Jun 27, 2008

Know your CO2 footprints

As PL noted in a post a while ago, the debate over if and what to do about climate change is becoming increasingly more complicated. There is on one side the evidence of the Stern Report and on the other side the praise and criticism surrounding it. Both have generated a fair amount of confusion within the population as noted in the post. A always bigger proportion of people is becoming sceptical about climate change, both for good and bad reasons. The confusion is even more palpable since we are facing the problem of rising food prices: people are concerned that what and if we could do something about climate, is going to be ineffective or even damaging. If we buy the argument that doing nothing is better because either global warming does not exist, or because if I consume more of fossil fuels today it will lead to automatically more investment tomorrow in alternative, seems plausible, but it is incorrect. The words of wisdom I heard about the whole topic is that, since we do not know what is causing climate change, it is good to take the minimum effort to tackle it. It is then sound and correct to increase the price of what we think is the likely cause of global warming (via the imposition of a tax), since we know it will correct a market failure (pollution). The other problem I find with the argument is more philosophical. The benefits accruing to society from Climate Change discussion is exactly the impact on our lifestyle. The world has been living with the idea that everything man-made / man-based is fine. The main argument that policy makers should advance instead, is that we can do little to make a huge impact. Be environmentally concerned just reduces the excesses that we were used to, without this implying a drastic change in our lifestyle. Here though, the problem is how to improve the quality of the debate. We have been rightly hitting so far at SUV as a monstruosity that makes no sense. People are starting to think that Air Travels may be a problem as the true statistics about their impact are starting to emerge. While renouncing to a SUV is cheered, for Air Travel things are thornier. I advance here another element: What about food? Does food pollute? Of course it does. Here is an example. This guy has calculated that a cheesburger produces 4.5 Kg of CO2. To make things comparable, this is the amount of emission produced by a 2003 Toyota Yaris in a 30 Km ride. Some people I know find Cars outrageous because are polluting and prefer biking (or skating) instead. They would though never renounce to a Cheesburger. What would happen if people were aware of the Carbon Footprints of the food they consume? Well, they would probably know that, in order to be Carbon Neutral, they should go to their favourite Burgers' store by bike instead of taking the tram. This simple exercise would not only lead to a lower emission, but also a healtier lifestyle. What if they get tired? Won't they eat two burgers? Yes, but the ride by car has been offset by the bike ride. If you don't like biking, fine, here is an alternative: take a drive on a less polluting car (or an electric bus) and eat one instead of two burgers. The total footprint would be probably the same in the two situations, but the attitude toward the world we live in, and our concerns about the actions have changed: because what we are doing is just being more responsible for what we do vs ourselves and vs our planet. Peace

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