Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Road to 350: part 1

So post-Copennhagen, it is clear that our national governments are going to be little if no help in getting us back under 350 ppm of CO². At least, not now and not for a while. Unless you live in Germany, which has taken its environmental responsibilities quite a bit more seriously since Kyoto than our Canadian national government ever did. Between '97 and '07, Germany reduced its emissions by about 6%. Canada's have risen by a similar amount. But Under the Harper Conservatives, we've also become an international pariah nation; the Commonwealth is moving to kick Canada out because of our obstructionist tactics viz. global warming at the last couple of meetings for example.
 And our behaviour at Copenhagen was pathetic at best (I hope the Honourable Jim Prentice was suitably embarrassed at giving Harper's speech for him, that he refuses such an assignment again. If our PM really had the strength of his own convictions, he'd have given the speech himself).
But what is made clear from Copenhagen is the strength and impact of our provincial and municipal governments in addressing climate change. We need the federal government to step up, but until they do, there is a lot that can be accomplished at the municipal and provincial level. Say what you will about Gordon Campbell (and he likely deserves it), at least he appears to have heard about global warming and the need to reduce carbon emissions. And he has, however poorly executed or followed up on, instituted a carbon tax in BC.
So getting to 350 (or less, as several undeveloped nations suggested at Copenhagen), is going to be tricky. No one wants to go first, extractive businesses don't want to go at all, and most of us have no idea how to move forward. So where do we start?
On a personal level, the most effect you can have is not, funnily enough, to stop driving. Yes, that's a good idea. And we need more people on transit to make it carbon-effective (a replacement I humbly offer up for "cost-effective"). But the number one action we can take is to significantly reduce our intake of animal protein. If we each restricted our diet tomorrow to three servings of animal protein a week, we could change to world. Well, as long as we didn't allow the surplus to be exported.
The energy input costs for animal protein are in excess of 30-1. Thirty calories in for every calorie out. That's a recipe for disaster in any system. And I can't think of any "green meat" (with the possible exception of a couple of backyard chickens), Dr. Seuss notwithstanding.

Weapon of Global destruction.

I'm as guilty as anyone; I purchase cruelty-free pork from my local grocer (who gets only two hogs/week to sell; so small producer and local), but that doesn't really change the carbon footprint of the meat that much. And its not transportation that's the culprit. It's the raising of the animal that causes the most problems.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (in 2006):
When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.
And it accounts for respectively 37 percent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 percent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain

Worldwide, about 13.5% of GHGs are produced by transportation in various forms. Livestock, worldwide, contribute about 18% of the world's GHGs (at least in 2006).
In Canada, 55% of nitrogen fertilizer is used to produce feed and pasture forage, also according to the FAO. In Germany, that number is 62%, and in the UK, 70%. The raising of calories to feed livestock is a massive energy sink.
Worldwide, since the signing of the Kyoto protocol, meat consumption has gone from 214,940,709 metric tonnes in 1997, to 246,771,601 tonnes in 2002 (the last year for which records are available), a net increase of 31,830,892 tonnes in five years. (In Canada it was 2,906,689 tonnes to 3,380,823 tonnes in the same period--a period during which our corruption index (Bribe Payer's Index (Transparency International) Units: index units: 10=bribes never occur; 1=bribes often occur) went from 8.1 in 1999 to 7.5 in 2006. Though this may have a lot more to do with our descent into petro-state status (see Andrew Nikiforuk).

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