A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

04 April 2008

Uh, So What?

I've been reading a lot of reaction to the recent report that says that the International Panel on Climate Change was overly optimistic, and that we need to shovel money into new technology to beat the devil on this one.

The conclusion, for some folks, appears to be: "Since we can't make a significant dent in greenhouse gases using current technology and reducing consumption, shouldn't we just give up and give all the researchers a bunch of money to see if they can find an easy way to fix the problem while we go on our merry way."

Wrong, wrong, and wrong the hell again.

For one simple reason: If we don't have the tech to solve the problem now, then the first step we must take is to reduce emissions at the source. The paper's authors appear to have taken as read that our energy demands are going to climb. There are ways to prevent that, or at least slow it down.

We need to put into play every possible trick to cap emissions at the smokestack and tailpipe. In North America, imagine how much could be reduced if we started adding an environmental levy (of the kind charged on your tires and batteries) on vehicles. It would be a sliding scale, with zero-emissions vehicles at, of course, zero. The lowest rates could be charged for hybrids, with SUVs and the like paying the highest rates.

At the other end, why not issue tighter madatory fuel economy standards? California did, (and that's where I'm going with this in a minute).

Because the environment is a globally shared resource. Canadians, particularly, have had their resources at far, far, below the actual cost of consuming them. What if every pound of coal we burned had to carry a charge to reflect the health effects of burning it?

And this is where California comes in: California had a smog problem. It was a health and economy-poisoning disaster. What did those crazy hippie-types who ran the government in the sixties and seventies do? My god! They implemented fuel-economy standards and tailpipe tests that made driving a blue-spewing clunker a pain in the pocketbook. They made industry clean up its act.

Of course, all of that came to an end when the economy imploded and the state slid into the sea as a result of failing to burn sufficient oil ...

Of course not. They made people stop spewing poison into the air, and guess what? The air got cleaner! Holy crap!

Europe mandates tough emissions controls and fuel economy standards on cars, including savage money for engines bigger than two litres; and oddly enough, most of Europe seems to be doing okay. And as a bonus, finding parking is easier when your stall neighbours aren't driving Hummers.

Hell, London has a congestion charge, but people still drive there. Although as I understand it, most cars carry two people in any case because one has to circle the block while the other goes shopping, given the parking situation.

So the Avid Fan should probably conclude that it doesn't matter why we do it. Pollution is bad news in any case. It is simply an urgent and necessary thing that we take measures to reduce it as soon as possible and that such measures carry a stiff economic penalty for those who will not change their behaviour to adapt to the century we live in, whether those people are individual citizens or corporate ones.

Furthermore--if we expect developing nations to do their part, we in the industrialized countries must do ours. And that means we must reduce. Why should a Chinese citizen be entitled to pollute only a quarter as much as a North American? Instead, we need to look to reduce our individual energy use.

Next time some cretin is holding forth in the pub about how you can have his SUV when you pry it from his cold, dead fingers, look him in the eye and ask:

"So ... why exactly are you in favour of increasing pollution?"

Helpful household hint: Drop your thermostat two degrees in winter and raise it two degrees in summer. You'll barely notice. Or are you simply unprepared to face the possibility of having to wear a sweater in order to save money and carbon wastes?

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At 9:41 p.m., Blogger Slave to the dogs said...

For myself, I agree completely. I know I can do more to contribute and try to do so.

For the general population, I disagree. I think technology is what ultimately will solve the problem.

If you are struggling to make ends meet, pollution and energy use is going to be pretty low on your priority list. You buy cheaper lightbulbs because you live paycheck to paycheck. You make your '91 high emissions car last as long as it possibly can. Recycle? They don't do it in your hood.

Reducing your individual energy output is a benefit we priveleged have. You can put the gas guzzler taxes et. al on new cars that get sold. How many poor folks can atually afford to buy a new car?

I've had colleagues in China over the past year who were staggered by the pollution levels there. I don't think it's comparable, and I suspect most of that comes from not autos but from industry. As for automobiles, ou can bet the cars that Japan (or whoever else, we Americans can't really seem to export our own cars) sells to China don't have the MPG and emissions benchmarks as the ones sold in North America.

Finally, it's not transportation that's contributing the most to global warming. That honor is held by factory farming. The best way to contribute seems to be to eat less meat. But if you replace that meat with soy, be careful where that soy comes from. The Amazon is being razed for soy farming more so now than it used to be for McDonald's burgers.

At 9:47 a.m., Blogger Metro said...


You raise some points that need addressing, particularly since many people share some of these beliefs. I'll post on this shortly.

As you point out, the industrialized world and China aren't comparable. But the differences highlight the need for a global approach. China's pollution is largely industrial. This can be told from the locations and type of pollution, as well as by looking at the percentage of people who own cars. It's also caused by the burning of coal for power, a blight from which we are not immune. As far as I'm aware Canada's air pollution comes mostly from autos, with the bulk of the industrial pollutants coming from power plants. So the solutions for each country would be different.

But none of this relieves us of the responsibility to make smarter choices. Those Chinese factories aren't selling cheap crap to Chinese people. They're selling it to us. And for that, the Chinese people pay a filthy price.

At 9:50 a.m., Blogger Metro said...

Oh, and I dispute the claim that the destruction of the Amazon has a direct connection with people's dietary choices. Rather, it's much to do with their energy choices.

Briefly, it's about relocating agriculture away from the market that's consuming the product.

But that, again, is another post.

At 8:42 a.m., Blogger Slave to the dogs said...

The people at National Geographic would disagree with you Metro. I do see your point about that. However, given the population of the planet I'm not sure we can steer away from such an agriculture model. And soy or not, the factory livestock farming is still a larger problem than transportation.

I really don't know why people preaching green don't encourage birth control. That is an important part of the solution.

At 9:54 a.m., Blogger Metro said...

Hang on there--It seems as though you're saying that since we can't stop people from having used cars we shouldn't try to increase fuel-efficiency.

But you want me to stop them from having babies?

Now who's being idealistic? ;-)

At 2:09 p.m., Blogger Slave to the dogs said...

Oh no, I never meant to imply that we shouldn't increase fuel efficiency. That's part of the whole technological solution that I advocate. It just sounded to me like you're looking for things that will have an effect NOW, and I only wanted to point out that a significant demographic isn't able to contribute to the effort in that capacity.

And you are correct in that this is still much more likely to happen than discouraging the "as many as God wants" childbearing philosophy. But unless we start to do so willingly, it seems that something like China's one child policy will be required here too.

At 2:25 p.m., Blogger Metro said...

I don't concede that people who actually are incapable of reducing their carbon skidmark make up a significant demographic.

The technology may come, but I wouldn't want to bet my great-grandkids' futures on it. And I bet most people who qualify as poor would feel similarly.


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