The IPCC says all we have to do to prevent global warming is to change everything. Here’s a better idea: know your real footprint


At a certain point of any endeavour, exhaustion sets in. As boxers say, you have a finite pool of energy in the tank, and you choose where to burn it. When you’re done, you’re done.

It is therefore sad news for those that think we are going to be getting off fossil fuels any time soon, because, in the fight to reduce our environmental footprint, even the IPCC seems to be on the ropes, mouth hanging open, and arms dangling over the side.

In their most recent report, the IPCC in effect threw up their hands: “Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems (high confidence). These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.”

This is not a plan; this is a basket of utopian nonsense. It is like saying “War can be eradicated completely by convincing all global citizens to stop being mean to each other. Such transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale…” I stop the analogy there because I don’t think anyone besides the panel knows what the next “but not necessarily in terms of speed” means. How an exercise can be unprecedented in terms of scale but not of speed is academic-speak for “we have no idea what we’re talking about.”

It does no good to tell the world that all we have to do prevent global warming is to change everything.  That’s not going to happen. What can happen though is that we can make major progress simply by rethinking what our true footprints really are.

For example, we may think organic vegetables are better for the environment because they’re healthy, non-corporate, and not burdened with industrial chemical requirements. That may be true but…what if those organic vegetables are shipped in from a thousand miles away? And what if the local alternative is not organic, but is next thing to it, and comes from just down the road?

What is the environmental footprint of a high-end bicycle, made of aluminum or carbon fibre?

What is the environmental footprint of an iPhone? Is it good for the environment to upgrade every time, or should we only do it every 5 years?

What is the environmental cost of buying a new electric vehicle, compared to driving a five year old one for five more years?

These are weird questions and incredibly hard to measure, but we can get some idea of a lot of them.

At the heart of everything we purchase or use is an industrial chain that makes it and gets it to where we need it. Individually, our purchases may not create the demand for a new aluminum mine, but perhaps 50 thousand new bicycles do. How do we account for that, environmentally speaking?

To truly fight climate change – or reduce our environmental footprint or whatever you want to call it –  requires us to understand these chains and only proceed on the most environmentally friendly ones. Some of the answers might surprise us, like to find out that we should keep using an old inefficient whatever because the environmental cost of a new one might be far higher than we think.

The IPCC’s mandate is so lamentably useless that we are hopelessly doomed if we try to follow it. We should not be wasting a second on purely theoretical exercises that will never get off the ground.



  1. Graham Pye says:

    Thanks Terry. I have been making this point for years. Most people have no idea of the sacrifices required and when they find out would never make them. Drive an old car for five more years, wouldn’t think of it. Walk to the C-Train station and take mass transit to work. I know you do this but I certainly wouldn’t, How high would a carbon tax have to be to result in people buying less gasoline? !.48/l here on Vancouver Island and no slow down yet. It appears we are doomed.


    • Terry Etam says:

      Actually I should probably thank you – I’m likely stole the idea from you! It is hard to picture the entire footprint of things, but that in some ways is the point.
      I don’t think we’re doomed, not by this issue anyway. The climate may indeed change, and it might mean some hardship for shoreline cities, but the pros and cons seem pretty speculative to me…


  2. Glenn Brunner says:

    This last Sunday on Life, Liberty & Levin, Mark Levin had Dr. Patrick Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute.
    It was an excellent interview for those whose may not have seen it

    Liked by 1 person

  3. truco2 says:

    I wonder how we saddled ourselves with IPCC as ‘the authority’ on climate issues. And with that came their mandate to assess the impact of excessive climate change, assuming continued extra-ordinary warming based on continued increases in atmospheric CO2. So, IPCC is stuck with assessing how bad things could get, ‘if’ global warming follows increases in CO2. Of course, there is still a lot of gray in defining the exact relationship between CO2 level and warming, even so, many are convinced of some sort of direct cause-and-effect relationship. Yet, the historical evidence is not very convincing (temp wandering up, down and sideways when CO2 is gradually upward) and the more recent record shows one unusual stretch of global warming (35 years at the end of the 20th century), followed by a slowing in warming in the last 16-20 years and lately global temp coming down for 30 months now. While this ‘no warming’ phase has yet to establish a ‘long-term’ trend, it certainly is contrary to what would be expected with the ‘CO2 causes warming’ theory and should be reason enough for us to pause and think about what is happening.

    With CO2 reaching historical highs and increasing faster than ever, why is temp not increasing?

    Don’t expect IPCC to come up with any answers. Their mandate is only to assess how bad it could be if global warming follows CO2. If you look inside their latest report, they didn’t even include the lower temp data throughout 2018. That left them free to basically ignore the relatively short (only 21 months) of downward temp data starting with April 2016, continuing through the remainder of 2016 and all of 2017 – which has now also continued throughout 2018, so far. We can give them credit that they included the actual temp data, showing the beginnings of this downward turn. It will be interesting to see how they present the 2018 data in their annual report early next year.

    It will be even more interesting for all of us to watch the real temp data as is comes available, to see how long this ‘no warming’ phase extends. Are we witnessing the beginning of a turning point in the natural warming / cooling cycles? Is this evidence that CO2 has only minimal, if any, impact on temp and climate? Let’s not be stampeded into ‘action on climate change’ until we know the answers.

    Liked by 1 person

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