Saturday, November 28, 2015

I worry about climate change. So ... I contribute more to it?

I have been pissing people off all the time.  Throughout my entire life, it seems like.  It is that constant questioning approach that pisses people off.  Back when I was a student doing an internship to pay bills, my supervisor told me I was being a contrarian, which I am not--all because I questioned the ideas behind the project to which I was assigned.

It is difficult to consistently align one's ideas through all walks of life.  Those are the inconsistencies that people prefer to gloss over, which I question.  Even in my own life.

Take for instance my concern over climate change.  Unlike the deniers, I am convinced about the science behind it.  Climate change is for real.  When that is the case, then I have to ask myself what I do to help the cause.

I have blogged about the impacts of eating meat, for instance--the scientific analysis showing that being a vegetarian is significantly less of an impact on the environment unlike the effects of a carnivorous or omnivorous lifestyle.  I can feel good about myself.

I have also blogged about the very little trash that I generate--I barely have two small bags of trash for the garbage truck to haul away every two weeks.  Yep, one small bag of trash per week.

I rarely throw away food.  Because I do not buy a whole bunch and let it rot.  I do not cook a whole bunch and toss them away.  I do not eat out much either.  Good for the environment and good for my health, I gloat.

I continue to use old and outdated gadgets.  The music system that I use is a relic from the early 1990s.  My smartphone is so old that even the YouTube app has stopped working.  I feel smug that I am not participating in the wasteful disposable culture.

But, I also know I am one awful culprit.  I contribute way more than the average meat-eating, gadget-buying, food-wasting, middle-class American.  Consider, for instance, the following estimate of my carbon footprint, based on the average in the zipcode where I live and the income and household characteristics:

Check your footprint here

You see the travel component?  You see how it towers over food?  Over "other goods"?  Especially the air travel:
Flying is a luxury. Just 5 percent of the world’s population has ever set foot on an airplane. Of the almost 20 percent of Americans who have never flown, their household income is much more likely than average to be less than $30,000.
Imagine that!  A fifth of the American population has never, ever flown.  95 percent of the world's population has never, ever flown.  I, meanwhile, add up my frequent flier miles.

And, yes, flying is one hell of a contributor to climate change.  Yet, that source is the least regulated of all, compared to the stationary sources like factories and mobile sources like cars.  Why?
“Boeing is, by dollar value, the United States’ largest exporter,” she says. “The political clout of Boeing is huge.”
Actually it is more than Boeing alone.
Vera Pardee, the senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, a party to the 2007 lawsuit, says recent related action by the European Union to force the industry into reducing its emissions via a carbon-trading platform also fell victim to industry influence. For nearly a decade, the European Union worked to establish an emissions-trading scheme that it wanted to apply to all aircraft landing in EU territory. In 2012, as the proposal was being finalized, Pardee says China, Brazil, and other countries threatened to cancel their orders with Airbus, which is based in France. Likely wanting to protect the bottom line of one of its biggest companies, the European Union agreed to “stop the clock” in 2013 on its enforcement of aviation emissions. According to Pardee, that’s evidence of the “amazing influence that the industry has over this entire process, and continues to have.”
I will continue to fly all the way across the continent for academic conferences, and all the way across the world for family reasons.  Yet, I refer to myself as environmentally conscious and that I worry about climate change.  Bah, humbug!

Oh well.  Soon the world's leaders and their scientists will fly to Paris for the global meeting on climate change.  And they will eat meat. And will drink bottled water. And will exchange notes via the latest electronic gadgets. And will wear fashionable clothes.  They too, like I am, are worried about global climate change.  Aren't we all!

How many will I have pissed off with this post? ;)


Anne in Salem said...

Maybe you are capping and trading yourself. You reduce your carbon emissions in all other areas so you can be out-sized in travel. You are likely better than all the climate conference attendees who, by their very job description as politicians, could be called hypocrites on more than just this subject.

And all of this will be completely irrelevant if there is a massive volcanic eruption or some other natural disaster like that. We can try our best but do not control all factors.

Ramesh said...

You don't travel all that much. Yes, some air travel, but I suppose your annual visit to India is two thirds of that. So you shouldn't beat yourself too much.

I scoured your linked article for evidence that air travel was worse than cars or cows in contributing to warming, but found nothing there. It seems to be written by the Paul Krugman equivalent wanting to bash the airlines.

Stop linking surveys exclusively for Americans. There happens to be a world outside of the US of A, just as a reminder :)

As long as I don't eat cows, I shall take umbrage under Anne's report card of cap and trade :)

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, there is some kind of a carbon-budget that I seem to be operating with--I save up the carbon allowances so that I can blow it all up with travel, and that too air travel. But, often single-issue activists fail to recognize the full picture. Thus, they go after the bottled-water industry even as they fly about for conferences on those issues. Or they manically focus on recyling, while wasting food ...

Of course a natural disaster can mess things up, but that does not mean that we should not try our best over things that are relatively within our control. As I mentioned in my comments in an earlier discussion on climate change, we don't give up doing anything just because we know we are going to die!

Sriram Khé said...

Oh, I didn't follow-up on your snide remark on "Krugman equivalent" ...
Will follow up with another source in case you think that the earlier source is a Krugman clone ;)

"Perhaps the biggest single thing individuals can do on their own is to take fewer airplane trips; just one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined."


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