Throwing Down The Gauntlet

The Thinker

First of all, if you are still skeptical about the science, please read the other 4,372 posts on Skeptical Science. There literally isn't a wrinkle in the subject that isn't addressed at some level elsewhere on this blog.

As Al Gore famously never said "the science is settled."

This post is about what is next. We know the earth is warming, we know man is to blame. You are either a denier; mostly convinced, but not really thinking this affects your life; or you are  convinced and have taken some action, or are considering some action (and there is crossover, I personally know a fervent denier with solar PV on his roof).

Given that the science is settled, what are the implications? Well, it means that any rational government would take the risk adverse course (that is what governments are for - see the building code) and enforce reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions to protect its citizens. This is by and large not happening. The “why” it is not happening is interesting. Each political persuasion blames the others (in the United States, Libertarians might say cap and trade is ineffective, and won’t solve the problem, the Tea Party might say there is no problem, the Republicans might say solving the debt is more important, the Democrats might say the Republicans are obstructionist, and the Progressives [both of us] might say the problem is vast – let’s just start somewhere!).

Regardless of your own personal politics, the incontrovertible evidence is that the US, China, and Russia (the top 3 CO2 emitters)  are not doing enough to avoid warming of at least 2°C above pre-industrial levels - generally considered the "danger limit" – their policies are, in fact, much closer to Business As Usual (BAU) than a serious effort to reduce greenhouse gases.  And until the warming is severe enough to quiet some of the voices of denial, this isn’t likely to change.Bad Hand

So how can we change the current policy cards we have been dealt?

I suggest the following statement as a powerful tool for understanding the position of any politician, blogger, acquaintance, etc., as well as to evaluate your own response:

“The body of evidence in climate science demands a mitigation response.”

Much has been written about systemic solutions at Skeptical Science. We need those solutions. 

But in light of the anemic response or non-response by most governments, and to have any hope of getting off the BAU trend lines, we also need personal action. And we need to go way beyond changing light bulbs CFL(although that is important too). Changing your transportation habits (i.e. mass transit, avoiding transportation, electric vehicles fueled with solar or wind power); installing a solar thermal system for water heating; installing a solar thermal system and/or ground source heat pump (GSHP) for space heating and/or cooling; installing site-located solar PV or wind; insulating buildings and upgrading windows; consistent communication with politicians (note talking to politicians is a distinctly weaker choice than the previous elements in the list).

Indeed, the almost automatic response of calling for government actions is as predictable as deniers focusing on a tiny piece of the puzzle to avoid the overwhelming body of evidence, and the similarities don’t end there, just as the denial movement serves the status quo by creating noise instead of understanding (even though, on a micro-level, a particular denier statement might be true), the call for government action (at the expense of personal action) serves the status quo by creating the illusion that action has been taken. 

No government action is required for any of the energy saving actions described above, and indeed incentives available in many jurisdictions make this something that has a high (although long-term) economic pay off.

To continue with the idea of "what’s in it for me", consider the following outcomes from personal action:

1. Taking action reduces stress. You can sleep at night that you have done the best you can for yourself and future generations.

2. Many/most governments/utilities (sometimes both) are currently offering incentives. Come the next heat wave and therefore serious push for action, this carrot will become a stick. If you pay for your renewable energy systems with discounted money before the price of fossil fuels necessarily skyrockets rises to reflect the true cost, you win twice (once with a discount on the installation, and again when prices rise).Savings

3. It is FUN to watch the electric meter spin backwards (wind or solar PV). It is FUN to thumb your nose at the propane truck or the gas meter reader as they drive by in frustration.

4. It is economically preferable to pay once, in 2011 prices, for your energy supply for the next 50 years or more (PV, wind, solar thermal (residential heating, DHW)). Inflation and avoided energy costs alone, not even counting on the inevitable carbon tax, will mean you save money over the life of the system.

5. Experts tell us we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050 to have a good chance of limiting global warming to 2°C. This will take direct actions by individuals, no matter how governments exert pressure on their citizens to change. By taking that action, you are part of that 50% reduction. You move from slightly-guilty observer to active participant in the most important issue of the 21st Century. Action begets action, both in your own life, and in the living organism that is your community.
6. You will be a leader in your own community (which could lead to new job opportunities, new social opportunities, or just watching your neighbors slowly add renewable systems to keep up with you [you could go to the courthouse and rename yourself "Jones" - but that is probably overkill]).

7. You become a real live human being for politicians to follow in developing a rational response to the threat of climate change.  And, by your actions, you will be creating those elusive green jobs.

In other words, voluntary action by those of us enlightened by the science, passionate enough to act, and having the financial where-with-all to act may not only be virtuous, but actually necessary to bring about the required societal change.

Many lament that we need political leadership on this issue. In a democracy, political leaders get fired. Politicians are, by trade, followers. If they follow what enough of their constituents want, they get to keep their job (although it is true they can exert some influence on what issues are discussed [see the recently resigned US Congressman from NY]). So the easiest path to getting the policy we need might be convincing a critical mass of constituents to take meaningful personal action.

So how about it – do you agree that the balance of evidence in climate science requires a mitigation response? Are you willing to take personal action (and if you have already, are you ready to take more action)?

It can be as easy as just picking one small, achievable thing to change in your life...and changing it.  After all, a journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step.  Take an actual, real world step to mitigate climate change - anything to avoid the leopard outcome:


Posted by actually thoughtful on Thursday, 30 June, 2011

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