Archive for the ‘Lifestyle’ Category

The number is ZERO

October 26, 2009

“If you ask a scientist how much more CO2 do you think we should add to the atmosphere, the answer is going to be none.”

– Gavin A. Schmidt, climate scientist quoted by Andy Revkin in Sunday’s NY Times.

Ken Caldeira, the now famously injured party in the SuperFreakonomics fiasco, says:

I believe the correct CO2 emission target is zero….

Every carbon dioxide emission adds to climate damage and increasing risk of catastrophic consequences. There is no safe level of emission.

It is a clarifying moment perhaps. I’d like to think this is a teachable moment brought to us by the irresponsibility of Levitt and Dubner. I’d like to think it is a moment where our artificial greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) take a big step toward becoming a social outcast akin to smoking, and that we may recognize these emissions are an unforgivable liability being passed to our children and grandchildren.

As we know any amount of smoking is bad for our health, a carcinogen – so it is that any amount of GHG emissions are bad for the health of our climate and the civilization as we know it, delivering catastophe.

It is time we all take a closer look at our lives – individually and as a society. How do our daily actions needlessly imperil our planet? How does the extravagance of our travel and entertainment, our business and household activities? How do we take concrete steps, incremental and wide ranging steps to reduce our carbon footprint?

Yes, like it has taken government action to banish smoking from work and public places, so to our government will need to lead in transforming our world economy to one based on clean energy. And as Bill McKibben notes in Revkin’s article, we need to hit a “wartime footing”.

But as I see it, the most important step may be the awakening in so many that no additional GHG emissions are acceptable. NONE ARE ACCEPTABLE. Many are now recognizing the self-destruction in our actions, transforming how we see our lives and how we live. As we must stop smoking to live a healthy life and so too we must stop emitting GHGs.

As our grandparents and parents frugality was bred from Depression and WWII era scarcities, our lives today now demand we be frugal with our GHG emissions.

Our emissions are the single biggest liability we are passing on to our children and grandchildren – a liability unlike mere monetary debt which can be “restructured”. Our emissions liability is one that will be unforgiving and ruthless, utterly destroying the quality of life for generations to come. Our careless emissions today are sealing a hellish fate for our babies.

A new ethic of frugality toward emissions must take hold.

Zero is the number.

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The (7 billion) Population Problem

August 23, 2009

peopleThe world is headed toward 7 billion people and soon. As reported by Jeremy Hance at Mongaby.com (here) – in 2011 to be precise. That’s just 12 years after hitting 6 billion in 1999. 12 years earlier still we were at 5 billion. As the article notes:

“The great bulk of today’s 1.2 billion youth—nearly 90 percent—are in developing countries,” said Carl Haub, PRB senior demographer and co-author of the data sheet. “During the next few decades, these young people will most likely continue the current trend of moving from rural areas to cities in search of education and training opportunities, gainful employment, and adequate health care.”

Let’s say it: if 90% of the population growth were happening in America the planet would’ve been toast years ago, as we Americans (and Canadians and Australians) are now at the disgraceful level of emitting approximately 22 tons of CO2 per person per year. Yet on a world-wide basis 2 tons of CO2 emissions per person per year is generally now thought to be the necessary limit. Hence, we are morally and practically required to drop our emissions by 90% as fast as possible, certainly well before 2050.

BUT, with this population explosion in the developing world there’s a bigger problem still. Because places like India are fast approaching that mythical 2 tons per person – as reported by G.S. Mudur in Calcutta’s The Telegraph (here). The developing countries are now heading into the red – and it won’t take much per capita emissions growth for them to have a huge impact.

As India heads into the red and beyond, what’s the measure?

Given its population, per capita emissions of 6 tonnes for India would translate into more than 6,000 million tonnes of emissions per year — approaching or even exceeding the current US emissions.

And as the article notes, right now India and China alone are projected to account for 56% of world-wide emissions growth through 2030.

Consequently the ongoing population explosion makes our Herculean task of radical emissions reductions seem downright Sisyphean too.

Richard Branson / Jim Jones – separated at birth?

March 26, 2008

So they were drinking pinot grigio, not Kool-Aid. And the locale wasn’t Jonestown Guyana but Necker Island, Branson’s “private getaway” between Tortola and Anegada. The guest list wasn’t social misfits from Frisco but among other luminaries, Tony Blair, William McDonough, Larry Page and Paul Allen.
Richard Branson had invited them. And he would ask: “So, do we really think the world is on fire?” And they would reply: “Yes, the planet is on fire.”

I can find no better example of the mass suicide humanity has now endeavored toward. The decadence, the apparent denial, the gross contradictions and the self-serving platitudes snap me out of my upbeat moments to cry out: “we are doomed!”

Certainly Branson and company have become a grotesque caricature of our society’s elite intersection of destructive wealth, pangs of guilt and utter weakness.

Exhibit A, on a silver platter:

Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal, talked about his latest project, Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley company that makes sexy electric sports cars retailing for $100,000. Page has ordered one.

Or should we worry when informed that Mr. Page jet-pooled to the Caribbean? I mean, how totally carbon conscientious!

Memo to environmental groups: if you’re serious, stop having physical conferences that forces participants to fly across continents. Make them virtual and set and example with your actions not just your speeches. ( I suppose it’s too late to cancel the Aspen Institute’s Environmental Forum just underway?)

As Jim Jones mesmerized members of the Peoples Temple while he plotted their demise, so Mr. Branson celebrates, with a P.T. Barnum gusto, our most decadent aspirations, reaching its apotheosis with Virgin Galactic. But something is amiss. Mr. Branson still appears to recognize the abyss toward which the rocket ships are carrying us.

Given this Mount Rushmore like split personality, one is left asking what does Mr. Branson really believe? Does he, like his friend and customer, James Lovelock believe we are all doomed, so no matter, enjoy life to the fullest. (read most decadently – haven’t you noticed? It’s our birthright to fly anywhere in the world we desire and eat and drink anything we can stomach.) Let the next generation sort it all out! Or does he believe, ostensibly anyway, Mr. Blair, who proclaims the imperative to fight it?

Which is it Mr. Branson? You can’t have it both ways. Either you are a brother of Jim Jones and our Pied Piper, or you really will transcend the P.T. Barnum caricature and help lead the way toward a salvation of sorts. Jones or Moses? Actions speak louder than words….I’m not optimistic.

I must add, the only thing that could make me more depressed about the whole thing is to look into myself. For while the Richard Bransons of the world have a disproportionate destructive influence on our future, the fact is, our middle class American lifestyle is THE destructive force. I made the Checklist Toward Zero Carbon as a guide for myself, my neighbors and my friends so we might lessen our middle class environmental destruction.

Let’s work to be different – let’s all fight. Download the checklist. Edit it for your local conditions, make it your own, and pass it on.