Some sources for related information:
Some sources for related information:
This gallery contains 4 photos.
The new Web site ClimateVisuals.Org offers both copyrighted and free images that explain the causes, consequences, solutions, and stories behind climate change. It’s a remarkable new resource developed from thoughtful and careful research into how people respond to and understand … Continue reading
Once there was an adorable little chipmunk named Fluffy William, who for whatever reason could understand English. It was just one of those things.
Fluffy William was so wee and cute that he charmed everyone he met, except for gardeners, from whose strawberry patches he had a habit of selecting a strawberry, eating just one bite, and then moving on–though in Fluffy William’s defense, his wee stomach was so small that one bite of strawberry filled him right up.
Fluffy William lived an unusually happy chimpmunk life, with cool leaves to rustle under in hot weather and a warm nest to bed down in when it turned cold, until he chanced to be sitting by an open window during a ninety-minute documentary on climate change. Climate change, it turned out, was weather and temperatures and reliable natural cycles all going haywire. Climate change was floods in the Spring and droughts in the Summer and hurricanes in the Fall and God only knows what kind of trouble in the winter. Climate change would make it harder for people to grow food, which would make for more desperate people, which would make for more disasters and refugees and wars. It rapidly became clear to Fluffy William, understanding English as he did, that somebody needed to do something about this climate change problem, and quick.
So Fluffy William ventured deep into the woods until he came to the burrow of Elder Stern Wanda, the wisest and most respected chipmunk anywhere thereabouts. There, breathlessly, he explained about climate change.
“We have to do something about this terrible problem, Elder Stern Wanda!” cried Fluffy William. “But what can I do? I’m just one little chipmunk.”
“You can’t do anything,” said Elder Stern Wanda. “Anything you might try to do would be totally useless. It’s the humans who have to do something about it, and everybody knows you can’t make a human do something they haven’t chosen to do on their own without a gun or a fistful of money.” Elder Stern Wanda picked up an old, chewed-up acorn and gnawed at it gingerly with her one remaining front tooth. The effort seemed to exhaust her after a few gnaws, and she put it back down. Age has its compensations, but it’s still a pain in the neck.
“So humans have to each decide to change their habits on their own?” said Fluffy William.
“Don’t hold your breath for it,” said Elder Stern Wanda. “Now scamper along home.”
So Fluffy William scampered along home and did nothing. That next spring there was a terrible flood, and in the summer there was a terrible drought. Regrettably, Fluffy William could not compete with the other chipmunks for the scarce food available, as he was so wee and cute, so he died of starvation.
He never did find out whether the humans did anything about climate change.
I’ve been working on my current book project, the novel The Town at World’s End, since late 2012. The story follows climate change educator Jess Finch from tragedy in an unseasonable and outsize storm through trying to piece her life back together and make a real difference in climate change. On the way, it imparts a huge amount of specific, practical information on reducing carbon footprint–not just facts, but experiences, problems, contradictions, motivation, obstacles, side benefits … even how to make sure the wires don’t fall into the wall when you’re installing a programmable thermostat.
Anyway, it wasn’t until a good ways into the project that I realized I needed to be maintaining a bibliography. Even though this is a novel, it’s based on a massive body of research, writing, and other resources, many of which are well worth reading (or seeing, as the case may be).
How long ’til doomsday? Should I replace my windows? How do I grow my own food year round in a cold climate without wasting energy? What’s biochar? How do I talk with someone who doesn’t even believe climate change is a threat? It’s all in the below, plus a lot more. Actually, it’s enormously encouraging to me to realize how many smart, dedicated, hard-working, resourceful people are out there working on all of the facets of the climate change problem. If you’re one of them, I’d like to take this moment to express my deep gratitude and to cheer you on.
I still have a lot of work to do in pulling that bibliography together, adding other items, formatting it usefully, categorizing, and so forth, but as an initial step I thought I’d share the initial bibliography notes, in case it’s helpful to anyone in finding good sources of information on climate change and carbon footprint.
How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything
Greystone Books, April 1, 2011
“How to Start a Shuttle Business”
by Felicia Greene, Demand Media
“Interviews with flood victims in Oxford”
Climate Outreach & Information Network
“How much electricity does an American home use?”
US Energy Information Administration
“Average Household Electricty Use Around the World”
“George Marshall on How to Talk to a Climate Change Dissenter”
Extreme Weather: Climate Change in Action?
Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change
Bloomsbury USA (August 19, 2014)
(Portions of the book made available to Luc by the author prior to publication)
“Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States”
The Risky Business Project
An Inconvenient Truth
Viking Books, 4/10/07
“Global Food Waste in 8 Numbers”
“Intermarché – ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables'”
“Deforestation and Its Extreme Effect on Global Warming”
Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss, Nov 13, 2012
“Health care accounts for eight percent of US carbon footprint, calculation finds”
University of Chicago Medical Center
Jeanette W. Chung; David O. Meltzer. Estimate of the Carbon Footprint of the US Health Care Sector. JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2009; 302 (18): 1970 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2009.1610
“Savings Project: Insulate Hot Water Pipes for Energy Savings”
US Dept. of Energy
“Ask Pablo: Is It Really Worth It to Insulate My Pipes?”
Pablo Paster, January 16, 2012
“This or That: Curtains or Plastic for Insulating Windows?”
Emily Main, 11/9/2009
“Conserve Energy with Plastic Window Insulation”
Josh Peterson, Planet Green
“Ask Pablo: Is Replacing Windows a Good Investment?”
August 17, 2010
“Noooo Edinburgh, Don’t Lift Ban on Changing Windows in Historic Structures”
“Are New Windows Really Worth It?”
“Obama Seeks to Boost Resilience to Climate-Driven Drought Fires”
Mark Drajem, Bloomberg News
“Supporting fire and rescue authorities to reduce the number and impact of fires”
UK Dept. for Communities and Local Government
“No Single Solution”
Energy Co-op of Vermont
“This Is Why It Makes Sense to Pair Solar With Electric Vehicles”
Tam Hunt, 7/14/14
“Why heat pumps are hot in Vermont this summer”
Julie Kelley, 8/6/14
Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing, 3rd edition
by Doug McKenzie-Mohr (Mar 15, 2011)
New Society Publishers
Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-by-step guide to raising vegetables and fish together
by Sylvia Bernstein
New Society Publishers, 10/11/11
“Al Gore ‘profiting’ from climate change agenda”
By Nick Allen in Los Angeles 7:13PM GMT 03 Nov 2009
“Al Gore to Donate His Half of Nobel Prize Money to Charity”
The Chronicle of Philanthropy”
“Does Aquaponics Really Work?
NOV 4, 2010
“How to build a heat sink for a self-heating greenhouse”
Mark Finch, 7/28/13
“Build a $300 underground greenhouse for year-round gardening”
Kimberley Mok, 2/22/13
“Most stable year round greenhouse in 5b climate”
Permies.com (forum discussion)
“All About Valhalla’s Earthship Greenhouse, part 7”
Vahalla Movement, Quebec
Posted April 20, 2014
“Solar Passive Greenhouse for 4-Season Harvest”
“Passive Solar Aquaponic Greenhouse Tour 2”
“Greenhouse vent openers & supplies”
“How We Designed Our Solar Greenhouse”
The Permaculture Research Institute
by Rob Avis, 2/11/11
Hollywood Global Warming Dramas Can Be Misleading”
Seán Ó Heigeartaigh
“Climate Fiction Will Reinforce Existing Views”
George Marshall, 7/29/14
“Personal Stories About Global Warming Change Minds”
Heidi Cullen, 7/30/14
“George Marshall on communicating climate change following extreme weather events”
Rob Hopkins, 3/20/14
“Sleepwalking into Disaster: Are We in a State of Denial about Climate Change?”
George Marshall, 9/22/05
The Aquaponic Gardening Community (online forum)
Essex Farm: About Us
(this is the farm that offers its members a CSA that can provide all of their food)
“3-D Printing Will Be a Manufacturing Engine for the Economy”
Daniel S. Hamermesh, 8/12/14
“3-D Printers Are No Rival for Mass Production”
Nick Allen, 8/12/14
“With 3-D Printers Comes the Possibility of Medical Miracles”
Mick Ebeling, 8/11/14
“3-D Printers Allow Designers to Go to a New Level”
Kacie Hultgren, 8/11/14
“Space Travel Will Be Easier and Less Costly With 3-D Printers”
Alison Nordt, 8/11/14
“3-D Printers Mean More Plastic in Landfills”
Luke Heemsbergen, 8/11/14
“Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan”
City of Arcata, CA
“Assessment of Arcata’s Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan”
Hackett, John et al
“Zero Energy Homes”
Presentation by Li Ling Young, Efficiency Vermont
for Net Zero Montpelier
Thu, Nov 13, 2014
A similar presentation by Young at a different location can be viewed online at http://www.brattleborotv.org/efficiency-vermont/path-zero-energy-homes-li-ling-young-hd
“The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate”
Al Gore, 6/18/14
“Americans Still Favor Energy Conservation Over Production”
Americans Want More Emphasis on Solar, Wind, Natural Gas
Energy Star Program
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
“Do Space Heaters Save Money and Energy?”
Kiera Butler, 1/10/11
The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming
New Society Publishers, 2009
Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis
Rodale, Inc., 2009
“Study provides new metric for comparing the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide”
Apr 28, 2014 by David L. Chandler
“Climate impacts of energy technologies depend on emissions timing”
Morgan R. Edwards & Jessika E. Trancik, 25 April 2014
Nature Climate Change
abstract at http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n5/full/nclimate2204.html
“Evaluation of Net Metering in Vermont”
Vermont Public Service Dept.
10/1/14, revised 11/7/14
U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
“Want to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint? Choose Mackerel Over Shrimp”
April Fulton, 7/29/14
“Going Green: Carbon footprints revisited”
Lisa Duchene, 5/1/09
“Fueling the Fleet, Navy Looks to the Seas”
(about synthesizing jet fuel from the carbon in seawater)
US Naval Research Laboratory
Daniel Perry, 9/24/12
“US navy synthesizes jet fuel solely out of seawater; costs $3-6 gallon”
by Tibi Puiu, 4/14/14
“Can ‘Green Cement’ Make Carbon Capture and Storage Obsolete?”
New York Times
John J Fialka, ClimateWire, 8/13/10
“Frequently Asked Questions About Biochar”
International Biochar Initiative
“What Is Biochar?”
International Biochar Initiative
“Heat & Cool Efficiently”
US Environmental Protection Agency
“A Guide to Energy-Efficient Heating and Cooling”
US Environmental Protection Agency
“Savings Project: Lower Water Heating Temperature”
US Environmental Protection Agency
“How to Clean a Clothes Dryer Vent”
“Energy Saver 101 Infographic: Home Heating”
US Dept of Energy
“#AskEnergySaver: Home Energy Audits”
US Dept of Energy
“Home Energy Audits”
US Dept of Energy
Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds
Empowerment Institute, 2006
“Average Daily Media Use in the United States from 2010 to 2014”
“Do Energy-Efficient Appliances Add Up?”
by Craig Guillot
“Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator”
US Department of Energy
“Adding Wall Insulation Has a Lengthy Payback Period”
Jeanne Huber, 12/14/2010
“The Potential of Biomass to Curb Global Warming”
Alliance for Green Heat
“Bulletin #7217, Maine Home Energy: Options for Home Heating Fuels and Energy Systems — An Overview”
(includes chart rating each option on e.g., convenience, cost, efficiency)
The University of Maine Extension
“Home Energy Sources”
(list of emissions by fuel source, but not compared to each other with equivalent units)
“Carbon emissions of different fuels”
(deals with fuels for heat and transport, thus doesn’t include non-fuel renewables)
Biomass Energy Center
“How We Calculate”
“Implications of Shale Gas Development for Climate Change”
Richard G. Newell and Daniel Raimi
American Chemical Society
April 22, 2014
Published in Environmental Science Technology, August 5 2014
“Georgia Mt. Community Wind Open House draws over 750 local visitors”
originally published in Vermont Business Magazine, June 2013
“After the Flood: Vermont’s Rivers and the Legacy of Irene”
(YouTube playlist of program in 4 parts)
November 26, 2013
“Cheap, Abundant Shale Gas Won’t Significantly Cut U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions”
Janet Pelley, Chemical & Engineering News
May 2, 2014
“Climate Change: 10 Years to Cut Off Nuclear War, Plagues”
(no longer available online)
Fairfax Climate Watch
“Carbon Cutoff Point ‘Is 27 Years Away'”
Climate News Network, 10/27/2013
“Global warming’s new frightening deadline”
Vancouver Sun, 3/9/13
“New global warming deadline: Reverse it in 8 years or it’ll be too late”
“Climate change deadline 5 years – IEA”
“We already blew the deadline to avoid dangerous climate change”
“The Deadline for Global Warming: Reversing the Effects of Climate Change Before 2017”
International Business Times, 11/16/11
“Carbon Footprint Of Best Conserving Americans Is Still Double Global Average”
How to Live a Low-Carbon Life: The Individual’s Guide to Stopping Climate Change
Building Powerful Community Organizations: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups that Can Solve Problems and Change the World
Michael Jacoby Brown
Long Haul Press (September 28, 2007)
Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living
The Union of Concerned Scientists, Seth Shulman, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, David Friedman, Margaret Mellon, John Rogers, Suzanne Shaw
Island Press; 6th edition (April 3, 2013)
The Burning Question: We Can’t Burn Half the World’s Oil, Coal, and Gas. So How Do We Quit?
Mike Berners-Lee, Duncan Clark
Greystone Books (September 21, 2013)
Flight Behavior: A Novel
The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience
UIT Cambridge Ltd. (April 1, 2014)
“Clean Break: The Story of Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn from It”
Osha Gray Davidson
InsideClimate News (November 8, 2012)
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Times Books (April 7, 2010)
Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, the Fourth of July, and other holidays all have a few things in common: they tend to involve travel and special meals or feasts. For many extended families, like mine, these kinds of occasions are the only times during the year we all have a chance to see each other, yet travel and food are two of the four biggest ways individuals and households contribute to global warming*. So our choices are to give up on sustainability over the holidays, to give up on the holidays, or to find ways to the holidays more sustainable, starting now. These posts are focused on that last option.
The way I propose we look at cutting any emissions is “biggest impacts first.” We often look for the easiest, most obvious ways to act more sustainably, but the truth is that there are so many low-impact things we can do, we can easily spend all our time on those and never get to the good stuff, the major savings. That’s where the Big Four offer a starting point. With those in mind, here are some tips for the making the largest possible savings in emissions at the holidays.
Rethink air travel: Flying around the country and even the rest of the plant has become relatively inexpensive and easy, but unfortunately it’s one of the worst offenders in terms of emissions. Not only do planes burn a lot of fossil fuels, they push out their exhaust at altitudes where their bad effects are at least doubled compared to what they would be on the ground. It’s not up to me to tell you or your family members not to fly, but there are ways to fly less, for instance driving together in an efficient car, taking a bus or plane or boat, or making one longer visit instead of two shorter ones. For more information on flying, see “You Want Me to Stop Doing What?”
If the trip is very important to you and you can’t find any way to make it other than air travel, you can consider making a donation to offset the climate impact. For example, Cool Earth is a non-profit organization that does excellent work preserving forests, which is one of the best possible ways to help slow climate change (even better than planting new trees). Donations to organizations that make a smaller or less direct impact would have to be proportionately larger.
The cost of offsetting a flight depends very much on how long the flight is. For a transatlantic round trip, an offset donation to an organization like Cool Earth would be only $20.90. A short round trip, for instance between Niagara Falls and New York City, would be only about $2.50. (Source: How Bad Are Bananas by Mike Berners-Lee)
Not making the trip in the first place is certainly the ideal way to go, but offsetting is a decent alternative if you are having trouble finding away around flying.
Use food well: According to FeedingAmerica.org, between 25% and 40% of all food produced in the U.S. will never be eaten. Take a moment to reflect on that with me: At least a quarter of all our food, and possibly closer to half, goes completely to waste! Meanwhile, much of this food is produced with energy-intensive methods that burn many tons of fossil fuels; methane from ruminant livestock (cows, sheep, and goats) that is more than 20 times as potent in damaging the climate than carbon dioxide; and chemical fertilizers that release Nitrous Oxide (NO2), a greenhouse gas more than 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Careful attention to what and how much food we buy and how we serve and store it can cut our personal food waste to far below the usual amount.
Time permitting, I’ll be posting further ways to transform the holidays over the coming weeks. A happy and sustainable holiday season to all!
Photo courtesy of Emily Barney
* The other two are heat/hot water and electricity.
George Marshall has devoted his career to one perplexing question. As he puts it, “Why, when the evidence is so strong, and so many agree that this is our greatest problem, are we doing so little about climate change?” What he has discovered over time is that we’re practically built to ignore problems like climate change. He also has developed an understanding of dialog with people who don’t believe climate change is happening, or don’t believe that it’s humans who are causing it, that uncovers a much, much more effective way for we who are fighting climate change to engage in discussion with people who aren’t. Below is the quick summary, but if you want to know more, go to the source, where many other resources are available: http://www.climateaccess.org/resource/tip-sheet-george-marshall-how-talk-climate-change-dissenter .
I had been reading some climate change materials on Quora recently, and in with some great information, there was someone who had asked whether people are overly concerned with their personal carbon footprints. There had been only one response so far, and it was from someone who said, essentially “Yes, they are: an individual person’s contribution to climate change is a drop in the ocean.” This may have been a troll, admittedly, because late in his post he says “… it is not rational to worry about one’s personal footprint. A far more reasonable and productive approach would be to worry about other people’s.” Is it just me, or is the error there really easy to spot? So I’d like to suggest a way of looking at this question that I think might make the answer clear. I think that we can agree that governments, businesses, and other people could at least in theory make a lot more difference in climate change than any one of us can individually.
Democractic governments are only successful in pursuing policies that their constitutents support. If you and I and all the other voters aren’t minding our own carbon footprints, we’re giving our governments a clear message that lowering carbon footprint isn’t important. Virtue generally does not originate with politicians, unfortunately, and when it does, it is often voted out of office unless it has a lot of supporters out in the populace.
Some businesses, certainly, try to lower their carbon footprints, but you can only do so much of this before it starts costing more money than you get out of it, and most businesses can’t afford to put themselves at a competitive disadvantage in this way. Corporations are actually required by law to pursue profitable approaches, and would run afoul of the law and/or shareholders if they spent too much money being environmentally friendly.
The only way to change businesses is for customers to demand something different. As long as people are happy with buying goods and services that come from businesses with an unnecessarily huge carbon footprint, those goods and services will continue to be offered–and usually more cheaply than sustainable alternatives.
People like you and I, by purchasing in a sustainable way, can contribute to growing sustainable businesses and encourage more businesses to change. Without us voting with our wallets, this change will not happen.
Sure, we’d like everybody else to lower their carbon footprint–but why should they, if we don’t? By doing everything we can to lower our personal contributions to climate change, we can be the trail-blazers. It’s true, no one may follow us–but if we wait for somebody else to lead the way, we’re unlikely to ever get anywhere.
So yes, individual carbon footprints are a somewhat piddling amount of overall greenhouse gas emissions, but without reducing them, none of the larger sources are likely to budge. Lead by example; be the change you want to see in the world.
I recently read Mike Berners-Lee’s excellent book How Bad Are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything, which uses detailed research and painstaking calculations to give realistic ideas of the carbon* footprint of many of the things we do in daily life. What’s the difference between buying asparagus and frozen peas? How does train travel compare to car travel? What’s the impact of a traffic jam? Berners-Lee answers these questions and many others.
One catch is that neither Berners-Lee nor anyone else can give exact numbers for any of these things. For example, the carbon footprint of eating a banana differs a whole lot depending on whether you’re buying it practically off the boat in Miami or from a grocery store in Topeka, Kansas because of the transportation element. The impact of driving a car depends not only on the kind of car, but also on its age, how long you plan to keep it, how well it’s maintained, how often you drive it, and many other factors.
Some of these complications are minor and can be ignored, but others are major. For example, you’d think that between clothing made from natural fibers and clothing made from polyester or other petroleum-based products, the natural fiber clothing would always be greener–but what about laundry? It turns out that washing and drying clothing can be a much bigger factor than the manufacture of the clothing in the first place, and a pair of jeans requires much more energy from a dryer (if you use one) than a pair of synthetic fabric pants.
An even worse complicating factor is that different sources disagree hugely on what the footprint of a particular item or activity really is, and most of these sources greatly underestimate the footprint. For instance, you may have heard statements about the carbon footprint of different vehicles, but in many cases those statements only cover the fuel consumption of the vehicle, and even then don’t take into account the infrastructure and supply chain necessary to deliver the fuel, but rather just what’s coming out of the tailpipe. Berners-Lee makes a special effort to be complete in this regard, but even he readily admits he is likely to be missing some factors in at least some cases.
This doesn’t mean that we have to nail down every last gram of impact and get some kind of complicated analysis of every little thing we do. It also doesn’t mean that because the answers can’t be exact most of the time, we should give up on counting carbon. It just suggests that the most useful approach is to understand carbon footprint numbers as guidelines and to make the best decisions we can based on those guidelines.
For example, it’s next to impossible to quantify exactly what the footprint of manufacturing and transporting a solar array is, or to know the potential footprint of the electricity the array replaces (though it’s often safe to assume it’s from coal, for reasons explained in the book). At the same time, it’s easy to see from even rough calculations that regardless of where these numbers land exactly, installing an effective solar array makes for a huge reduction in carbon footprint.
Annoyingly (to me, anyway), Berners-Lee is not much of a booster of solar power for reasons essentially unrelated to its carbon impact, and I think his analysis on that point is off-target. This is one of my many minor peeves about the book, yet on the whole it’s extremely useful. I hope to cover more of both its good and bad points in future posts. In the mean time, if you’re at all interested in understanding your personal impact on the climate–and everybody else’s, for that matter–may I suggest you buy the book?
*Like Berners-Lee and many other people who discuss the subject, I use the term “carbon footprint” as shorthand for “carbon dioxide equivalent,” which is to say the impact of all greenhouse gases, all of which can be calculated as being equivalent to a certain amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. While there are a variety of greenhouse gases, CO2 is the most abundant, though it’s not as damaging gram for gram as most of the others. Anyway, it’s unnecessarily complicated in most situations to talk about “carbon dioxide footprint, nitrous oxide footprint, methane footprint, and refrigerant footprint” and then to have to do a bunch of extra math from there when we can just use conversion factors and talk about “carbon dioxide equivalent.”
Photo by liknes
Flying. I’d like it if you stopped using airplanes. I’m not saying you have to or that I’m going to make you or that you should: I’m just hoping you’ll think about it.
The number of things we could be doing every day to reduce our carbon footprint and fight climate change disaster is unmanageable, overwhelming. Reducing paper and plastic use, recycling, reusing, repurposing, gardening, public transit, local foods, avoiding processed foods, solar and wind power … I don’t know if you have time to tackle it all at once, but there’s no way I can manage. I have to change at most a few things at a time–which is why it’s essential for me to to figure out the things I can do that will make the greatest impact and do those first.
Number one on my list? Not flying.
For millions upon millions of years, not flying for humans has been a no-brainer. Then the airplane comes along and suddenly we’re Jonathan freakin’ Seagull.
I totally get the wonder of flight. I don’t mean the feeling of it, which for humans generally means getting a little queasy, trying not to spill the little airplane meal, and looking out a small window at a weirdly disconnect landscape; I mean the possibilities. Years ago I flew to Japan, and while I visited, there wasn’t a day I didn’t look around me to see and feel that holy crap, I was in Japan, and my two shoestring trips to Europe after I got out of college felt even more life-changing to me. On the other hand, as wonderful as those trips were, did I really need to go to Japan or Belgium or Hungary? No, not really. It was fun and fascinating, but there are other fun and fascinating things to do in the world.
Travel to foreign countries used to be one of my favorite things. Now that I see the real cost of it–which is not counted in dollars but in disasters–the shine has worn off.
I understand there are a lot of people who travel for business. The first thing I would suggest is that this often isn’t strictly necessary, just convenient and even, from a cost standpoint, reasonable. The second thing I’d suggest is that if you’re in a business that really does require a lot of air travel, you could make a disproportionately huge, positive impact on climate change by finding a way to cut way back, or to stop it. The third thing I’d suggest is that if your job really requires air travel and you don’t have the means to change it, it may be worth considering another job if you want to fight climate change.
Easy for me to say, though. Except for vacations and writing-related events, I generally have no reason to fly. Yet it being easy for me to say this doesn’t take away any of its importance. I’m sure I’d be more convincing on the subject if I were a former world-traveling business prodigy who had stopped flying instead of some schmuck who started taking regional vacations, but I’m doing my best.
Just how bad is air travel? Of course it depends on the specifics, but two or three round trip transatlantic flights can do as much damage to the climate as everything else an average American might do during the course of a year put together. All of the heating fuel, the driving, the fertilizers and fuel to bring you food, the cow methane, the household waste, and everything else: it’s doubled by a few flights.
As far as alternatives are concerned, the best and easiest is often to stay put or go to some alternative destination close by. Trains, boats, and buses are good bets, each having a much smaller carbon footprint than airplanes. Even cars are a lot better than planes, with hybrid, plug-in electric, and highly fuel-efficient cars of course being the preferred way to go. A trip by car can come close to emitting the same amount of greenhouse gases as a flight of the same distance, depending on the circumstances, but airplane emissions occur high in the atmosphere, where they have several times the impact they would have on the ground.
No one is going to stop you from flying. Few people even care at this point, but I hope you’ll be one of them, if you aren’t already. If fighting climate change is important to you, there’s not a single thing I can recommend that can reduce your footprint so easily and so profoundly.
Photo by The_ Incredible_ Mr.E
Al Gore’s documentary film An Inconvenient Truth is painful to watch, just like any accurate source of information about global climate change, but it’s loaded with useful information (even though it’s slightly dated now–which unfortunately makes it look more optimistic than anything else).
My favorite moment of that film is this one:
The thing I love is that it explains, in a nutshell, exactly what we have to do and exactly how to do it. The frog is our future self: the hand that reaches in for him is our present self, the rescuer. Rescuing the frog is a heroic task, inevitably difficult and painful (we aren’t going to be eager to stick our hand into that scalding water), but necessary, and also incredibly empowering.
Gore points to local, individual, and family action as essential to solving the climate change problem. I’m very much with him on that. If we aren’t willing to change ourselves, how do we expect to convince other people, businesses, and governments to change what they’re doing?
As for me, I’ve been working on a project to start making a noticeable difference in climate change locally; I’m hoping to be able to announce that with my next post.