The key divide here is personal/political: what are the things we can do ourselves, and what can governments do? A balance here is crucial, mostly because neither side of the equation can be trusted to fully implement their changes. Governments often sacrifice the environment first, and the populous often has bigger issues to be concerned about.
Therefore, if a balanced solution can be achieved, the whole plan can never truly fail.
Just as environmental policy until now has been a case of “halfway there”, so too have the actions of individuals. We have a fantastic start: targets and mine closures; vegetarianism and conscientious consumption. But some things need to be added, and the existing trends must be reinforced.
On the government side, the biggest thing that can be done is the closure of fossil fuel extraction facilities and power plants, along with the construction of alternative energy power plants — including nuclear. But that’s a debate for a different day!
The reason for this is that it is relatively simple, the technology already exists, and prices aren’t too high. All of that is reinforced by the huge opportunities that present themselves with regard to investment in renewables, both governmental and private.
If a government invests, then it will be able to have a gold standard in renewable energy and moral high-ground above other governments, which is always welcome geopolitically. However, if governments incentivise the private sector to invest, then the economy will boom at a lower cost to the nation’s finances. Renewable investment is, therefore, possible and beneficial for both cash-strapped and more fortunate nations.
Of course, the government can do other things. More recycling schemes and laws, legislating on plastic pollution, and control of the meat industry are but a few. But the main focus has to be on switching to renewables — and the least polluting ones at that.
For individuals, many very simple steps can be taken. From things as small as turning light switches off to the larger decisions about transport and diet, everything helps so much due to the mass scale of the global population.
If everyone switched to the typically longer-lasting and more efficient LEDs, the effect would be huge. But if people, which some already are, can make the decision to cut out beef, or cut down on meat in general, as well as trying to cycle or use trains, then the impact is large enough to cut impressive amounts of carbon emissions.
It is estimated that 80% of worldwide agricultural carbon emissions are from animal farming on the mass scale of today. These estimates are obviously debatable, but cutting meat entirely out of the global diet would mean a reduction of 60% in carbon emissions from agriculture. However, to be more realistic and restrict this to cutting beef out in the developed world, roughly 15% of global agricultural carbon emissions could disappear.
I think that a 15% drop in 10 years is not too difficult, nor unlikely — the annoyingly militant cult that is veganism is actually quite effective, for all its woes.
Transport is another really simple thing. There are some interesting thoughts about what governments might be able to do with driverless, electric cars in the future, but on a personal level, trying to cycle more is good for you and the planet, and car-sharing can provide a quicker route to work as well as good company and environmental benefits. (It could equally be bad company, of course!)
The tide has already turned, and we are becoming ever more environmentalist. Sometimes I and others will get a little too pessimistic and declare catastrophe when none exists. But there is more to do, and, although I believe this will slowly but surely happen, there’s no harm in adding just a little more fuel to the fire.
This article was condensed from A Medium Corporation article for Dr. David Jensen