Global Warming 101 – Facts and Actions

As I’ve been digesting the dire global warming forecasts I’ve found it hard to stay engaged, given the enormity of the challenge and the seemingly little impact I can have.  I was also aware that Canada’s contribution is very small in relation to the “pollution giants” – though I really didn’t know details.   If you read nothing else in this article, check out the TOP 10 CO2 Emitters below and how this relates to you and I in North America.

So I decided to spend some time researching global warming to phrase it in terms I could understand, in the hopes of making it clear for all of us.  

Over 60 million years the earth temperature was more or less consistent, with the occasional changes due to slight variations in the earth’s orbit, the sun’s warming and so on.   However, since the dawn of the industrial age in the 1880’s there has been a steady temperature increase.   Thus the term global warming.  This chart shows the % changes from the norm over this period:

Change over time

As we know the trend varies across the planet, however, looking at a globally averaged temperature, it’s clear that more areas are warming than cooling. Since 1901, the planet’s surface has warmed by 0.7–0.9° Celsius (1.3–1.6° Fahrenheit)  but the rate of warming has nearly doubled since 1975 to 1.5–1.8° Celsius (2.7–3.2° Fahrenheit), according to the international State of the Climate in 2017 report.  Source & details :  Climate.gov

The TOP 10 CO2 EMITTERS chart provides a very interesting view!

Energy represents 72% of the top 10 countries emissions.  Followed by Agriculture and Industry.  

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Impacts 

One of the reasons, we are beginning to identify with global warming is the increase in environmental and humanitarian impacts from weather disasters.  Also, we are regularly losing species of animal and plant life and now often see photos of our collective trash in  landfills and oceans.   According to Scientists we will continue to see many of these consequences of global warming:

  • Arctic ice melts
  • Sea water levels increase more quickly
  • Air & Sea water temperatures increase, causing drought & fires in historically dry areas
  • Precipitation of rain and snow increase causing flooding
  • Animals and Sea Life migrate to the temperatures they prefer
  • Many creatures & organisms become extinct
  • Invasive species thrive (ie. beetles eat up entire forests)
  • Hurricanes become stronger

Costs

The increasing loss of human life as well as animal & plant species is immeasurable.  The financial costs of dealing with environmental catastrophes and humanitarian crisis around the world will continue to grow. 

According to the recent Climate Change report, released by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world must act quickly to have any hope of avoiding increasing catastrophic events.   See my Climate Change:  What to do about it post. 

In my quest to do my part, I’ve spent much time educating myself.  Who’s doing what to cause it, who’s doing what to solve it.   It was an interesting exercise. 

Top 10 Carbon Dioxide Emitter Countries  

Country% of World
Emissions 
How much
in MT ‘s
Population
(millions) 
Emissions per 
person
China 26.8 11,735 1,417 8.3 
USA 14.4 6,280 328 19.1 
EU (28) 9.7 4,224 508 8.3 
India 6.7 2,909 1,360 2.1 
Russia 5.0 2,199 144 15.3 
Japan 3.1 1,353 127 10.7 
Brazil 2.3 1,017 211 4.8 
Indonesia 1.7 744 268 2.8 
Canada 1.7 738 37 19.9 
Mexico 1.7 733 131 5.6 
Top 10  31,932 4,531 7.0  Ave

Source:  This interactive chart by the World Resource Institute is a great resource.

In every country named above, energy is by far the largest impact, representing 72% of emissions for the top 10 countries.  Secondary, are agriculture in most countries, followed by Industry – though Industry represents the 2nd highest emission in China.  Not surprising, given the extent of product manufacturing for the North American and European markets.  Which brings me to my main point.

North America must lead on reducing emissions!

On a per capita basis we are the largest consumers of energy.  It is our insatiable demand for more stuff, bigger houses, bigger cars, more travel, more electronics, more comfort – while at the same time doing too little to develop renewable energy.   Me included!  We are also the largest users of single-use plastics that end up in our landfills and oceans.   Sadly, we are borrowing from our children and grandchildren, both environmentally and financially.  The enormous levels of debt from all of this consumption, individually and as countries, speak to the non-sustainability of our folly.  

We are also the example every developing country sees on TV and tries to emulate.  What would happen if every citizen of the world consumed like we do?  

This is where we all come in.  Consumers are powerful – basic economic theory says that the market will respond to demand.   As will Governments, eventually.  When consumers and voters change their demands, we move to a more sustainable lifestyle.  

European Examples

Fortunately, we already have some good examples of countries leading the way in renewable energy – 12 are named here.   It might surprise you to find that China and the USA are among them.  The problem is that their increasing consumption still exceeds this new capacity – so we need to do more.    An interesting example is provided by Europe – though individual countries vary widely.   5 of the 12 countries who are leaders in renewable energy are in Europe.  And while they have a high standard of living, they do not espouse the excesses we do in North America. 

Food waste is frowned upon – French law forbids grocery stores to throw away edible food.  Food-banks are happy for it.   Germany’s landfills have reduced from 50,000 down to 300 since the 1970’s.  And they don’t accept unsorted trash.  It is sorted, recycled and compacted.  By 2020, they expect to re-use all trash and the energy generated from it.   Iceland’s energy is almost 100% supplied by renewable sources and Sweden is actively eliminating all fossil fuels. 

Economics

One of the reasons I wanted to research this is that I’m also a realist when it comes to economics.   Our well-being depends on healthy economies and who wants to sacrifice our standard of living if it makes little difference in the big picture? Traditional manufacturing and jobs are rapidly moving or being eliminated because of technology.   Many economists believe renewable energy  development and sustainability provide a significant  opportunity for economic growth.  Definitely an area I want to explore more in future posts. 

History is full of examples of societal change started by one individual or small group starting a movement for change

Where do we start?

  1.  Buy less:  Resist our consumer culture.  Our constant need to buy is often a habit, an impulsive response to advertisers.  Or we buy for emotional perks rather than filling a true need.  Try a one, 3 or 6 month break from buying clothes, home decor, or any other area where you have enough.  For me it’s clothes right now.  3 months into No new clothes and I’ve not missed it one bit.  Read about the high environmental cost of fast fashion in my post Start with your closet.   Every purchase we don’t make, collectively adds up to less production, less transport and less trash.  
  2.  Waste less:   Meal plan a week or two ahead and buy only what you need.  Use up your fresh produce.  Don’t buy single use condiments, spices or other products – it’s easy to find substitutes online for all recipes.  Resist single-use plastics.  From bottled water, take out coffee, plastic grocery bags to straws in restaurants.  Just say No, thanks!  
  3. Reduce, refuse, reuse, recycle.  Use it up, wear it out, make do, do without.  Recycling is not the answer.  There are too many questions right now over where our recycling actually ends up.  The best plan is always to reduce first!   See 8 habits of less is more. 
  4. Support and encourage legislative change:  Our cities, states, provinces and countries are at various stages of tackling critical issues.  Be the positive voice.   Any cost or perceived inconvenience will have many detractors.   Whether it’s basic recycling, carbon taxes, reducing fossil fuels, investing in green technologies.  Ask the questions of your elected officials – what are their plans.   The changes made by the top 12 countries mentioned above took much political will.  As Voters we have a huge impact when our priorities change.  See my October climate change post for some ideas on this. 
  5. Start a movement:  Or support one in motion.  I’m encouraged by the number of young people speaking out and demanding change on issues like gun control, #metoo and climate change.   Recently I read this quote which is so true and encouraging.

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