Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Crisis of Debt: Reducing Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide emissions from human activities have been implicated in global warming, and (according to the WWF) emissions from fossil fuel use account for nearly half of humanity's global ecological footprint (which, I argue, corresponds to our consumption of resources). Since our current footprint is probably over one and a third times what natural systems can handle, and the emissions footprint tracks closely with the total footprint, cutting emissions in half could alone remove our ecological debt. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions has the added benefit of postponing the depletion of cheap oil, which we will need until alternatives can come on line (at least for use in making materials). In his 2004 book Global Warming: a Very Short Introduction, Mark Maslin reports that scientists favor a range of between 60 and 80 percent reductions to counter the worst of global warming. This can be done by cutting back on activities that cause the emissions (such as driving and consuming electricity from coal-fired power plants), or finding ways to keep the carbon dioxide from building up in the atmosphere (for example, by being consumed by trees or storing it underground). Recent research indicates that global warming may already be self-sustaining, and we have no more than ten years to keep it from getting much worse.

Ten years is not a lot of time to expect the world to permanently reduce its total consumption by one-third or substitute that amount with less damaging alternatives; and with a per capita carbon dioxide footprint that is over five times the world average, we in the United States should responsibly make deeper cuts than others. To many people I know, to suggest such a thing is crazy talk. Indeed, roughly a third still do not see the link between global warming and human activity as established, and believe that those proposing even the most modest responses are either delusional or have ulterior motives ranging from the political to the financial. More “practical” acquaintances, whose views are often mirrored by political and industrial leaders, respond that our economic and political structures are simply incapable of handling such drastic change, and propose more gradual approaches. Unfortunately, “gradual” is not an option.

1 comment:

BradJ1001 said...

To counter global warming, we would need to reduce annual consumption by about six percent per year for ten years, starting at the end of last year. If my own calculations about populations (of our species and others) as a function of consumption are correct, and we kept reducing annual consumption, this will push out the crash of other species by a hundred years and result in casualties of about 900 million people over the same time (which may be mostly tied to the death of the baby boomers).