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.