Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Personal is Planetary: Our Actions Do Matter

One favorite environmentalist's ploy for emphasis is quoting equivalences, like this one about wind power: "A 10-kilowatt turbine in an area with an average wind speed of 12 miles per hour can lead to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing 1.3 cars from the road", or "Producing 1kg of beef results in more CO2 emissions than going for a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home, scientists said today." These quirky comparisons are not very enlightening, IMHO. Is the implication that if somehow you could just plug in the steak, it could fuel your driving? If I have switched to wind power (which I have), does that give me a pass on driving? Of course not.
A report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sent out on the COEJL listserv today, is unusually enlightening, though. It is encouraging - emphasizing that personal changes can make a huge difference. Climate chaos is so catastrophic that it's easy to say that individuals' can't make that much difference, but read this and you'll feel differently. As I said above, the "doing x is the equivalent of not doing 27 Y" statistics usually lose me, but this use is very effective. Here is an excerpt. (After you read it, go eat some vegetarian food!)

PARIS (AFP) — Don't eat meat, ride a bike, and be a frugal shopper -- that's how you can help brake global warming, the head of the United Nation's Nobel Prize-winning scientific panel on climate change said Tuesday.

The 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), issued last year, highlights "the importance of lifestyle changes," said Rajendra Pachauri at a press conference in Paris.

"This is something that the IPCC was afraid to say earlier, but now we have said it."

A vegetarian, the Indian economist made a plea for people around the world to tame their carnivorous impulses.

"Please eat less meat -- meat is a very carbon intensive commodity," he said, adding that consuming large quantities was also bad for one's health.

Studies have shown that producing one kilo (2.2 pounds) of meat causes the emissions equivalent of 36.4 kilos of carbon dioxide.

In addition, raising and transporting that slab of beef, lamb or pork requires the same amount of energy as lighting a 100-watt bulb for nearly three weeks.

In listing ways that individuals can contribute to the fight against global warming, Pachauri praised the system of communal, subscriber-access bikes in Paris and other French cities as a "wonderful development."

"Instead of jumping in a car to go 500 meters, if we use a bike or walk it will make an enormous difference," he told journalists at a press conference.

Another lifestyle change that can help, he continued, was not buying things "simply because they are available." He urged consumers to only purchase what they really need.

He goes on to note the upside were he not re-elected for the next 5-year term. "My travel-related emissions would plummet." There's a silver lining to every cloud.

Picture from The Little Prince (who had his own private planet)

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