Friday, January 02, 2009

Climate change and the need for drastic action

Rob Hopkins of the Transition Town movement has an excellent post: about the need for fairly drastic 9% cuts in carbon emissions that we need to avert climate change. His post reminds me of something I wrote nearly a year ago, namely that we need a global recession. Humans have thus far proven incapable of dealing with this issue in any meaningful way. A recession or depression, though very difficult, will force the solution.

From Hopkins' post:

Last week a friend sent me a stunning, thinking-shifting powerpoint by Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre’s Energy Programme entitled Reframing Climate Change: from long-term targets to emission pathways. If you want a sobering and, frankly, deeply depressing, update on the implications of the latest climate science, this is as good a place to start as any. It looks at the scale of the year-on-year emissions that we need to make, and it is quite something. Given that we need to aim to stay below 450ppm in order to have any chance of avoiding runaway climate change (and even that, as the Climate Safety report, issued last week, and the recent testimony from Tim Helwig-Larsen and James Hansen at the House of Commons set out, is almost certainly not enough), what does that actually mean in terms of emissions cuts?

If , Anderson argues, we were to aim for 650ppm with global emissions peaking in 2020, we would need 3% annual cuts starting today. A huge task in itself. If we want to aim for 550ppm with emissions peaking in 2020, we would need 6% annual reductions (which means 9% reductions in emissions from energy generation). If we go for the 450ppm target, which is, realistically, the one that has any chance of preserving a stable climate, we need 9% reductions, every year, for the foreseeable future, starting now. 9%.

9% is just a number though, and as one wades through the climate change literature one is bombared with numbers… but having studied this presentation, 9% is clearly an important one, perhaps as important as Bill McKibben’s 350.  What might it actually mean in practice?   Anderson goes on to look at the rare occasions in the past when reductions have actually been achieved by ‘developed’ nations. Annual reductions of greater than 1% p.a. have, he argues, quoting the Stern Report, only ‘been associated with economic recession or upheaval’. Interesting.

I have little doubt that we have entered a greater depression or what James Kunstler calls the Long Emergency. The landscape of the United States is changing by the day and by the end of 2009 it will be very different place. We can waste resources fighting this inevitability or we can embrace it. I have chosen to embrace it by shifting to a greatly simplified life based on permaculture. I'll do my best to become self sufficient and to share my surpluses.

What does a simple life like this look like? In the first 8 months of living at my homestead I've happily lived on 2-3 kWh a day (the U.S. average is around 31 a day) with no refrigerator, microwave, or other major appliances. I use a couple of compact fluorescent lights, a laptop, and, on occasion, a television. I haul water from a well and use 3-5 gallons a day. I cook with propane or wood stove which is also my heat in the winter. All humanure is composted for use on fruit trees after 2 years. I drive to town once a week. Next years expanded garden should produce much of my year's food. If I can preserve it properly maybe most of my food. When the food forest has matured I'm hoping to be able to produce all my food for the year except for the rice and wheat.

Having lived a similar life at the deCleyre co-op in Memphis, TN I have little doubt that a great deal can be done on any suburban or city lot. Striving for a smaller carbon footprint and greater self reliance can happen anywhere though certainly those with more land can grow more. Washing clothes by hand and hanging to dry can happen practically anywhere as can food preparation from scratch.

The key is to take a hard look at what we use and assume as the normal, needed appliances. We often don't need them, but have gotten used to them. The 9% reduction discussed in the article above is a very large cut from what we currently use. It will require that we all garden, reduce driving to only essential or emergency trips, and drastically reduce our consumption. In other word,s 9% is not accomplished by the easy stuff like changing light bulbs. It means little or no air conditioning, heating in the winter to 55 or 60 rather than 72. Imagine cutting your electrical use by half and then cut that in half again. Now cut it in half one more time. Anyone can do these things but it will not be easy and it will require commitment to drastic change. It really is that simple.

One last thought. For those that want to believe that we can solve this problem with technology. It is NOT going to happen that way. Sure, we can build out solar and wind power capacity and we should. But that is only part of the answer, probably the smallest part. The largest part will be the drastic conservation that we can all do RIGHT NOW without any government legislation or infrastructure change.

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1 comment:

  1. A 9% reduction sounds so feasible, and yet, from what you say will be necessary, so hard.

    How come ?