Sunday, September 6, 2009

What we can and should do as individual citizens

The Bigger Picture
Published on August 27th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Today I want to bring a temporary end to my dialogue about climate change by discussing what steps we and our political leaders should be taking to try to avert the worst consequences of this looming environmental catastrophe.
Make no mistake; while I know some skeptics still remain out there, the world is already beginning to suffer the ill effects of climate change due to rising global temperatures. The only real question is how long we as consumers as well as our political leaders will wait until we take action to avert the most catastrophic environmental and economic consequences of climate change.
Both we, as individuals, and our governments must make some difficult choices in the coming years. We can either continue to avoid voluntary steps to conserve energy and government policies that raise the price of fossil fuel derived products like petrol, electricity and plastics; or we can be forced to implement even more draconian measures a decade or so from now. Since I rather like the idea of having the freedom to choose what to do for relatively little additional cost, rather than being forced to do something at a much higher price later, here are a few suggestions for us and our political leaders.
1) Park the car and use public transport whenever and wherever possible.
While not all citizens have public transportation options like buses and trains available to them, it is completely irresponsible for those that do have such options to continue to use cars or SUVs to get to school or work. Sell that second or third car you own and start sharing the use of the family car. Plan your errands so that you make a single trip to multiple stores every few days. Sure it may be a bit inconvenient at times, but you can also console yourself by thinking about how much money you are saving every week by doing so. Then make sure you vote and campaign for politicians who want to invest more money in public transport.
I have a car but I only use it to drive out of the city and or to places where public transport is scant or unavailable. I plan trips into town so that I do my shopping in conjunction other errands thus minimizing the number of days I use my bus pass.
2) Push political leaders to change the way annual motor taxes are computed.
Since vehicles with larger engines usually use more petrol per kilometer traveled, a motor tax based on a vehicle’s engine size is a step in the right direction, but is at best only a half measure in terms of cutting carbon emissions. While this tax basis does encourage people to purchase more fuel efficient cars with smaller engines, it doesn’t provide all drivers with an incentive to cut down the number of kilometers they drive. But if the motor tax was computed based on the estimated carbon emissions per kilometer of a particular car engine and the number of kilometers travelled the previous year, then every car owner would have an incentive to reduce the kilometers they drive each year. If a person lives in an area without access to public transport, then they should receive a credit that will reduce their motor tax. But if someone living in a city with access to public transport elects to continue driving, why should we pay for the costs of environmental consequences associated with their carbon emissions?
3) Conserve electricity and get ready to pay more for what you do use.
It isn’t a matter of if we will start paying carbon taxes for the fossil fuel energy we use, only when and how much. Driving less reduces our petrol costs and the carbon taxes that will be placed on petrol. But since most of our carbon emissions are the result of electricity generated by coal, oil and gas; one should expect that carbon taxes will impact our costs for electricity as much, if not more, than petrol. Turning off lights and computers or buying more energy efficient appliances is a start; but what about that dishwasher and TV? Since dishwashers and TVs are the biggest users of electricity in most homes, what is wrong with families learning how to use the dishwasher less and sharing the use of one or two less TV sets?
4) Push politicians to base any carbon taxes on calculations of the minimum electricity needed to maintain an average household of 2, 4, 6 and 8 adults.
Pensioners and households that hold their use below these thresholds would get an energy credit, while those who live in large mansions and use lots of energy will pay more per kilowatt in carbon taxes for using more electricity than the minimum they need. This gives everyone an incentive to conserve energy but only financially penalizes those who continue to waste electricity.
5) Use less paper and plastic and recycle what you do use.
Pulp and paper producers are responsible for most of the carbon emissions due to the tropical deforestation which is occurring in Southeast Asia. But you can reduce demand for paper through recycling and many companies will pay you to stop sending you their bills by mail. Manufacturing plastics adds to global carbon emissions so making consumers pay for plastic shopping bags is a step in the right direction. But we also need to expand this tax to all plastic bottles or containers and get much better at recycling plastics so we can reduce production of them.
6) Eat more fresh vegetables and consume less meat.
Clearing tropical rainforests in favor of grazing land for cattle or for growing soybeans that are used for cattle feed and producing biofuel is a huge contributor to carbon emissions from the Amazon region of South America. I save money and eat healthier by consuming more veggies and reducing my meat expenditures.
Now ask yourself; “What actions will I tell my children I took to prevent climate change”?

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