The Bigger Picture
Published on July 30th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Today I want to continue my discussion about the need for all of us as families and as individuals to take more aggressive steps to deal with climate change caused by global warming. Even though some of us are already doing some of the easier things to reduce our energy consumption that I mentioned in previous columns, precious few of us have actually altered our lifestyles in any kind of meaningful way.
Turning out the lights, lowering the thermostat and buying more energy efficient appliances represent minor tweaks to our daily living that reduce our carbon emmisions and save us money as well. But parking our cars, or selling that second (or third) automobile our family owns, and taking public transportation to work or school embodies a much more significant reduction in our carbon emissions. Granted, taking these kinds of steps means that some of us, or our family members, will be “inconvenienced” from time to time, but we will also realize significant cost savings by taking such actions.
I must say that I can’t help but laugh whenever I hear someone patting themselves on the back for their environmental consciousness after having purchased a hybrid or other more fuel efficient automobile. That’s because when I follow-up with a question about why they don’t use public transportation instead, the usual response is that they don’t like waiting for the bus or train. So despite the fact that owning and operating a car to serve one’s transportation needs is also much more expensive, many of us still refuse to use public transport instead because we don’t like to be inconvenienced.
If a friend or family member told us they wouldn’t come by to pick us up on the way to a party because it was inconvenient, wouldn’t we think they were being selfish and inconsiderate if not downright rude? The answer is obvious! So why shouldn’t our children and grandchildren think we were being just as selfish and inconsiderate because we refused to use public transportation in an effort to reduce our individual contributions to global warming? Humph! Most of us will probably just lie and blame other people, including our political leaders, instead of admitting the truth about our own behaviour.
Maybe some of us are comfortable with the idea of lying to our children and grandchildren, lest they think ill of us for our selfish and inconsiderate behaviour. Then of course there are those of us who will try to justify continuing our energy wasting, carbon emitting lifestyles by arguing that we shouldn’t have to alter them because we can’t really make much of a difference by ourselves. This is similar to the justification some of us try to use for not exercising our right to vote. “It’s inconvenient”, “I don’t have time” and or “My vote won’t really make a difference anyway.” Bulls—t!
I happen to prefer another alternative. I prefer to be part of the solution instead of continuing to be a part of the problem. I choose to try to change my lifestyle in ways that significantly reduce my own contribution to global carbon emissions. One of the key benefits of this approach is that I won’t have to lie to my children and or grandchildren about the part I played in the climate change consequences they will have to adapt to.
Notice I underlined the word will. That is because even if the world stopped all man-made carbon emissions today, our lack of action to reduce these emissions over the past twenty years means that global temperatures will continue to rise for at least another decade or more. So given the fact that we are currently only trying to negotiate a climate change treaty that will reduce the rate of increase in such emissions followed by a gradual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over the next forty years, both current and future generations will experience the consequences of climate change due to global warming.
Make no mistake, coping with these consequences will also prove to be very costly to all nations, some more than others. Unfortunately it will be the poorest counties and poorest people in this world who will suffer the most severe consequences even though they have not actually contributed much to global warming. Ironically, it is those countries and people that have benefitted most from fossil fueled economic development who will suffer less severe impacts and will be able to afford to adapt to climate change.
Polar melting and rising sea levels have already led to relocations of several Eskimo villages in North America. Who do you think is paying for the costs of these relocations? The Eskimos themselves as well as American and Canadian taxpayers are paying for these relocations. But these Canadian and Alaskan natives are the lucky ones. Who do you think will pay for the relocations of millions of poor people who currently live in low-lying costal areas of Bangladesh and other Southeast Asian countries?
By doing my part to reduce my own carbon footprint I don’t have to feel guilty about the harmful consequences that others will suffer and I can be a morally legitimate participant in the debate about who should pay to mitigate these consequences. But just like those who do not vote, if I don’t do my part then I have no right to voice my opinions about who should pay and how best to adapt to the consequences of climate change.
Morality aside, there is another important reason why we should all do more as individuals to reduce our carbon emissions. While doing so may be inconvenient at times, in both the near term and in the long run it will also save us money. Money that we and our families can put to other uses and that we will also need down the road to pay for the costs of adapting to climate change if nothing else.
Next week I will discuss the role Chimerzilia must play in reducing carbon emissions.