TRIAL BY FIRE
The Berkeley, California City Council declared the climate emergency is worse than the World War II emergency. Children's book author Demi recounted a poignant story originally told by the Buddha.
“Once there was a man who had many children. While he was away… his house caught fire with the children still inside. Smoke and flames encircled the house when he returned. ‘Run out the door!’ he cried. But the children did not realize that they were in danger and continued to play. Suddenly the father thought of a new way to lure them outside. ‘I have new toys for you to play with,’ he shouted...” [A moment later, the children ran outside to safety.]
“The world is like a burning house. People are trapped inside, unaware of the flames of petty, worldly desires that threaten to destroy them.”
Similarly, our greenhouse gases ("GHGs") are burning up the planet. If your house is on fire, you don't:
- - continue with business-as-usual,
- - knock people over as you rush to the exit, or
- - quietly exit without urging others to do so.
Just as we first urge others out the door before leaving, we must first spread the word about GHGs and, as soon as possible, change our ways. There's no time to lose.
I’ll first outline some important numbers and dates. In the second half of this post, I discuss how I’ve changed my lifestyle to reduce my GHGs and how, if we collectively do so, it will stop climate change.
KEY NUMBERS AND TIMELINE
Basically, almost every government (except the US under the Trump administration apparently) has agreed that any warming of the planet 2o C over 1750 levels (approximated by the average of 1880-1900) is unsafe.
But you gotta think gigatons (or gigatonnes, almost the same thing) of carbon in the atmosphere to understand how warm it will get. 350.org explains the danger fossil fuels impose:
“565 gigatons — Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 levels now, the temperature would still rise another 0.8 degrees above the 0.8 we’ve already warmed, which means that we’re already 3/4s of the way to the 2 degree target.
2,795 gigatons — The Carbon Tracker Initiative…estimates that proven coal, oil, and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and…countries…equals about 2,795 gigatons of CO2, or five times the amount we can release to maintain 2 degrees of warming.
Right now, we use about 31 gigatons of carbon a year, and it’s increasing. At our current rate, we’ll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years.”
Note, as best I can tell, they wrote that in 2013. So in rough terms they are projecting around 2029 we may exceed 565 gigatonnes of carbon.
But there’s a little more to it. We recently eclipsed 400 ppm of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which is far above the safe zone of 350 ppm or less. This 350 ppm boundary was identified by the Stockholm Resilience Centre and is widely regarded as the established high bar limit, and was published in both a 2009 Nature article and in a 2015 Science article.
Also, the 350.org projection does not include animal agriculture GHGs, which comprises at least 30-51% of GHG emissions. Even if fossil fuels are brought to zero, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes of carbon limit by 2030 from animal agriculture alone. (Oppenlander, Richard A. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. . Minneapolis, MN : Langdon Street, 2013. Print. Source: calculation is based on analyses that 51% of GHG are attributed to animal ag.)
It also doesn’t factor in the 1,500 Gigatonnes of carbon frozen in the ice. Dr. Philip B. Duffy, Exec. Dir. of the Woods Hole Research Center said:
“24% of the northern hemisphere land area is permafrost. We think that in that permafrost there is about 1500 gigatonnes of carbon, and for context that is about twice is in the atmosphere. So it’s a truly enormous amount of carbon, and what is happening is that as the Arctic warms, and as we all know the Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet, this previously frozen matter is starting to decay. It induces what we call a climate feedback loop where warming feeds more thawing. It is absolutely essential that this feedback loop not get going strongly. If it does there’s simply no way to control it, so where does the scientific failure come in….[It comes in] because none of this is in climate models and none of this is considered in climate policy discussions.”
Long story short, given our current state above 400 ppm of CO2 and our current ascension to 2o C, I would say we are encircled in flames right now.
This is the proverbial bad news. Stay positive and stay strong. I promise there is hope. ☺
STOP, DROP, AND ROLL WITH IT
Don’t fret the details, but here’s how we burn fossil fuels in our homes according to the National Academies of Sciences:
Reducing energy consumption in each of these pie pieces would take too long!
Instead, Nandhini and I addressed GHGs this way:
- First and foremost we went vegan (June 24, 2017) – the day after I attended Sailesh Rao’s talk. Two reasons.
- Animal agriculture GHGs comprise at least 30-51% of GHG emissions.
- Veganism is 5-15 times more efficient of a food source per acre than carnism. Reforestration of 41% of the extra land will sequester huge sums of carbon – more than the carbon released from 1750 – 2015.
- We signed up for and receive Green Source energy through PGE (available here in Portland, Oregon USA), which is 100% renewable energy! They advertise that you can “[g]et all of your electricity from renewable energy for about $6 more per month.”
- For non-PGE folks, search this database for an equivalent renewable energy source. Or just call your energy company up!
- We went solar.
- First we checked the solar savings potential of our roof on Google Project Sunroof, which is a free solar calculator with nifty heat maps.
- Next, we received two free quotes from solar panel installation companies…and jumped in feet first!
Next we plan on:
- buying an electric car within the next 6 months and powering it with our Green Source energy;
- switching / modifying our gas appliances to electric ones (water heater, oven and stove) in the next 6-9 months. This way we are completely green (assuming no air travel).
Thanks to the renewable energy revolution and veganism, I honestly believe there is hope. But we have to act fast and spread the word.