Sunday, July 20, 2008

Living without an air conditioner and the end of the world

I wrote the other day about not using a refrigerator as a part of my efforts to reduce my carbon footprint. I'd mentioned that if we in the U.S. are going to lower our our carbon footprint to a level which is equitable and closer to sustainable that we would need to lower our emissions by about 90%. Ninety. Percent. That is a drastic reduction. Ponder it for a moment. Hell, ponder it for the rest of the day if you'd like.

I came across that particular percentage will reading through this post by DJ at the excellent blog, Asymptotic Life:
Listening to Radio West yesterday, I heard a guest make an interesting point: if we tell poor people around the globe that they can't live the way we do, we're trying to prevent global warming by forcing people to continue to live in poverty. That is, for most of us, morally unacceptable.

Our current attitude seems to be that we can afford to buy all that energy and emit that CO2, and "they" can't. Too bad, but bully for us...


What would it look like to create an equitable and sustainable per-capita CO2 emissions policy? Assuming everyone emitted the same amount of CO2, how much could we all emit without frying the planet (and all of us with it)?

Let's assume that, to keep CO2 concentrations low enough to avoid catastrophe, we limit CO2 concentration to 350 ppm— down from today's 385 ppm. That means cutting CO2 emissions by 50% of their current levels. At 2004 levels, the world generated 27 billion metric tons of CO2— more than 20% of that by the U.S. alone. That means we'd need to reduce to about 13.5 million metric tons worldwide.

The world population is currently 6.8 billion people. That means each person would be allowed to emit 2 tons of CO2 per year. For 88 countries in the world, that's a step up— more than they currently produce per capita. But for we priviledged few in the U.S., that means cutting our per capita emissions (currently over 20 tons per person per year) by 90%.

One of the largest energy hogs in any household is the air conditioner. Others at the top of the list are whole house forced air heating systems, hot water heaters, refrigerators, freezers, and plasma tvs. In addition to not having a refrigerator I've decided I will not use an A/C. I do have a small window A/C but only run it at the request of visiting guests. When it is just me and Talula we get hot, damn hot. We cool off with lots of water, we slow down and sit in the shade. We'll survive just like many of other billions of humans who survive everyday in hot climates with no A/C. It's not easy, not fun (well, actually swimming is fun), not comfortable but it is possible.

Before I move on let me quote another of DJ's excellent posts, What Two Tons Means to Me:

Last week, I calculated that a sustainable and equitable rate of CO2 emissions would be about 2 tons per person per year.  Currently, the U.S. emits just over 20 tons of CO2 per person annually.  Of this, according to EPA, 20% (4 tons) is caused by household energy use and about 27% (5.5 tons) is caused by four-wheeled passenger vehicles.  The remainder, about 11 tons, is generated by the economy on our behalf, including manufacturing, agriculture, cement and steel production, and transportation of goods both for us and for export.

Let's assume that DJ's figures are correct. Even with my limited use of electricity I am averaging 25 Kwh a week, about 100 a month. That's for one person in a small cabin of 192 square feet. On a typical day I use: 1 compact fluorescent light, a ceiling fan, a window fan, and a laptop computer. Other appliances that draw power on occasion: water well pump, battery charger, external hard drive, computer speakers, and phone charger. That's it and it still adds up to 100 Kwh a month. The average U.S. household uses just under 900 Kwh a month, just in electricity. Imagine the difficulty of cutting that by 60-80%!

Want to try something interesting? Take a weekend and power down everything in your house. Go through room by room and unplug everything on Friday evening. Over dinner discuss the adventure and what it means. Experience Friday night and Saturday without power. Use the time to discuss and evaluate your needs. Define the difference between needs and wants, needs and comforts. Make an effort to understand your needs and usage as they relate to the needs and usage of the vast majority of families around the planet that use far less. Sunday morning or afternoon begin the process of slowly and thoughtfully plugging things back in based Saturday's discussion.

Remember, we're not even considering the carbon that is emitted by personal transportation, emissions that would need to be cut by 80% or more. Then there are carbon emissions related to consumption of food and consumer goods.

This is why the governmental "solutions" put forth by congress and presidents (or the current crop of presidential candidates) are a sad joke. These folks are not even CLOSE to realistic. The same goes for the myriad "100 things you can do to save the planet lists" that we see put forth by media and mainstream environmental groups. Sure, we should all do the easy things that are on those lists but the reality is that if we are serious about slowing climate change we are going to have to make drastic changes to the way we live. I'm all for it, I think we absolutely should go all out. I think we should sacrifice, should do whatever it takes. But my guess is that most folks would laugh at the idea. Frankly, I don't think that today's Americans have the strength of character the task requires. We've been far too spoiled for far too long.

When it comes down to it most folks in western "civilized" nations will only change when it is forced on them when resources are no longer available at prices they can afford. We're already seeing that people are driving less in the U.S. now that gas is averaging $4/gallon, imagine gas at $6, $7, or $8 a gallon. Imagine utility rates doubling or tripling. Those things are coming sooner than later and I for one welcome them. Yes, they will bring hardship and suffering and around the world billions are already suffering as they are already effected by price increases. Regardless of what reality is about to force upon us, it is probably too late in terms of the climate. What we have set in motion will not be easily undone, most likely we will hardly slow the process at all.

Michael Stipe said it best: It's the end of the world as we know it.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 comment:

  1. yes, 90%! Which makes Al Gore's solutions a joke. I think it starts with an ideology change, rather than a set of rules. We need to look at our place in the world differently if any meaningful change is to occur.

    Frankly, I'm looking forward to things moving in the right direction. The end of the world is not a bad thing.