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How Important are Individual Efforts to Reduce Personal Impacts on Global Warming?

Extremely Important
Moderately Important
Somewhat Important
Not at All important
I don't know

Author Topic: How Important are Individual Efforts to Reduce Impact on Global Warming?  (Read 3464 times)

Offline climatepact

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How Important are Individual Efforts to Reduce Impact on Global Warming?

This is a question I have been asking myself, and would like to poll the forum to see what you all think.

I have been working on a project newbielink:http://climatepact.org [nonactive], which is a climate agreement which individuals can sign. Is getting individuals to commit to make changes to their behavior to reduce their impact on global warming important?

Thanks for participating in the poll and discussion.


 

Offline JimBob

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In the larger scheme of things not much. The earth has been warming for the last 13,000 years or so since the last glacial period. We are in what appears to be an interglacial period at present. But the effects of mankind ARE causing an acceleration of the process of global warming.

In the long run -it is going to happen and society will adjust or collapse. That is where the attention should be focused, on planning for and solving the problem that will be upon us in the rather near future - as early as 20 years from now with the accelerating melting of the polar ice caps, New Your City and all cites along the edge of the sea could be underwater.
 
 

Offline Make it Lady

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Always lead by example.
 

Offline climatepact

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Hi JimBob,

I understand your fatalism and view that global warming is upon us and unavoidable. I happen to disagree with that assessment, but I must admit that I don't know all the science behind it.

However, even if we assume that mankind is merely accelerating a process that would already occur, albeit in thousands of years, if we continue to pollute and send green house gases throughout a global melting, won't we also make things worse, not just speed things along? Again, I don't know the science behind this either, and I suspect the climate models would not actually describe this, but I suspect, that reducing carbon emissions may be good, even if some sort of global warming is inevitable.
 

another_someone

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Firstly, even in the absence of human activity, global warming is not something that will be in thousands of years time.  The Earth went through a minimum temperature about 400 years ago (a couple of centuries before the industrial revolution), and has been warming since them.

Secondly, not all pollution contributes to global warming.  One of the things that has contributed to global warming has been the reduction of some pollutants (some pollutants were actually helping to cool the climate; but for other reasons, about 20 years ago, we decided it was a good idea to start reducing those pollutants, so that accelerated global warming).

Ofcourse, you can say that any action that we take that has zero cost can do no harm, and just might do some good.  The reality is that there is no such thing as a zero cost action, so we have to ask whether the action is cost effective (by cost, I am not merely talking about financial costs, although ofcourse finances are also a limiting factor, but costs also in terms of other secondary effects).
 

Offline climatepact

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Quote
Firstly, even in the absence of human activity, global warming is not something that will be in thousands of years time.  The Earth went through a minimum temperature about 400 years ago (a couple of centuries before the industrial revolution), and has been warming since them.
This may be just a matter of semantics here. Yes, there are long-term temperature trends, so technically global warming by technical definition occured from one moment past the minimum you refer to. But I think most people are talking more broadly about an accelerated global warming due to man-made causes when discussing "global warming," at least that's what I want to talk about, so I'll refer to that concept here. ;)

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some pollutants were actually helping to cool the climate
agreed.

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The reality is that there is no such thing as a zero cost action
I don't know if I would agree with the term "cost," but I would agree with you that most actions have unintended/unknown consequences which do unintended/unknown harm or good. another_someone's aforementioned example of human pollutants which had a net cooling effect exemplifies such unknown consequences. But given that the cultural/scientific zeitgeist is against, in principle at least, human caused global warming. Should we let unknown, unintended consequences freeze us from taking action to reduce global warming?
 

Offline Nobody's Confidant

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If the whole population of Africa used the more energy efficient light bulbs, only a small percent of CO2 emmisions would be reduced. So no, it doesn't matter.
 

Offline climatepact

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There have been some interesting responses. I'd like to respond to this one:

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If the whole population of Africa used the more energy efficient light bulbs, only a small percent of CO2 emmisions would be reduced. So no, it doesn't matter.

I think the argument that is being made here does not stand up. Are you trying to throw an underhand pitch here? Well, I'll bite.

1. I agree that changing all the light bulbs in Africa will not make a big impact globally. However, Africa is clearly not the place where changes in individual behavior can have the biggest global impact. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the CO2 emissions per capita (note: that this includes all CO2 emissions, not those linked directly to an individual), are .8 metric tonnes per year. In the United States, that figure is closer to 19.9 metric tons per capita. So obviously reducing CO2 emissions in Africa by 10% is not going to look very big. On the other hand if you can reduce United States per capita CO2 emissions 10%, you can reduce CO2 emissions by about the same amount as all the emissions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

2. Changing light bulbs is not the most effective way to reduce individual carbon emissions. In fact, it's just a drop in the bucket. Again, I agree with the poster here. However, there are a myriad of things that individuals can do that will reduce an individuals impact. Changing light bulbs is only one small thing.

Here are some figures:
The World emitted close to 28 Billion Metric Tons of CO2 in 2007
Industrialized countries emitted 17.26 Billion of that, over 60%. 9.629 Billion tons of that is from Electricity, Heating, and Transportation, over 55%. I would argue, that most of this can be directly linked to individual actions and the rest can be indirectly linked to individual actions.

I concede that the total global CO2 emissions is daunting, and an individual's contribution seems small. However, I think the numbers show something profound here. Individual actions as an aggregate are creating global warming, and I believe individual actions as an aggregate can make a significant difference.

Source: World Bank LGB 2007
 

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