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:,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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