The new IPCC report on climate is pretty dire. Can individual actions make any difference?
There is a new report out from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that is pretty dire; it tells us that we have to make massive changes to the way we live right now, that we only have about twelve years to limit climate change catastrophe. Their recommendations are extremely onerous, including cutting carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and to zero by 2050, ending deforestation, drastically increasing the cost of carbon through taxation and figuring out carbon capture and storage. Jonathan Watts of the Guardian quotes Jim Skea, a co-chair of the working group on mitigation:
We have presented governments with pretty hard choices. We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that. We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.
Of course, we know that there is no political will. Even with governments that pay lip service to dealing with climate change, there is resistance from people who refuse to pay the cost of carbon, and there are political expediencies that prevent real action.
“Can you imagine anything the scientists would say that would persuade the US administration that it needs to take [climate change] more seriously?” Presenter Evan Davis puts that to former Trump adviser Myron Bell— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) October 8, 2018
“No, I can’t.”#newsnight pic.twitter.com/KwnOi1sveY
Or there are leaders of countries who just don't believe it, don't care, or actively promote their own fossil fuel industries. The New York Times pretty much nailed it with its headline about the report: Dire Climate Warning Lands With a Thud on Trump’s Desk. This was pretty much the case everywhere.
No country is even coming close to meeting its current commitments, let alone this new call for 1.5C. Really, one might want to just come out and say that it is hopeless, we're cooked.
But this is TreeHugger, and we are nothing if not relentlessly positive. Also in the Guardian, Matthew Taylor and Adam Vaughan have some suggestions for individual actions that one can take to reduce their own carbon footprints. We have covered most of them before on TreeHugger, but they never quite had the sense of urgency than they do right now.
Eat less meat, particularly beef.
They say that "avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet." That's because the article they reference also talks about fresh water use and land use. I suspect that if you look holistically at the damage the private automobile causes, from material extraction to land use, that it is far, far worse. And after years of everyone promoting healthier diets with less meat, consumption in North America has actually gone up.
Walk or cycle where possible and if not – if it is available and affordable – use public transport. If you need to go by car, consider an electric one.
Unfortunately for most people, especially in North America, car use is baked into the way they live; walking or cycling might often mean moving house. I have noted before that how we get around determines where we live; transportation and urban form are inextricably linked.
"Relatively simple measures such as insulating lofts and draft-proofing doors and windows on a large scale would see a big drop in energy consumption." But there is not much incentive to do so when gas prices are so low. Governments could help, but are rolling back subsidies and assistance in the UK and across North America. It's also not enough; we need radical building efficiency and we need to electrify everything.
Reduce, recycle, reuse
Buy fewer things and consume less. Recycle wherever possible and – even better – reuse things. Demand a low carbon option in everything you consume, from clothes to food to energy.
Sigh. It's not enough. We have to go way beyond this and aim for zero waste. We have to just stop single-use plastics now; they are solid fossil fuels and they are not being recycled in any significant quantity.
In the end, this is the only thing that will save us:
Individuals can hold politicians to account by supporting political parties that put the environment at the heart of their economic and industrial policies.
Alas, those parties and politicians are few and far between, and the baby boomer voters prefer lower taxes to carbon taxes. Change will come eventually as the millennial and Z generations take over, but that won't get us to 1.5°C by 2030.
Really, it is hard to be optimistic when you read this sad list. We have to do better. We CAN do better. The authors actually started with Collective Action, noting:
Although individual choices and actions are important, experts say people need to unite if the scale of this challenge is to be met, making the political space for politicians and big businesses to make the necessary changes.
I don't know that you need an expert to tell you that; it seems pretty obvious. It also is obvious that the small personal steps proposed by Matthew Taylor and Adam Vaughan are not enough. I suspect you are going to be hearing a lot more from TreeHugger on this subject.