Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Pulling our heads out of the sand

Almost as soon as I hit “publish” on my (mostly) upbeat post last week came the report from a panel of scientists saying that global warming is now “unequivocal” and that it is “very likely” that human activity is the driving factor behind this. (Read more here—sorry, registration required, but you’ve probably seen it in whatever media source you use.) In scientific terms, “very likely” indicates a statistical certainty of 90 to 99%. Six years ago, the conclusion was that human factors “likely” (66 to 90%) were increasing global temperatures.

At this point, further temperature increases appear inevitable, even if we can stop current increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Even midrange estimates for the next century show a continuing increase. The US, at 5% of world population and 25% of emissions, can do a lot to bring usage into alignment with population, but even that won’t lead to a global decrease.

On top of that are suggestions that much of the recent talk of positive action is just that—feel-good talk. It’s enough to trigger my panic response. If the changes are inevitable, if the global discussion will need to include how humans can adapt to this new world, why even try? Excuse me while I scream and then bury my head in the sand.

But I started this column, in part because I wanted to move past a particularly paralyzing panic and figure out how an individual can make some difference.

Now I know that one household will not tip the balance, but I believe, I have to believe, that if enough individuals decide to make simple changes in their energy-consumption patterns, to shift their priorities the change will be noticeable.

Ever the realist, I also know that it will take more than individuals’ efforts. In particular, we need businesses not only to talk about the changes they’ll make, but actually to follow through. And it needs to be not just a handful of companies. This needs to be about more than money—or it needs to become apparent to the worst offenders that not improving will affect their bottom line worse than paying out to make the changes.

Which brings me to the governments. Again, too much talk, not enough action. Particularly the US. The European Union has been more proactive and Canada has also made a greater effort although there’s still more to be done. Incentives are all well and good. Caps on emissions are even better—but not if we’re just going to let companies trade the leftover from their quotas to bigger polluters. If businesses won’t do it of their own accord, the government must find a way to make it happen. Cars can be engineered to get much better mileage (but oil companies don’t want that); alternative sources of energy can be refined and made more efficient and cost-effective (again not a popular goal in many circles).

So, um, as I mentioned last week, I have again wandered away from my intended topic of the week. Next week, a special Valentine’s Day post. After that, I’ll get back on track and talk about my project for February.

I leave you with a positive link, which in fact gives several links to sites with more suggestions for action.


metro mama said...

China is a growing concern.

Trillian said...

I actually actively seek out products not made in China for that very reason. No sense encouraging their current environmental, human rights, and fiscal behavior.

Lisa b said...

I graduated with an environmental science degree over ten years ago. What you are saying was pretty much accepted back then which means we have all had a lot of notice and very little action.
I am scared to think about what is coming.
Shall I add to the gloom? Bob Hunter of city TV was one of the founders of greenpeace spoke at my school to a crowd of oh maybe twenty of us. He talked about companies that were no longer allowed to sell CFC containing refrigerators in the west selling them in China. The same is apparently true of most pesticides banned in the west; the companies just sell them to poorer countries where they are not regulated.

Deep down I am in complete dispair but
I enjoy your posts about the differences you are making as it gives me hope that the little things I do also matter.

Mouse said...

China's exactly the sort of problem I had in mind. And Trillian points out something we've been trying to keep in mind with our purchases. And now I'm finding it frustrating to realize how many things, especially online, are not adequately labelled.

Lisa b--I do despair too. About exactly the sorts of things you bring up. Which is why I want to see companies taking on more responsibility, caring about more than the bottomline. In the meantime, I switch to the individual actions so I can feel like less of the problem and more of the solution.