect, if their dire predictions are anyplace close to what the future reality will be.

There are real problems. Global warming seems to be happening, and there seems to be a correlation with rises in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There would seem to be a preponderance of evidence that the climate is changing as a result of human activity. But a preponderance of evidence does not constitute proof. Any prediction of the effects of this warming trend is only guesswork.

There lies the problem. Governments the world over are fairly certain of the effects of drastic action to curb CO2 emissions. They know that a global recession of horrendous scope could be the result. They might destroy regional economies and even the economies of whole countries. The result would be mass migrations, and wars, which could be worse than the effects of a warming planet. This is a fairly certain outcome. There have been similar incidents many times in mans history. If there are only two courses of action, both leading to possible disaster, then governments will avoid the one they are more certain of. It will be the one they have the most experience with.

Okay, let’s ignore global warming for a bit. It is pretty easy to see that the activities of man have not been good for the planet. Entire species have been endangered, and only remote portions of the planet and some parks retain some semblance of their natural condition. We live in a world that is increasingly manufactured for the comfort of mankind. Unfortunately not all of mankind has benefited equally.

An effective and co-ordinated effort to drastically lower CO2 emissions would mean the near end of economic growth worldwide. This might be palatable if everyone was starting from the same place. However, as things stand, most of the worlds population would be stuck as poor cousins. There is one other alternative. The worlds rich countries could lower their standard of living, while raising that of poor countries, until everyone was equal. Sounds utopian, but exactly that has been tried on a smaller scale before. The socialist experiments have, either failed dramatically, or been modified considerably.

Now imagine the reaction of North Americans or Europeans, if they were asked to lower their standard of living to that of the average Chinese or Indian citizen. Secondly, what would the average Chinese think, if told they could no longer strive to improve themselves? Probably the only winners would be the people of some sub Saharan nations.

We can see that governments cannot take actions that are detrimental to large portions of their population. We can also see that corporations cannot abandon the profit motive without destroying themselves.

Activist groups, in their efforts to influence government or to cripple industries are making one fatal mistake. They are alienating large groups of people by threatening their livelihood. The first priority of every working person, is to provide for themselves and their families. No amount of “the sky is falling” rhetoric is going to change that. High profile posturing and dire predictions, may gain temporary sympathy, but most people will figure out the cost to themselves.

Some people will also remember past actions of activist groups that have had unfortunate consequences. Environmental activists in the seventies effectively stopped the proliferation of nuclear power plants in the United States. One consequence, a large percentage of electricity in the U.S., is today generated by coal fired plants, contributing greatly to CO2 emissions. Fair evidence that predicting the future is risky, and drastic actions could have unforeseen results.

Well, what should be done? There is no point in burying your head in the sand only to get shot in the butt. Even if climate change is not as great a threat as some would say, we still have a looming problem. We are going to run out of fossil fuel. It is already becoming harder to find and extract. We have been saved from disastrous shortages by advances in technology but prices are rising steadily. It is not long since oil was 10 dollars a barrel. True, there is lots of coal and natural gas at the moment, but if they have to replace oil to any extent, prices will rise rapidly.

We are not likely to be seriously short of fuels in the short term, or perhaps even for the medium term, but it will happen. Does it really matter if it happens in 10 years, or 100 years, or even several hundred years. We are currently extremely dependent on these fuels, and even if it is possible to develop a society that does not burn fuel, we will still need them for other purposes.

It is possible that economic pressures alone will reduce the use of fossil fuels fairly quickly. Fuel, however, is needed for the manufacture and distribution of almost everything we use to live today. This means that even the basics of life such as food, clothing and shelter, may not be produced in sufficient quantities to sustain any semblance of our civilization, if fossil fuel use is curtailed.

Clearly, it can not work to simply stop using fossil fuels to reduce CO2 emissions. Alternatives must be found and every individual must commit to living in a more environmentally sustainable manner. We must be very careful to not implement policy that may have unforeseen consequences.

There is one possible solution. If every person was to make a commitment to using less of practically everything, global warming could be delayed, and other pollution problems considerably reduced. I mean using less transportation, less water, less food, less consumer goods and having fewer children. True, this means a slowing of growth, and can also lead to global recession. Hopefully this would not be quite so painful if everyone’s needs have been reduced.

I think that, by now, almost everyone must realize that continual growth, as we now know it, is not sustainable on one planet. Since we are nowhere near expanding into the stars, it seems that we must accept another model for life on this one.

Since it appears that the burning of fossil fuel is the greatest threat at the moment, let’s explore avenues of individual action on this one first.

The average North American uses the most fossil fuel, and contributes most to CO2 emission, by the use of personal transportation. Yes, that is our beloved cars and pickups. It is probably also the easiest area to reduce usage. Here are some ways you can personally contribute to a reduction in CO2 emissions.

Reducing your speeds and using improved driving habits can save as much as 20% of fuel burned. So why are most people still traveling at 120 kph or 75 mph? The impact here is tremendous.

Eliminate unnecessary travel. A no brainer.

Use the smallest most fuel efficient vehicles, and when replacing your wheels make fuel efficiency a priority. If everyone followed this policy, it would force manufactures to produce more efficient vehicles, without government intervention.

Choose to live closer to your work or where public transportation is available.

Take some of your vacations nearer to home.

It would be relatively easy, for the average Canadian or American, to lower their auto fuel use by 25%. The cost is few minutes per day, and a little false prestige. There is a reward. Your transportation costs will be reduced. You could spend the saved cash on a new bicycle. Keep in mind that rising prices will force all but the rich to follow these policies eventually, anyway.

Another area of high energy use is your home. Fuel and electricity is used for heating and cooling and to run equipment and appliances. A lot of information has been published on how to save energy and water, but the most obvious method of all, has been virtually ignored.

If you can reduce the size of your home your heating and cooling use will go down accordingly. I keep repeating it, but the best way to save money, and to reduce the environmental impact of your home, is to reduce the size of it. If planning a new home, try for the smallest size you can be comfortable with. Consider closing off unused portions of your home, to not use energy heating or cooling them.

Many people today use timers and special thermostats, to reduce heating and cooling, when there is no one at home. Most could, however, lower or raise the temperature much more for this period.

You can be comfortable at night at quite low temperatures, if you have lots of covers.

Consider systems to heat, or cool, areas of your home separately. An example would be a mini split system. In this way, rooms that are not in use would not be heated or cooled.

Use power bars, with a switch, to easily turn of entertainment center or computer components, when not in use. This ensures they are completely off and not stealing electricity.

Open windows for ventilation and cooling when possible. A simple fan may provide enough comfort and use less energy than an air conditioner. Closing windows and drapes during the hot part of the day will keep a well insulated house cooler.

A slightly less than perfect lawn could be acceptable. Gasoline powered lawnmowers are notorious noise and air polluters.

There are some “no brainer” hints. Wear warmer, or cooler, clothing for comfort. Turn out lights when you leave a room. Use fluorescent, or LED bulbs. Use a clothes line, instead of the dryer, when possible. When replacing appliances, purchase high efficiency models. Use as little water as practical, and especially hot water. Consider alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind.

Comment with more hints if you think of them.

Of course, build your house to be as energy efficient as possible. Improve the efficiency of an existing home, as much as practical, by adding insulation and sealing leaks.

Many measures mentioned here require no investment and all save you money. All have a beneficial effect for our environment. I would think that everyone would be concerned about both.

Now, back to the activist groups that target government and industry in an effort to stop fossil fuel development and movement. If they are successful, the price of everything will increased as a result of increased fuel cost. Yes, everything, including essentials such as food, depend on energy for their production and distribution. Most of that energy is in the form of fossil fuel. These groups have already made many enemies, with their proposals that threaten jobs and investment. They are bound to make many more, as people realize how they will be personally effected.

And if you think you will not be affected, think again. Even pensions, which rely on their investments, will be threatened. No matter how secure your income, it will not stretch as far.

The other answer, that of decreasing demand, would have the opposite effect. It should lower prices. If reducing energy usage as outlined above, was practiced by everyone, the result would still be recession. However, lower costs and a chance to save the planet from global warming , would be rewards that could make this palatable. This is the chance for each individual to do something effective.

Probably much more effective than traveling around the country waving placards.

Our environment is the direct responsibility of each of us. It is unrealistic to expect effective action from government which must be concerned with votes, jobs and the economy. All of which are often at odds with environmental responsibility.

Industry is in the best position to effect real change if they are not crippled by excess regulation. The way you spend your dollar can be an effective vote for the environment. Industry will listen. Make your choice for less consumption of environmentally damaging products. Spending less on energy products, and more on energy saving products, is an excellent first step.

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