Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finally, somebody tells the, uh, truth about carbon

The upcoming issue of new energy contains the following contention:

Doing right by the environment means limiting every individual on Earth to one ton of CO2 emissions annually by 2050. The daily equivalent could be one cold meal and one hour's TV. Or a ten-minute shower at 40 degrees and 500 g of yoghurt. Or buying an ecological T-shirt and doing one round of laundry at the low-energy setting. Or half of a hot meal.

Statements like that are exactly what I don't like about the whole carbon debate. I can hear 99.99 percent of readers reacting, "Okay, I'm out." (I, Craig Morris, am certainly out.)

I'm not sure whether the magazine is intentionally trying to put people off, but this phrasing is certainly one good way to do it. Imagine how useful this contention will be in the hands of climate skeptics: "See, if these crazy tree huggers get their way in Copenhagen, you're not even going to be able to eat hot food anymore!"

There is a better approach, such as the one from a recent book entitled "$20 a gallon":

... many people's lives... will be improved across a panoply of facets. We will get more exercise, breathe fewer toxins, eat better food, and make a smaller impact on our earth.

I'm not quite as optimistic as that author, but I would add a few other things:

  • real musical instruments will replace iPods
  • games like chess and checkers will replace computer games, and the people you face off will be sitting with you in the same room
  • labor skills will become more important as expensive energy increasingly makes labor the cheaper option (think "full employment")

And check out this report about a study in the Lancet, which found that we should basically stop building roads already and start putting in bike paths and decent sidewalks for health reasons -- even before we run out of gas.

But not everything is going to be painless. I am an American living in Europe. We have no alternative fuel for kerosene in sight, so flying back to the states will be prohibitively expensive within my lifetime.

Which only goes to show that, at least in the case of oil, the shortage itself is going to bring down emissions. We probably only have to do something about coal emissions.

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