Greta Thunberg gets it wrong

I sympathize with Swedish teen Greta Thunberg for her outrage at the mess that my generation has left the world in. We just wanted to create a culture with every convenience that minimized effort and maximized the burning of fossil fuels.

Greta Thunberg.  image, qz.com.

But my guilt is not going to solve the problem. Neither is her panic. “I don’t want you to be hopeful; I want you to panic,” implores Thunberg.

Panic is not a useful reaction says Calgary based author Chris Turner: “No society can function on panic indefinitely, and no one writes new building codes well in a panic (Walrus magazine, November, 2019).”

What will work? Well, one suggestion is to put ourselves on a war footing as we did during World War II. Back then, when our way of life was threatened by the enemy, we mobilized resources on a scale never seen before: retooling factories for the manufacture of weapons, rationing of vital resources, putting women to work in jobs traditionally held by men.

We could retool factories for green power and clean technology; deploy an army of citizens to install solar panels and erect wind turbines; build energy storage facilities, electric-vehicle charging stations, commuter trains, and bicycle lanes.

But just who is the enemy in this green war? There’s no shortage of villains: Big Oil, pipelines, Conservatives.

We are the enemy. While we want to save the planet, we don’t act like we do. Big Oil is not force-feeding us. Just look in Kamloops’ driveways to see what vehicles are popular: trucks. Canada’s bestselling vehicle is the Ford F-150, not known for its fuel efficiency. Just look where we live: in single-family houses that cost more to heat.

If the wartime model is wrong, what is the solution? Not individualism. We are told that if each of us were to cut back just a little, we could make a difference. It’s an appealing model because in our singular society, the individual is king. And we can be blamed for falling short of CO2 targets.

There is a way. We can act collectively –it’s called government, and you might be surprised to learn that B.C. is a North American model in reducing CO2. I’m not just talking about B.C.’s well-known carbon tax introduced by conservatives (BC Liberals) and supported by progressives (NDP).  No, carbon pricing is just part of the plan.

“In 2008, the BC government required municipalities to begin incorporating climate targets and plans into their growth strategies and community planning,” says Turner. “This triggered a wave of rethinking and new accounting methods—the kind that led to ‘sustainability checklists’ for all the workaday business of building management and construction.”

Then in 2017, the BC government became the first in North America to lay out clear, rigorous requirements and codes that would guide the province’s building industries to the construction of net-zero structures by 2032.

Panic puts people into a fight-or-flight mode. Individualism generates a false sense that something can be done. What works is the steady, almost imperceptible pace of dedicated bureaucrats writing building codes and working to achieve real change, government by government.

This kind of progress is not sensational. Slow but sure is the way but the wheels must be set in motion.

More reasons for reduced guilt while flying

I feel less guilty flying on vacation now that I’ve compared flying with driving by car. Both contribute to global warming about the same.

image: alternet

Comparisons between the two are tricky because there are many factors like the efficiency of the car and how many are traveling. And the distance the plane flies: more fuel is used on takeoff so longer flights are more efficient. The University of Oslo has weighed these factors and concludes: “With only one passenger in the car, corresponding to 20-25% occupancy, the climate impact is at the level of an average air trip (Yale Climate Connections).”

My burden of guilt might be reduced even further. Canadian airlines are looking at using renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. (Globe and Mail, July 25, 2107)”.

Air Canada has flown eight times on biofuels, most recently from Edmonton to San Francisco on May 2, 2018. The flight reduced carbon emissions by over ten tonnes, a 20% reduction in net carbon emissions. This is equivalent to taking 26 cars off the road for a month according to Air Canada. They are careful to say that the growth of biofuels can’t come at the expense of food crops. That should be easy because some land that is unsuitable for food may be fine for biofuels.

Even more arable land will come available because of global warming caused by people (gulp) going on vacation and spewing CO2 into the atmosphere.

Air Canada has also improved fuel efficiency by 43 per cent since 1990 and they hope to be carbon-neutral by 2020. “These efforts and other green initiatives to increase efficiency and reduce waste were recognized by Air Transport World which earlier this year named Air Canada the Eco-Airline of the Year for 2018,” they say.

Planes are becoming more efficient. That, combined with cleaner burning biofuels can reduce air pollution. According to NASA, a mixture of 50% aviation biofuel can cut air pollution caused up to 70%.

If I flew on a plane that used solar, electric or hydrogen fuels, that would be even better. But for now those sources don’t have the power necessary to launch commercial airplanes.

I could also buy carbon offsets to pay for my sins of emissions. WestJet has teamed up with Carbon Zero. Their calculator shows that my return trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, generates 0.65 Tonnes of CO2. For an additional $14.69 I can contribute to an equal reduction of greenhouse gases. They offer two projects. One is diversion of organic waste from a Toronto landfill which prevents methane from escaping into the atmosphere. That’s good: methane is an even worse greenhouse gas than CO2.

However, while I may feel a little better, carbon offsets are a drop in the bucket. Offsets nowhere match the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere.

In addition, carbon offsets only appeal to people who worry about such things. For those who don’t think that humans contribute to global warming, offsets may look like a scam.

No guilt would better than reduced guilt but I can console myself, somewhat, by comparing myself with those who don’t give it a fleeting second thought.