Getting our priorities right!

24 Oct

Far too much time and effort is wasted on things that are not effective to fight climate change.   Things like energy efficiency and conservation by individuals will not actually do that much (mainly for reasons that these will keep fossil fuels cheap for developing countries to use).  I can only see four priorities that are really worth investing our time and resources:


1.  Education


Education is of huge importance, because while many individuals and companies will lead the way, in the end only governments can effectively deal with climate change.   If people are not educated enough about climate change to put it at the top of the agenda, then neither will governments.   Even in enlightened governments, few politicians would be willing to commit political suicide by supporting stringent environmental regulations in rough economic times – and we cannot afford to have government action on climate change fluctuate with political of business cycles.   The key to governments consistently prioritizing climate change is reaching a critical mass of population who are willing to punish their political leaders for not taking action.


2.  Saving forests


Talk about killing multiple birds with one stone – there are so many good things that happen when we preserve forests.


Bird 1:   Sequestration of carbon


Bird 2:  Ecosystem services, like protection from natural disasters and flooding, water purification, and fresh air


Bird 3:  Preservation of biodiversity


Bird 4: Limits the space available for other resource-intensive activities that contribute to climate change, like animal grazing, biofuels, and mining.


Bird 5:  Preserves natural spaces where people can really appreciate the environment.  Sometimes this most basic form of education is the most effective.


3.  Eliminating Black Carbon


Black carbon contributes to climate change by increasing the amount of suns energy absorbed, and then when they land then fall on glaciers, causing them to also absorb more heat and melt faster.  Although the full effects of black carbon are still not completely understood, this could be a quick-fix to help slow down climate change and give us more time, because black carbon on stays in the atmosphere for a short time, where CO2 stays in the atmosphere for 100+ years.    Since much of the black carbon comes from the developing world, where they are using inefficient methods of cooking (which are also bad for their respiratory health), this problem can be solved by providing cooking stoves that burn more efficiently.   This is one of the few problems that we can basically throw money at, and expect very good results!

For more on black carbon:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080323210225.htm

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1938379,00.html


4.  Invest in alternative energy


I won’t go to very much into detail here, but even in the best-case scenario of a sustainable world, we will still need some energy, and it will have to come from clean sources.   The more investment, the quicker this should happen.  However, there are two different ideas where this is concerned.


– One is that we have the technologies we need already, they just need to be scaled up and continually improved.  For example, in Hot, Flat, and Crowded Thomas Friedman makes the point that computers did not come to the stage they are at through a breakthrough, but over after thousands of small innovations.  I believe this is also the position of Climate Progress.


– The other is that the current alternative energy, even if fully developed, will not meet our needs.  Thus we need much more investment into new alternative energy breakthroughs.  This is the position of the Breakthrough Institute.


I done know which one is right, and anyone who does it making a dangerous assumption.  Even if the sources of investment compete with each other, it would be best to invest in both existing technologies and breakthroughs.


		
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NYT Article on the dilemma of energy efficiency

13 Mar

There is a great article I found in the New York Times, which explains (far better than I ever could) how energy efficiency is not actually the solution it seems to be.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/science/08tier.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=energy%20efficiency&st=cse

This is exactly the point that I am trying to make, although I would not go to the extent of saying it will be bad for the environment.  Energy efficiency is a wash – all the “saved energy” will just tend to go somewhere else, be it increased activities or to the rising middle classes in China and India.  The bottom line is that energy efficiency might not make a dent on our overall greenhouse gas emissions, and so we should focus on developing clean energy technologies.

What is Green Washing

12 Mar

Many people think of “Green Washing” when a company lies about its green accolades and achievements to make it sound better.  Yeah, it is bad to lie, but is it really bad for the environment?  Actually, green washing is a good sign, it means that they know their stakeholders care about the environment, and they are listening.  They might not be acting, but at least they are paying lip service to it.  The good thing is that there is more demand for accountability and transparency now, and it is not easy to ruin a companies reputation by posting a nasty youtube video exposing how bad they actually are.   This makes companies scared, and when they are scared they will gladly invest in actually doing things to satisfy their stakeholders.  Maybe the lies about their green activities is a good thing, because each time they stick their nose out further they commit themselves to doing a little bit more for fear of stakeholders finding out the truth.

The Green Washing I am far more concerned about is another kind.  It is those who actually care for the environment and so do everything they can to make their lifestyle green, and then have the audacity to act and think like they are doing the earth a favor.  While it may be good they are adopting a green lifestyle, the consequential ego and moral boost it gives them is counterproductive to dealing with climate change.

I call it “Green Washing” because they wash their own hands in green activities and then think that they have done enough.   It is as if saying, “look, I didn’t put all that CO2 in the atmosphere; I am not responsible for climate change, everyone else is.”  So long as their lives are sustainable they will feel good about themselves, and they can absolve responsibility and turn their noses up at the rest of the less environmentally enlightened world.

I know these kinds of people exist mainly because I have had friends like this, and would at even point call myself a green washer.  I eventually realized that I was being green to emotionally make myself feel good, and at the same time beginning to look down on others who did not do the same.   Unfortunately, that kind of self-responsible thinking is simply not enough.  A motivated as they are, an elite vanguard of environmentally conscious citizenry will not be able to effectively deal with climate change.  All the efforts they make to reduce their carbon footprints are a drop in the bucket compared to those who are willing to use dirty energy to improve their standards of living.

The antidote to green washing is realizing that to effectively fight climate change we cannot just be responsible for our own activities, but also need to reach out to those who we may not like or agree with (dirty energy companies, politicians, conservatives, “the man”) and find some common ground for working together.   This means compromising some of our ideals to do things like support the bad policies and actors over the worst.

That said, I would much rather support a company that lies about its environmental progress than one who does not care about the environment at all.

– Green Heretic

Is Earth Hour a waste of resources and focus?

11 Mar

On March 26th, people all around the world will turn off their lights.  Last year, I was one of them, and this year I will probably do the same.  However, if I look at this event objectively, I find the resources and focus could be better spent.  It is really a cultural event, a way for greens to show their solidarity and feel good about accomplishing something.  Not much is accomplished, although perhaps a few more people are made aware of climate change.

Even if more people are motivated to make green changes in their lives, what in the end does this actually accomplish? If we actually manage to use less energy, then the cost of coal and oil go down, and someone else (most likely in China or India) uses it instead.  The total fossil fuels used basically stays the same (or even increases, because by keeping dirty energy cheap we are stunting the growth of investment green energy).

I have an idea, and maybe it is a bad one, but if we really cared about doing something meaningful this Earth Hour, we should all find creative ways to make dirty energy prices spike through some sort of mass disruption or vandalism to the dirty energy supply line that could result in increased costs for energy bills and at the pump.

For liability reasons, of course I am not suggesting that you do any of this.   But just for the sake of talking, does anyone have any ideas?

– Green Heretic