Was this just plain old fear mongering or was it common sense preparedness for what’s likely to come?
The Centre has been working with several local governments, businesses, and First Nations communities on energy and emissions planning lately, including Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction strategies and preparing for the effects of Peak Oil . The first question we are asked on this topic is “how realistic and serious are these things that we’re hearing about fuel shortages and climate change impacts?” while the second question we’re usually asked is “Yikes, so what can we do about it, and how much will it cost?”
Here’s the answer:
The concerns are serious and gaining ground, and in the meantime, the climate isn’t getting any cooler. Conservative organizations like the International Energy Agency suggest that the world’s atmosphere might be able to handle 450 ppm (parts per million) of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent, a measurement that includes other GHGs like methane) before we start burning up. “Burning up” means increasing the average annual temperature globally by two degrees or more, leading to catastrophic environmental consequences and, as a result, catastrophic economic and social consequences.
The great majority of scientists, however, believe that 400 ppm is the tipping point, including the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
How close are we to this tipping point? In 2007, when I was preparing a climate presentation for a planning conference, the atmospheric concentration of GHGs stood at about 383 ppm according to theUS National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
. Earlier this year, when I went back to check the data for a report, it had jumped to 391 ppm… a change of 8 ppm in just four years! At this rate, we’ll hit 400 ppm by 2015, long before any realistic adaptation plan will be in place. For energy, particularly cheap energy, the party is over.
Economic downturns may be temporarily masking the price impacts of peak oil
, but we were on our way to $300/barrel oil just a few years ago due to the second and third world economies starting to develop vast middle classes demanding the same luxuries as the first world populations… cars, flying around the world on vacation and big houses that need heating and air conditioning. Even the best case scenario… well, best case for those craving cheap energy, not-so-best case for the planet’s ecosystems, shows oil and gas production before 2040 and then slipping into a rapid decline. After that, prices will skyrocket as supplies are depleted and the energy gap will need to be met by energy conservation and renewable alternative energy sources… there will be no cheap fossil fuel options other than dirty coal.
What to do about it and how much will it cost? From what we can tell, reducing energy and emissions personally, locally, and globally is achievable, but we’re no longer talking about taking the car in for a tune-up and changing out your light bulbs for compact fluorescents. It’s more like selling one of your cars, driving the other car (which may be electric) about 80% less… or selling both your cars, joining an electric car coop, and walking, cycling, or taking transit for 95% of your needs. That’s just one of the many parts of your life that you’ll have to rethink. Other parts might include an energy makeover for your home, rethinking your diet and replacing your mangos from the tropics with local, less energy- and methane-intensive foods, or perhaps accepting a job much closer to home… or maybe in your home. Globally, in order to “retool” society before energy costs soar and reduce GHG emissions by the minimum possible to stabilize the climate, or 80%, leading thinkers suggests that 15 major areas will need to undergo similar radical makeovers… from agriculture to buildings, transportation, land use, fuels, forestry and carbon capture.
In terms of cost, while it may not be cheap initially, the question should really be “can we afford NOT to take action?” For example, saving $10,000 by not installing insulation or new windows won’t seem like a cost savings when it costs an extra $3000/year to heat and cool your home. Organizations that do the calculation will generally discover that future cost savings will justify immediate capital investments in conservation and clean, renewable energy.
The same kind of thinking also applies to community energy planning, and the tool we use to do this is called a Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP). A CEEP will address what a community could and should be doing to promote resilient and sustainable energy systems and to reduce and minimize the community’s contributions to harmful Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. It is estimated that, while senior governments regulate high profile things like fuel efficiency, building codes and permitted emissions, local governments actually influence about half of all emissions and might control about a quarter. (See the BC Climate Action Toolkit
for more information).
We’ve learned from our work that much of what communities do are interrelated and have impacts and that you can’t treat energy or emissions in isolation, either as corporate or community. That’s why we strongly encourage communities to do Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSPs), which address all of the things that communities could and should be doing to be more sustainable, and then align their ICSPs with their Official Community Plans and Community Energy and Emissions Plans.
Most of the resulting “Strategy Areas” should be the same for an ICSP, OCP, or CEEP. For example “Land Use,” “Buildings and Sites,” “Infrastructure,” “Transportation” or “Economy”. Using the ICSP lens is a great way to identify all of the things that a community could and should be doing to reduce energy use and GHG emissions. It also allows for a common indicator monitoring and reporting system, so that the community sees how all of their strategy areas work together to accomplish their long-term vision.
Bottom line? It’s not unreasonable to be worried, but convert these concerns into corporate and community action, doing what you can to be less of the problem and more of the solution. The best news? While you’re taking action, you’ll also be improving your community’s quality of life and preparing for a resilient economy.
By Mark Allison