I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.
By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 6:40 PM GMT on April 21, 2013
The Complete List: What Can I Do? (4)
This is the continuation of a series in response to the question, “What can I do about climate change?” Links to the previous entries are listed at the end.
So far, I have introduced the common, easy answer: to be more efficient in the use of energy. I listed the places where we can improve efficiency and in short order reduce expense: insulation improvements in building, fuel efficiency in transportation, elimination of standby losses, and more efficient lighting, air conditioning and water heating. In addition to this common answer, I wrote about a couple of issues that I see discussed less often: barriers, overcoming barriers and how individuals can organize and influence communities, governments and businesses in ways to improve efficiency. My goal is to show that we can develop small, organized efforts that have the potential to grow into large impacts in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. We don’t have to wait on federal and global policy, which by all evidence remains far in the future. (EPA Delays Emission Regulations for New Power Plants (from Washington Post), Clean Energy Efforts Stalled (International Energy Agency, from UPI))
In this entry, I look beyond efficiency and provide a list to help organize how to think about reduction of greenhouse gas emissions both individually and collectively.
3. Alternative Energy
4. Waste Management
5. Behavior, Conservation and Reduced Use
6. Fuel Waste Management
7. Forestry Management
8. Soil Management
This is my list, and I have formed it over the years from a number of sources. For example, if you revisit the figure in the first blog of the series you can pick out these categories. Another place you can look to see these categories is in the influential paper byPacala and Socolow, who argued in 2004 we could, in fact, adequately reduce emissions with existing technology. My list is tuned a bit towards individuals and perhaps a little closer to everyday language. A point: Pacala and Socolow make a convincing argument that we can do a lot with existing technology. To make that happen would be a matter of organizing, breaking down barriers, and changing behavior and practice. For individuals, the fact that there is a realizable possibility for global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions should be encouraging and motivating. It is a matter of providing a bridge between the individual and the greater impact of collective behavior.
I have arranged the list, from 1 – 8, in a way that I imagine might be most accessible to individuals. I place efficiency at the top of the list because not only is it intuitive, but it has the possibility to cost less. The second item on the list is food, which will be the subject of the next blog. If you take a slice of our energy use, land use and greenhouse gas emissions through our methods of food production and food provision, then there is opportunity for significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The third item on the list is alternative energy. Many of us in the United States now have the opportunity to make the decision to buy our home energy from sources such as wind and solar. There are choices in vehicles of electric, hybrid electric, natural gas, ethanol and biodiesel. The impact of these choices on climate change is not easy to determine. The fourth item on the list is waste management. There are, of course, personal decisions about what we buy and what and how we throw things away. Waste management is also a place where we can have a lot of influence in our communities and local governments. Globally, there are issues of industry-wide waste management that can have huge impacts. I have deliberately separated the waste associated with energy production, as item 7 on the list.
The remaining items on the list I will describe more in future entries. They are a bit more removed from the individual, although for sure, there are decisions that we make as individuals that directly matter to fuel waste and forestry and soil management. This is especially true if we think about our individual influence: for example, if you are a farmer, you make decisions that influence both a lot of land as well as the people who buy your wares.
The final point I will make in this blog is that the items in the list are not independent of each other. For example, decisions that we make about what we eat will have implications for soil management, forestry management and fuel waste management. What you do with husks of your corn and your moldy bread matters directly to waste management. And all the items have something to do with individual behavior and with collective behavior of individuals – good stewardship of the climate has to become a natural part of the way we behave.
Links to the Series
Setting Up the Discussion Deciding to do something, definition of mitigation and adaptation, and a cost-benefit anchored framework for thinking about mitigation
Smoking, Marriage and Climate Behavioral changes and peer pressure
Organizing and Growing Individual Efforts A little detail on efficiency and thinking about how individuals can have more impact than just that of a single person
The Complete List Eight categories of things we can do to reduce greenhouse gases
We Are What We Eat Food and agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions
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