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Reducing carbon emissions: the gross limitations of individual solutions

by Dave Riley

asymptoticlife has a fascinating ten part Zero Emissions Challenge. Given that folk like George Monbiot are advocating "a minimum of a 100% cut, and it looks like it might have to go to 110% or 115%." asymptoticlife takes up the challenge with a detail exploration of a domestic emissions reduction project through a series of posts:
Can it be done? Can the average family in the U.S. reduce their greenhouse gas impact below zero? I decided to take a look at this challenge, to see if it would be possible for my household to reach the necessary negative production of greenhouse gases. It's not an easy question, since almost everything we do creates greenhouse emissions: from driving to the office, to turning on a lightbulb, to buying lettuce grown in another state, to eating beans.

In a series of posts, I'll explore what I learned. But this much is already clear: it won't be easy.
Annual Lbs of CO2 Current
Electricity 6,570 4,380 0 $40,000
Heating 21,868 1,500 260 $5,500
Propane Appliances 1,950 1,755 975 $8,300
Transportation 12,232 4,224 3,146 $26,000
Air Travel 5,940 1,980 1,980
Other Sources (est) 1,500 1,200 1,200

TOTAL 50,060 15,039 7,561 $79,800
% Reduction
70% 85%
Trees to Absorb 1,669 502 252

The tragedy is that asymptoticlife fails in his quest to achieve the targeted reduction.
In short, cutting emissions to zero the hard way would not be pretty. It would look a lot like the Stone Age, but with internet.

It behooves us all to look at cutting emissions in some sort of planned approach because, speaking for myself, the Stone Age is not where I want to live.
And that's the pressing reality isn't it? Reduce as much as you can manage in your everyday lifestyle but it will never be enough to impact on climate change without, that is, much more macro changes in play. In effect you have to be a masochist or Luddite to voluntarily embrace all the reductions required to sync yourself with a personal quota.

So "we" cannot do it alone, nor can we do it amongst our 'enlightened' selves regardless of how dedicated we may be at a local level. That's the awesome and overbearing reality that the environment movement has to confront -- even to get a near to zero emissions target.

[Thanks for Polizeros for the tip.]

1 Com:

Shirley | September 26, 2007

The ABC TV show Carbon Cops [website] -- quite good in its way -- was geared toward bringing peoples' domestic emissions down to an average per capita. thats' was generally the rule of thumb such that the message was: "The Carbon Cops show us just how easily we can all make changes to our lifestyle."

Not so easy afterall.

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