Friday, May 4, 2007

After the rant comes the action

Ok, after 1 day, I feel like I need to do an update. Not that many people are going to read this, because right now it's limited to my messenger list, but still. I saw an article today that got me even more concerned. It's currently available at, and if it becomes unavailable and someone wants it I've got it saved. It's about how Canada's environmental policy stacks up against the standards set be the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its most recent report, which is due to be published tomorrow (CTV got an advance copy). Among the things it says:

- The conservative government's plan isn't nearly enough (knew that - their plan is to reach the Kyoto target 13 years after Kyoto accord's deadline, in 2025 ish.)
- If we take really strong action now, the target the IPPC is setting is that we'll be able to limit climate change to 2 degrees celsius. (Ok, but what does that mean? Here it comes...)
- Assuming we can do that (which seems unlikely since several major emitters aren't on-board), climate change will leave 1/3 of the world's population (2 billion) with water shortages, and threaten 1/5 to 1/3 of the world's species with extinction.

Think about that for a second. If we do manage to get things under control and stabilize the climate, the best case scenario is that we get to watch as 20 to 30% of all life on earth dies. Not our kids, or our grandkids. Us. And this isn't from some lunatic fringe hippie environmentalist group who makes a habit of chaining themselves to trees, it's a group of thousands of scientists from around the world, many of whom come from places that have an interest in disputing the science. So it's credible.

So what can ya do? I'm not quite sure, yet. But there are two things I'm going to do, to start off with:
I'm going to see exactly how hard it is to meet the 20-30% initial reduction targets that everyone seems to be throwing around at the moment (the EU has set itself a target of 20% by 2012, I think, and will increase it to 30% if the US and China agree to cut). I think my current electricity consumption is about 250-350 kilowatt-hours per month, but I'm going to get out my power bills and figure out exactly what it is, and then see if I can mange to reduce it by 20%. It's going to be tough, because I already know where most of my electicity goes, and mostly it's not things I can cut. Plus I haven't had to heat my condo much at all because the people below me seem to be toasty warm, but I will probably have to air condition it this summer. But I'll find a way, and keep a log here of how it goes.
I'm going to learn about this. Right now there are some things I know, but a lot more I don't know, and I think it would he helpful if lots of people knew more. There are thousands of pages of IPCC reports and other information available, but so far there doesn't seem to be a clear place where I can find answers to questions like:
- How much greenhouse gases can the earth handle, and how is this changing over time as the CO2 level changes, and we cut down forests?

Side note: Two components of the earth's ecosystem are actually helping us out at the moment - trees are growing at a faster rate because of the increased CO2 availability (although cutting down the rainforests isn't helping...), and the ocean is absorbing hundreds of millions of tons of CO2. The fact that the ocean is doing that may be a bad thing, though. Ever see the video of a tooth in a glass of coke? Well, the tooth melts like that because dissolving carbon dioxide into water makes it acidic (apparently), and the same thing is happening to the oceans. Unfortunately, plankton have hard shells, which they kind of need. I think they're sort of like like really tiny shrimp. In any case, their shells can't stand the acid, and so they're dying. Very bad, because plankton are the base of the food chain in the ocean, like plants are on land. I just hope that this is only happening in some climates (I read about it in the ocean off Newfoundland, and I think this is the first study of the issue because I've never heard of it before about a month ago) and that hopefully there are some species of plankton that can stand it.

Next question: Where are the greenhouse gases coming from? I've heard roughly 1/3 each from transportation, residential use, and industrial use, but I've also heard that gases other than CO2 are more potent greenhouse gases (methane, from agriculture, for example, traps about 10x more heat than CO2) and are also more actively traded on this "carbon trading market" the international community is trying to set up (an industrial gas that I can't pronounce currently accounts for the majority of all trading in this market, but comes from under 30 factories, by a few large companies). I'd like to learn things like: how much CO2 comes from developed vs. developing countries, and what will happen as the emerging economies develop? If that's a problem, how should we as citizens of developed economies be pushing our governments to act? Is it enough for us to recycle, take mass transit, and buy energy efficient appliances, or will our standard of living have to take a real hit in order to fix this? How much of a difference does living in a multi-unit dwelling make? It's much better on the envirnoment than a suburban detached home, by the way, I have that on good authority from an urban planner friend of mine, and I've heard the same from several other sources. How much investment as a % of GDP should go into research and development of new technologies, what will that mean for us as consumers, and what promising technologies are close to commercialization that might help? From a government policy perspective, what's the best way to go about changing people's behaviour? (The carbon trading system actually seems like a good way to go about it, which I think I'll go into in another blog entry). How much difference does buying locally produced food make? How much of the electricity I use comes from oil, coal, nuclear, hydro, and wind? (I know in NB it's a mix of all of the above, but I don't know the porportions) How is the mix changing over time, and how much does it have to change in order for us to get where we need to get to? How much do each of these electricity sources cost? (In California, wind power started out being much more expensive than other sources, but with the increase in the price of oil and better technology, it's now the low-cost alternative, and there's a backlog of customers waiting to sign up). If we treat CO2 the same way we would other pollutants, how much should companies have to pay for cleaning it up? (The conservative government's regulations will let companies buy a kg of CO2 emissions for $15-20, the IPCC reccommends a price level of between $30-55 to achieve the goals they've set out in their most recent report, and I was just listening to a piece of fiction that suggested it might be $2000 per ton in 2050. I'm one of those sci-fi junkies who likes my fiction to be realistic. $2000 seems a little high, but it made me realize I don't really know).

Anyway, point being, I'm going to take some action myself and also get informed, and then condense the mass of information that's out there into something I can actually understand, and post what I find out and how my energy conservation efforts go up here.

And with that, I'm going to end what I intended to be a short entry, and go to bed.

No comments: