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 , 2:33 AM GMT on April 10, 2013
Organizing and Growing Individual Efforts: What Can I Do? (3)
This is the continuation of a series in response to the question, “What can I do about climate change?” I thank Doug Glancy who helped me out last week with a blog Smoking, Marriage and Climate, which discussed the role of peer pressure and social networking to organize and develop a growing movement. These are ideas I will come back to later in the series.
In the first entry of the series, I set up the discussion with the definition of mitigation and adaptation. In this blog, I will focus on what individuals can do to mitigate climate change. That is, what can individuals do to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases?
The easy answer is to be more efficient. I included a complicated graph in the first blog that provided a foundation for thinking about efficiency. The message of that blog is that insulation improvements in building, fuel efficiency in transportation, elimination of standby losses, and more efficient lighting, air conditioning and water heating not only reduce emissions in a significant way but in a very short time they save money. “Standby losses” refers to computers that are left in a state of reduced power rather than being turned off. Chargers and adapters that are left plugged in when they are not being used also contribute to standby losses. According to Energy Star the average U.S. household spends about $100 per year on standby energy.
More efficient use of energy means less money spent buying energy. Over time, the savings in energy will pay for the upfront cost, for example, of installing better insulation or a more efficient water heater. Earlier, I wrote about personal barriers to taking action. Happily, federal and local governments and corporations have taken steps to reduce upfront costs, which many people cite as the reason they don’t spend on more efficient buildings and appliances. In other cases, there are local regulations and coding requirements that demand improving efficiency. A place, therefore, that an individual can contribute is to advocate and to support policies and corporations that advance more efficient use of energy. This helps to provide an environment that encourages better use of resources.
Individuals can and do make choices about fuel-efficient cars, public transportation, appliances and light bulbs. If your concern, however, is climate change, then you make these decisions and then don’t see immediate benefit to the climate. In fact, mostly we hear that carbon dioxide emissions continue to go up and that the planet is warming and changing in profound ways. Therefore, it is easy to become discouraged that an individual does not have a lot of impact. Turning this problem around, however, provides a different framing. Our individual behavior in the consumption of energy has, collectively, led to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: it has made the problem. Therefore, we have ample evidence that the collective behavior of individuals can have global consequences. This suggests that individuals should look at ways to promote the emergence of groups of people to enhance adoption of more energy-efficient buying and behavior.
Many individuals have the opportunity to contribute to the emergence of societal groups because they are part of organizations ranging from community associations to civic organizations – the list is long. As a member or leader of local organizations, you have opportunity to have a more direct impact. Students of mine have worked in efforts to improve insulation in entire neighborhoods and in the development of recycling and composting programs. Working in small organizations is also a place where people can take advantage of our natural competitive instincts and peer pressure to incorporate the power of social behavior.
A local activity that especially appeals to me is to get involved in local government and schools boards. This can either be as a citizen speaking at the meetings, volunteering, seeking appointments to committees or even getting elected. Activities range from working to assure excellent science education to asking for and developing weather and climate preparedness plans. Thinking about weather and climate in planning (adaptation) is a good way to make mitigation seem real.
Finally, individuals are often not individual in the resources they influence and control. People own businesses and work in management in companies. These are places where there is often strong attention to reducing cost; hence, efforts to reduce cost through efficiency are likely to be well received. Good businesses are often thinking long term – energy costs, appeal to customers who might be environmentally interested, emerging technology, protection of property, buildings and resources; therefore, business might see advantage in taking up initiatives that are beneficial to climate change. Businesses are places where individual influences have impacts that are far greater than that of a single person (UPS and Sustainability).
Here, I have provided a list of possibilities where the influence of an individual can reach beyond that of a single person. However, referring back to an earlier entry, I would argue that rather than a list of things that one can do, it is at least as important to state what to do and then provide the skills on how to do it. I need some help on skills of how to get things done, people with experience - perhaps the next guest blogger.
Here are a couple of the better web sites I have found with the basic information of what individuals can do. Please send me more.
EPA: What You Can Do
Union of Concerned Scientists: What You Can Do About Climate Change
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
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.
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