Well, if you watched Live Earth (I didn't), you saw that a holographic Al Gore went where the Riot for Austerity had boldly gone before, calling for a 90% reduction in emissions across all areas, including personal household consumption : http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/6279518.stm
Not a big Al fan here, but I'm stil pleased that he's catching up to our dust ;-). This, my husband points out, is the really, really inconvenient truth - we have to make radical changes, and every minute we put it off makes it harder. If we'd started this 30 years ago, it would have been a cakewalk. Now it is more of a project - but I'm having fun.
Meanwhile, it turns out that the arctic ice is disappearing vastly faster than anyone has ever estimated before. Like almost all the information flowing in over the last few months, it simply demonstrates how very conservative the IPCC report is. http://scienceblogs.com/islandofdoubt/2007/05/be_afraid_be_very_very_afraid_1.php?utm_source=mostemailed&utm_medium=link
Among the thing the IPCC report was wrong about was the rate of emissions rise (3 times greater than prior evidence had suggested), the race of ice melt in the Antarctic (2.5 times faster), the point at which soils will begin to release their carbon (now), when we'll see methane hydrates start being released from seas (probably now), and a whole host of other things.
Some of these are timing issues (the science is changing rapidly - I wrote a chapter on climate change for one of my books two months ago, and large chunks of it are now out of date), and some are based on the fact that this report was written by a big committee and edited by governments to say what they wanted to see. And the IPCC report was *still* scary. Now we know that the truth is significantly worse - and that really hard measures are necessary. As James Hrynyshyn points out, the ice melt in the arctic represents one of the famed tipping points - and not in 2100, when my grandkids are middle aged, but when I'm middle aged. We don't know what the impact of an early albedo shift will be - but is it a really good idea to find out? Odds are good we will - at this point, even if we stopped emitting carbon today, we'd probably still lose the arctic ice. The simple reality of the precautionary principle demands that we don't bet the lives of half of humanity on "well, it might not be that big a deal."
Of all the things the IPCC was wrong about, the big one is probably the most important. The big one is peak oil. The IPCC report, and most people in the world, believe we can fuel a new economy based on environmentally friendly, renewable energies as we shift over. The problem is, of course, that right now, and for the forseeable future, all those technologies, the economy as a whole and the infrastructure it requires depends on large quantities of cheap and readily available fossil fuels.
And it is peak oil that is likely to cause us our deepest problems - because peak oil is at its heart an economic problem. Without the cheap energy that fuels every aspect of our economy - from the food on our table to the amount of spare capital firms have to invest in renewable research, to local and national tax bases, to military policy - we're not going to be able to completely overhaul our system, unless we do it quickly - and probably not even then.
And most of us are not going to be able to make large scale *personal* changes unless we do them soon. Everyone in the world is now seeing their grocery budgets rise. For the 2 billion people worldwide who spend more than half of their annual income on food, the 30% rise in food prices is a true disaster. Much of this stems from ethanol production - but also from rises in the price of artificial fertilizer, fuel for your tractor, etc.. Millions of Americans and Australians are starting to experience "transportation poverty" - that is, getting to work eats up a huge portion of their budget. Such wild radicals as Alan Greenspan and the Chair of the National Board of Realtors have announced we are most likely headed towards a deep recession.
If even Al Gore (who could only bring himself to mention Compact Flourescents and turning down the thermostat in his movie) is calling for such a change, what's the incentive to be out in front with us over at the Riot? Well first of all, this is a great deal of fun. Second of all, we're a long way from persuading any national government to even propose the necessary changes. And third, since most estimates of time scale came in before we knew how fast ice was melting, desertification was proceeding and carbon emissions were rising. Now maybe the IPCC is right, but does anyone want to bet their lives, and the lives of their kids and grandkids on it?
Even if you can't bring yourself to make radical changes in your emissions as an investment in the future, I'd also argue that there are compelling selfish reasons for everyone who reads this to beginning making radical lifestyle changes - not just emissions cuts, but vast reductions in your dependence on fossil resources, and very, very soon. The biggest one is now is probably the best opportunity you'll have. And now is our chance to "Use What We Have"
There's a whole tv show out there, I'm told (don't have cable) called "Use what you have decorating" - the idea being that most people like their stuff, and that they could make their world beautiful by tastefully rearranging what they've already got. And we're about to come into contact with "use what you have peak oil/climate change adaptation" - the reality that we probably aren't going to rip apart and rebuild our whole world in a more environmentally friendly way. We probably aren't all going to get cool monorails and tax breaks for greening our homes. Technology isn't going to magically save us. Realistically, most of us are going to go into the hardest of hard times making do with what we've got, and what adaptations we can get in under the wire.
Now "Use What You Have" can be an ugly strategy or a lovely one. Obviously, if someone managed to make a tv show out of it, it can make pretty and elegant (may I take leave to digress and note that I'm pretty sure that pressboard furniture and hummel figurines can't be made beautiful - period ;-)?). And use what you have strategies for peak oil and climate change can be graceful and lovely. Quilts and blankets hung on underinsulated walls can keep you warm, and can look nice too. Carefully stapling bubblewrap into wood frames can make cheap, light translating insulation that last for many years. Homemade wool socks are toasty and fun to make. With practice and time and a few resources, you can develop the skill and grace to keep yourself warm and fed and still have a little comfort and even beauty.
Or, use what you have can be horrible. It can lead to lives spent scavenging through garbage dumps (not referring here to trash picking, but landfill scavenging, which millions of poor people in the third world do for a living - and pay a heavy price for in contamination and disease), burning your wood furniture to keep alive and selling off your possessions one by one to keep the wolf from the door. Both involve using what you already have. And to some degree, the difference between grace and garbage scavenging is sheer luck - knowing how to make socks won't save you from the worst if you are unfortunate. But some of it also derives from practice - from having the relevant skill set you can access, and also enough familiarity with the lifestyle not to panic when it is thrust fully upon you. And the familiarity is gained only by living it. The ability to make good choices when things get nasty - to know what is necessary and what isn't, comes only with practice. And that's why you should think hard about living now the way you may have to.
Right now, as a society, there's a good chance we're as rich as we'll ever be. The price of most tools necessary to live sustainably is probably as low as it will ever be - does anyone remember Y2K? It was something I pretty much ignored, but I've read about the shortages of woodstoves, bulk foods, and grain grinders. Back orders ran at several years at the peak of awareness. And let's be honest - the evidence for a Y2K crisis was nowhere near as compelling as the evidence for a peak oil/climate change 1-2 punch. What happens when 300 million Americans actually grasp what the future looks like? I'd bet on high prices for many adaptive technologies, at a minimum. Do you live in dangerous coastal area? How long before homeowners insurance companies refuse to insure anyone? How long before the value of your home drops, before awareness rises enough to make living in a low lying coastal area a major problem?
Even if fossil alternatives start making a big dent in things, those too will rise in price, because they are dependent on fossil energies at a hundred steps in the process of making each solar panel and windmill. The price of your electric bill, wherever it comes from is going up, along with the price of gas, food, and everything you purchase. How long before this starts to hurt your ability to do things like reinsulate, move to a different house, get that deeper well, get the heck out of the southwest... (Today we learned that the drought in the southwest may well last another *90* years. How many of the 60 million people in affected areas do you think will want to leave? How much will your house in Tucson sell for in a decade? http://www.abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=3352465&page=1).
But more importantly, peak oil means that most of us are kidding ourselves if we're fantasizing that we can have a pleasant, gentle transition that means mostly just buying cool eco-friendly products, and driving our cool electric-car pod. Most of us are going to get a lot poorer, and probably fairly quickly - certainly over the next decade. The best case scenarios mean that fixing Global Warming will probably cost more than 2% of the GDP and require what James Hansen calls "draconian" measures. That's going to hurt us all. But the worst case scenarios for global warming alone involve 20% of the global GDP - a level of economic damage we've never seen before. And peak oil makes that harder, faster.
For the average person, who will probably lose a job, see the costs for basic things like food, energy and clothing rise dramatically, the future is going to be doing the best you can with what you've got. And that's where switching over to the 90% Reduction plan now, or something very like it right now will help you make the transition gently. Because the odds are good we aren't that far from some of us making it the hard way. Peak oil and climate change will hit each of us at different times - the day it strikes us is the day we lose *our* job, or the day it no longer makes sense to go to work at all, because the gas cost is so high. The day we have to choose between treating an infection and buying shoes for the kids. The day the thermostat inches off. The day they foreclose, or you realize you have to sell, even at a loss. The day the only choice is to use what you have then, and hope you can keep most of it.
It can be hard for those who haven't got any experience with real poverty to imagine that this could happen to them. Sometimes I think the reason so many people get fixated on Mad Max type-scenarios is because they are in some ways, less frightening (and what does that say about us) than the simple realities of grinding poverty - the ordinary human misery that people in the rich world have been granted a pass on for so long.
Living closer to Chinese peasants than American consumers gets you in practice for your reality. It allows you to figure out what you will need to adapt and prepare while you still have resources. Better buy that woodstove now, because in 2 years, if it is available at all, you may not have the money. Better learn to do the laundry without power, grow a garden, bike 10 miles to work now - because if you do them only when you have to, you'll be overwhelmed. Introducing one change at a time, using what we've already got, with support and aid is a lot less painful than the sudden, horrible realization that the old way of life is gone and it isn't coming back. And there's an art to it, and a craftsmanly quality that is exciting, engaging and fun - you are making beauty, if you are doing it right. You are creating a thing of clean lines and small inputs and artful reuse. There's grace there, even when we least intend it. Perhaps Grace with a capital too, if that's the sort of thing you believe in. Or at least a little mercy.
If you are interested in joining the Riot, the information is here:http://simplereduce.wordpress.com/riot-for-austerity-90-reduction-project-intro/
Sharon in upstate NY