This post was prompted by a discussion in the forums of a Coursera.org. course I’m taking entitled How to Change the World.
Too often we hear ‘I believe / don’t believe in global climate change’ as if it was a choice, the option of some faith-based affiliation. Unfortunately, this is simply not so. One pretty much has to be asleep not to have observed obvious changes. Many of those mentioned in the videos I’ve personally observed in my short time in the UK. One obvious one is the change in growing seasons (which is less anecdotal than ‘we’ve had more rain this year’). We bought our house 5 years ago. It came with a plum tree in the centre of the garden, with an apple tree overhanging our yard courtesy of our neighbours. The fruit (especailly the many, many plums) came ripe in the first week of August, falling to the ground where they garnered the attention of wasps that would get drunk on their fermenting juices. However, each year since, the plums have ripened slightly later, until this year, when they are now ripening in the first week of September. So we have personally experienced a change in the growing season of one full month over the course of less than five years.
To those who ask for alternate opinions on climate change? There are no longer any credible doubters among the science community. All the counter arguments have been objectively dealt with almost ten years ago.
What to do about it? As the video series suggests, this is the only real issue to debate. Since average global temperature is increasing, and will continue to increase for the next century, barring the use of some atmospheric scrubbing technology, we have three options: (1) mitigate it, and try to prepare for what damage has already been done, (2) accept what will come and continue living as we are, dealing with the damage as it happens, (3) ignore it and wonder why we’re spending trillions more each year on fixing our cities and populations that suffer more and more damage. A fourth option, of course, is to leave the planet. We’ll need to do that eventually for the species to survive, but that’s not in the scope of this discussion. Please note: there is no ‘fix the problem in the last second and everything is perfectly fine like on TV’ solution. (personally, I’m in the camp that understands it’s happening, but doesn’t believe humanity can change in time to do anything meaningful, so I’m forced to put my faith in future technological development, or accept that we’re in for a bumpy ride for a few centuries).
The apparent problem with #1 is that it seems to put the responsibility with us, the individuals, although we’re not the major contributors. Even fines generally aren’t incentive enough for large companies to clean up their business. So we’re told to be careful with our energy usage at home, and on the road, while stores leave their doors open in the cold of winter and their lights on all night.
So, the first thing I’d like to know is what the relative benefits of certain actions would be. Reducing car usage is a big one, but how significant is reducing our electricity usage at home going to be versus corporations who’s offices are lit all year round (i.e. would our energies be better spent chasing down companies and making them more responsible)?
A second problem I have is in how much reduction should we do? We could reduce energy consumption until we’re back to the stone age. For example, some large wasters of energy that we don’t ever hear people talk about cutting: TV shows (huge waste to produce, especially the things they do in kids TV, and in British shows like Top Gear UK, were they’re constantly destroying things and racing gas guzzlers), hotels (constantly lit, constantly cleaning), conventions (pointless, especially in this era of the internet), most university programs at universities (can be taught online in the majority of cases, meaning less need to light and heat buildings), books — I love ’em, but even those printed on recycled paper use trees at some point, and with e-books they’re completely unnecessary, movies (very wasteful to produce and show), fashion / clothes (hugely wasteful and unnecessary industry), travellling for anything other than moving (you can see all you need on the internet). Of course, in a few of those cases I’m being facetious — but not really. At least it should make one think about just what is waste in society.
Which brings me to my last concern for this post. The reductions we typically suggest, each and every one of us, tend to be things we’re comfortable with doing ourselves. Rarely do we look at our own life and say ‘I should reduce something that would be hard for me to live without.’ This is quite possibly another reason why some people resist the idea of climate change — they’re the ones not happy with making any changes. To use my own family as an example. My wife takes her car, on a very short, walkable, trip to work every day because driving allows her to relax before and after work. I tell her often that she should walk and that walking would also allow her to spend more time with her daughter and myself as we walk to my daughter’s school. But she simply can’t give it up. However, while I don’t drive, and either walk or take transit everywhere, I have no less than four computers in my office that are almost always on, which includes several monitors / TVs. Clearly, I have my own things that I’m not willing to give up. So, one thing that would be useful, in this brave new world of carbon awareness, would be some measure / database of personal carbon footprint — what different activities and equipment usage represent, and what would be a reasonable daily target for each individual to aim for if we are to make any kind of global difference.
How about it? Any environmentalist app developers willing to take this on?
Insight and longevity.