Inspired by a post at the Northeast Metro Climate Action Facebook page, here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions related to climate change.
1) Normalize climate concern. When a relative or friend smirks at the idea of buying electric, or scoffs at the link between climate change and severe weather events, don’t sheepishly demure. Correct them. How you do that is something I can’t give you advice on, as it depends on the person and your relationship. But don’t let it pass, ever, in 2020.
2) Foreground climate concern. Don’t wait for Uncle Bob to say something stupid. Take opportunities to say something smart and poignant, or ear-catching and clever, or inspiring and helpful. For example, don’t just say “wow, I got 65 mpg on the trip here in my hybrid.” Add to that “That is equivalent to almost two thousand pounds of Carbon Dioxide.”
3) Learn something and tell something. There are multiple resources you can use to learn about both climate denialism and climate change itself. I’ve put some resources below. And, when you do learn something, be sure to mention it incessantly at every social event and opportunity. OK, maybe not EVERY one, but at least, now and then.
4) Take personal action. Each one of these, or sets of them, can each be considered a new year’s resolution. A few suggestions.
- Turn the heat down, use less hot water, all of that. Get a programmable thermostat if you don’t have one already.
- Insulate things. Every thing.
- Get a home energy audit from your power company. They may give you free stuff, or great discounts, on LED lights.
- Every light in your home should be an LED light. BUT don’t just remove the incandescent bulbs and screw in expensive LED bulbs in every case. Consider replacing built in fixtures with the new fangled fixtures that don’t actually take a bulb of any kind. Like this one.
- Don’t automatically use warm or hot water when you do your laundry, and keep the loads reasonably filled.
- Over time, replace all appliances that use gas with electric, and use heat pumps instead of traditional heating and cooling. This can save you loads of money, too. Remember this: There is no series of moral steps that lead to installing a natural gas appliance of any kind (including stove tops) in 2020.
- Drive and fly less, replacing high CO2-footprint transport with less energy demanding ways. One long distance family trip in an airplane is worth a LOT of CO2. If your family does that every year, just stop it. Do it every three years or less, find a different, less planet-destroying way to amuse yourself!
5) Keep up the pressure on your representatives. Remember, a lot of climate related fight-backs happen at the state level, some even at the local level. Find out if your city is in any sort of program to its reduce carbon footprint (in Minnesota, it is called “GreenStep Cities“). If it isn’t, make them joint one. Join your state level environmental political group (in Minnesota, that would include the DFLEC, but feel free to suggest other choices below in the comments). There is a misconception that contacting your state or federal rep is meaningless because, either they are already on board and your message isn’t necessary, or they are totally against addressing climate change, so your message is useless. Neither one of these things is true. Anti-climate science representatives need to be pressured, and your contact is pressure. Pro-environmental representatives need to be able to say “I got a zillion calls and notes from my constituents, so no, I can’t compromise on this important climate related bill.”
6) Give a few bucks to candidates who support aggressive action on climate change. Then contact their opponent and tell them why they did not get your money. Do the same thing with campaign-supporting volunteer time. Hit the streets.
7) Change your diet sensibly and effectively. Clearly, eating less meat will reduce your carbon footprint. When you do eat meat, the smaller the animal the better with respect to carbon footprint. That’s easy. But not all diet decisions are easy. People may over-estimate the importance of local eating, especially if they are driving their SUV to the grocery store two or three times a week, and don’t go to the nearest store because it doesn’t have their brand of cranberry juice. It is not clear that there is a difference, or what the difference is, between organic and non-organically grown food. One of the biggest things you can do is to monitor and manage the food you do buy so that very little is wasted because you let it go bad in the back of the refrigerator. Americans waste about a third of our food this way. Resolve to develop an effective, personal, method to avoid this.
The basics of climate change: Dire Predictions, Second Edition: Understanding Climate Change by DK Publishing (2-Jun-2015) Paperback
A long list of things that can be done by individuals, governments, corporations, etc.: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
Personal financial decisions: Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know®
The fundamental political problem: The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It
On Line Classes:
Making Sense of Climate Denial
Climate Change: The Science and Global Impact
If you are in Minnesota, and want to organize a talk on climate change, contact me. I do one, and I work with Phil Adam, and he and I have multiple offerings in the area of climate change and energy, and there are other local excellent speakers I can put you in touch with. Church? Rotary club? Local environmental group or Indivisible group? Let me know what you need.
10 thoughts on “Climate Change New Year’s Resolutions”
“Clearly, eating less meat will reduce your carbon footprint.”
Actually, that is not clear at all.
In the US, vegetable agriculture, according to the EPA, produces 50% more GHG emissions than the entire livestock industry:
And the livestock industry produces a lot more than food, so that percentage is actually higher than 50% more. Plus, the foodstuffs from the livestock industry supply a large proportion of our protein and calories, as well as certain essential fats. To replace these with vegetarian equivalents would require way more veg agriculture, and therefore even more GHG emissions. We actually do not even have enough arable farmland to go 100% vegetarian.
Livestock agriculture produces virtually zero CO2 – it is all ascribed to N2O and methane. That N2O? Ascribed to fertilizers from the portion of animal feed grown in vegetable agriculture. And this number is questionable, because the vast majority of livestock feed is wastage byproducts from veg ag. 90% of vegetable ag biomass is wastage – much of this goes to livestock feed.
The majority of livestock GHG emissions is methane. But even this figure is questionable. Why? Because, firstly, every carbon molecule in that methane comes from CO2 that has been previously scrubbed from the air by a plant. So, in that sense, livestock are like biofuels. So, the true incremental contribution from livestock is the methane produced by bovine belches and from manure.
1) That methane is short-lived. In about ten years, it is converted to CO2. Since livestock are biofuels, that CO2 should not be ascribed to them. That 10 year increment is tiny vs the 10,000 year lifespan of atmospheric CO2. Which is why you will not see actual climate scientists getting very exercised about methane.
2) A good chunk of livestock methane is from aqueous (anaerobic) manure pits on CAFEs. A single piece of legislation could outlaw these, and instead mandate the incorporation of that manure into soils. That might just turn those GHG emissions into carbon sinks.
3) The vast majority of livestock methane is belches from cows, who spend the majority of their lives eating almost nothing but rangeland grass. And that grass, if NOT eaten by cows, rots every year into CO2 and methane all by itself. You do NOT need anaerobic conditions to produce methane from cellulose – bacteria and fungus can do that quite nicely in aerobic conditions. This amount of methane should be subtracted from the tally against cows, but it is not. Yet. The latest EPA report indicates that they are going to do this subtraction in future.
4) So how much are we really talking about here? Cows (beef and dairy) produce under 2% of US GHG emissions, and that figure, as I described, is unfairly high. Further, the contribution of actual beef meat is only a fraction of the total cow number. And the US is the largest beef exporter in the world. So, as an American, your share of that beef total number is even less.
Which means that the total GHG emissions profile of beef, and of the entire livestock industry is very small indeed compared to the nutritional benefits they provide.
5) And none of the agricultural GHG emissions, whether from vegetables or livestock, are responsible for AGW. The overall biomass of plants and animals on Earth has been basically constant for billions of years. And the fluxes of carbon between these biological kingdoms and the environment are all part of the natural carbon cycle. And that carbon cycle had no problems processing all that carbon for billions of years.
It was not until huge amounts of extraneous, previously sequestered carbon from fossil fuels being burned that atmospheric carbon began to rise. We don’t need fossil fuels. But we all do need to eat, and we will eat vegetables and livestock once AGW is solved.
Whatever is the true incremental atmospheric burden of meat actually is, it is miniscule compared to fossil fuels. Eating less meat is an essentially meaningless exercise. It’s actually worse than meaningless, because your carbon footprint is likely to increase by the replacement of meat calories and protein with increased vegetables.
How many people think they are doing something meaningful to do their part for the planet by eating less meat? A LOT of people. And most of them accomplish this by driving to the supermarket in their SUV’s. Almost all of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are from the burning of fossil fuels.
Eating less meat is completely trivial compared to ditching your ICE vehicle. Probably by about two orders of magnitude.
It’s very important to recognise how convenient it is for governments and vested interest to make CC all about individual actions. Get everyone guilt-tripping about their personal behaviour as if it was personal behaviour that moves the big levers of emissions policy and corporate regulation. Always deflect the focus from government policy and corporate behaviour. Always.
It also makes it easier for governments to argue against any action by telling the same people how much harm those actions will restrict personal behaviors.
Is electric from coal-fired plants better than natural gas?
“Always deflect the focus from government policy and corporate behavior.”
The flip side: If you don’t want to take responsibility for your own actions, just shift the blame to others. Corporations and government are an easy target.
“It’s not my fault for driving an SUV, it’s Ford’s fault for building them.”
“The government needs to implement a carbon tax……if gas was more expensive I wouldn’t drive as much!”
Individual actions will make fuck all difference. Only huge government policy initiatives can drive an aggressive decarbonisation process. All this crap about individual responsibility is window dressing. Sure, do it if you want but it will achieve exactly nothing as long as people continue to vote for rightwing politicians.
And tbh, I’m tired of hearing about what we can do. It’s not my fucking fault we’re in this mess and it’s not yours (unless you voted for rightwing dickheads, obvz). It’s all Big Picture stuff and it won’t get fixed by wearing a couple of extra hair shirts when it’s cold.
Most of the effective things people won’t do anyway. I last flew in 2005. I don’t know a single other person who was prepared to cut out flying. Not one. Don’t drive either. But so what? Difference…? Zero.
“The flip side: If you don’t want to take responsibility for your own actions, just shift the blame to others. Corporations and government are an easy target.”
Much like right-wingers frequently do by blaming China and India for building coal plants? Why should the U.S. commit, they argue, when other big polluter nations won’t?
What they miss is that the U.S had a climate pact with China and was negotiating with India, until Trump came in and messed that up.
We need actions at all levels — but action at the federal level is critical both for giving more citizens incentives and for international cooperation.
“Individual actions will make fuck all difference. Only huge government policy initiatives can drive an aggressive decarbonisation process.”
I agree, but we need those policy initiatives AND a reasonable amount of cooperation from the public, something like that forced upon us in WW2. Most of us will have to suffer decreasing quality of life but accommodate ourselves to it until it finally becomes unbearable and we are ready to elect people who will belatedly try to do something about it. For this future we can thank our own inertia and short-term focus, the deliberate suppression of (A)GW information by the energy companies starting in the 1970s, and the continuing denial and disinformation campaign from those who consider their personal lifestyles and incomes more important than any responsibility to society or to the human species.
“Most of the effective things people won’t do anyway. I last flew in 2005. I don’t know a single other person who was prepared to cut out flying. Not one. Don’t drive either. But so what? Difference…? Zero.“
I voted Democrat across the board in 2016. The idiot still won, Republican’s maintained control of the House and Senate. Did my vote make any difference?
Big oil and conservatives are happy to advocate individual action as a means of cutting carbon emissions…..until people actually start to follow through. There is power in numbers. A hundred won’t make a difference, a hundred million will.
That said, a New Green Deal approach would be awesome. Just don’t hold your breath.
True, of course, but there is so little evidence that the necessary, significant proportion of the population (UK, EU, US etc) is doing anything – except telling fairy tales to keep itself feeling good while nothing changes even close enough to make the necessary, urgent difference.
The agonisingly slow build out of W&S is another example. In real-world terms, the added renewable capacity is barely keeping up with the global increase in electricity demand – it’s not making a dent in global emissions (see Keeling Curve).
So from the bleak shore of 2020, the view is not encouraging.
I should add that while I am sick of the rhetoric vs achievement imbalance, I wasn’t meaning to have a go at you, or anyone else here.