Saturday, July 11, 2009

Have you reduced your emissions yet today?

A piece in the New York Times about how environmentalists are becoming critical about the Obama administrations's climate change and energy plans is ticking me off. Not because I don't agree that Waxman-Markey was watered down. Of course it was. But because of what this reveals, once more, about misconceptions of how we need to get the climate change job done.

The notion that stopping climate change can be done with One Big Government Program is just plain wrong. It took industrial civilization 200 years or more to create the sources of carbon dioxide, methane, and other climate pollutants, and they are widely distributed and decentralized across the face of the planet.

Carbon sources are, are or almost all of them are, entirely outside the jurisdiction of the executive AND legislative AND judicial branches of the American government.

The people that are in charge of them are you and I.

And the way we reduce emissions is to execute our own private authority and simply do something practical to stop emissions.

This is not a desk job.

The practical work of stopping emissions is a business of technical and manual labor. You put in some insulation. You trade out some light bulbs, wire in a new automated switch. You put in new insulated windows. You build replacement buildings that use no carbon, and then (very vital, this one) you demolish the old buildings, carefully recycling whatever materials can be recycled (if you leave them up, some fool will use them and your new low carbon building effectively doesn't reduce emissions, it adds emissions). You measure the wind and put up a wind turbine. You build a new vehicle that runs on less gas or on electricity. then you scrap the old one, carefully recycling the materials.

All the time you are doing this, you plan your work very carefully (this is the desk job part) to make sure you are picking the right, low hanging, fruit first. You have a plan, a sustainability plan that takes your household, firm, non-profit, or government agency from high emissions to low, following a pathway that your outfit can afford, one that will maybe even save you some money.

It's really very, very simple. But they key is to actually do something. And the ridiculous thing is, you can do something practical on the first day of your new sustainability program.

What you do is, is look at your light bulbs and then go to the hardware store and get new ones, and get your pliers and screwdriver and stepladder and switch out the old ones. Then you go on to the next thing, and the next.

No carbon tax or cap and trade bill is actually necessary. We could easily achieve 80% by 2050 just by proper planning and execution of sustainability work, practical jobs done by practical people. None of these new government and non-profit desk jobs, proliferating to take advantage of stimulus money, are going to help very much.

Most of them will actually get in the way. If there is a role for the desk-bound office wallah, especially the one who knows nothing of practical things like construction, engineering, or trades, in all of this, it's simply to provide the funding and organization and then get the heck out of the way.

I've lost count of the number of organizations I've visited who preach about climate change but live in leaky buildings. Or the number of homes of important environmentalists there are that still run on oil or gas heat.

It drives me crazy that people just don't get this. Do you think that, when Pearl Harbor was attacked and Americans finally knew that they had to go to World War II (duh -- we Brits thought that took a while. So did Europe's Jews and the other victims of the Nazis.), they stood back and said, OK, well, wait a minute, we need a new tax policy first? Or a new non-profit? When the going gets tough, the practical people get going. Others are left spluttering inanities in conference rooms heated by oil and lit by T 32's.

So can we please just stop talking about it and writing about it and complaining that it isn't getting done and go do some of it?

People who live in glass houses need to go out and frame over their windows.

Unless they're passive solar, that is.

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