Timeline to get to a low carbon economy

Welcome to my first blog post in awhile…As I have mentioned I hope to do this semiregularly.  My goals are to learn how to write better, take a few risks and put myself out there and get involved in a more public manner about how to get to a low carbon economy..

How will our society change happen and what are the steps needed to be taken to get to a low carbon economy.  What has to happen so that our behaviour changes in a substantive manner so that our actions no longer add to the weight of all of our previous actions and make climate change a worse and greater threat than it already is.

Often I want to think that there is one silver bullet that will allow our society to in one swoop start fixing the problem.

Maybe the silver bullet is education, if we could just convince everyone that it was a problem through logic and then get and persuade everyone to agree that this is problem. If everyone knew that climate change was happening and the impacts from it, surely they would change their behaviour.  They would believe the scientists and say yes and change their behaviour, think about choices and change.  Of course, this is not what happens and for many reasons.  One of course being that not everyone agrees that scientists are this noble creature with pure instincts and a completely rational perspective on the world.  Then there are competing interests which conspire to undermine the experts views and seize on every uncertainty and yes error to sow dissent and uncertainty.  While I have not read the “Merchants of Doubt”, based only on the title, it strikes me that is much of what the book is about.

If we all were educated and convinced about the problem or even if some mystical policy makers were to design a bunch of “nudges”, then maybe we could change our behaviour and be able to reduce our impact on the planet and create less greenhouse gases. There is a big but here of course, the way, our societies and our cities are designed and built from a basic level including neighborhood planning, being built around the car as a mode of personal transportation, expansion based municipal tax regimes, not accounting for full costs in the purchasing decisions that we make, to the availability of information makes it very difficult to even make choices to reduce our impact on the planet.  Do we sell our house and move into the downtowns? Do we move to the country? What are the tradeoffs from a climate perspective?  What are the trade-offs right now? Maybe I need a house to take care of my parents and the only locations where that is available requires our family to have two cars and drive to work every day, and besides the transit system in our city is lousy?

Then there is the information gap, how does anyone know what is the preferred alternative from a long term perspective cloth washable diapers or disposable diapers?  Washing dishes by hand or in the dishwasher?  Renting or buying? Shampoo 1 vs shampoo 2 etc.   First of all, the information is not available unless one can do extensive research on the various alternatives on line and then one needs to know all of the assumptions that the researchers are doing in determining the best approach and what if my situation is different than the example studied by the researcher.  And then even if the information for all of these decisions was available at the tip of a click on my smart phone, do I really have to do this research and thinking for every small and large decision that I am making in my life, not to mention that my decisions to buy a product or services will also include a set of other aspects which are arguable more important – will it do what I want it to do? Will it last as long as I need it? What is the price? Is that what I am prepared to spend on it? Information, decisions  —ahh! Can I not just have a little fun – Should I buy beer, wine, gin, vodka ahhhh!  Will my decision even make a difference so I buy product A instead of produce B, will my small difference impact the future.  Doubtful?

As part of this thinking, I have developed the following schematic which shows some of the steps that society will and must take to address the climate change problem.  I have put them in a rough order but clearly there could be countries where the change occurs in a different order.  The key steps are:

  • Manmade climate change is an accepted reality
  • There are obvious and significant impacts associated with climate change. This leads to increased public concern, protests, development of pubic policy and government commitments
  • Civil Society and NGO’s start to take action
  • Society has accepted that full costs need to be accounted in some way
  • Governments start to put a price on carbon
  • Investment Funds and other private sources of capital start to invest in a low carbon economy
  • Infrastructure is designed and built to address the full costs associated with it
  • Behavioural change
  • Generation changeSteps to a low Carbon Economy

This infographic is not comprehensive and jurisdictions will take a different path and these steps in a different order to eventually get to a low carbon economy and I have most certainly left off a few steps.  Comments and additions are welcome.