Dec 1 2021

Effective and Ineffective Climate Actions

Reports Circulated for COP 26 * Suggest  Drastic Life Style Changes to limit:  Airline travel, Video Gaming, Family size, Construction, Clothes Dryers

In preparing to host COP 26, the United Kingdom’s Climate researchers produced  reports to inform the world leaders meeting in Glasgow.  Quantifying the Potential for Climate Change Mitigation of Consumption Options by Ivanova et al provides sobering data on everyday carbon generation.

What Climate Actions by Individuals Make a Difference?

Smaller families and fewer airline flights would have the most significant impact on climate change that individuals could accomplish.  A family with one fewer child could reduce carbon emissions by up to 117.7 tons a year for a middle or upper middle income family living standard.  This is “by far the most significant action people could take at an individual (or rather, couple) level”.  Eliminating flights is the second most effective life style change for individuals concerned with Climate Change.  Flying SFO to Hong Kong represents 1.6 tons of carbon.  Converting from a meaty diet to a vegan diet saves .92 tons a year.  The California Energy Commission reported that video computer gaming in California consumed 4.1 terawatt-hours/year in 2016.  Presumably, in 2020-1 it  increased due to COVID 19 restrictions.

A middle or upper middle income family living standard child = 117.7 tons a year

Flying SFO to Hong Kong = 1.6 tons of carbon.

A meat diet compared with a vegan diet – .92 tons a year.


What Climate Actions Make Little Difference?

Are local and state governments fighting Climate Change  or introducing feel good Greenwashing* policies while doubling down on construction and automobile accommodations?

Reducing plastic items saves .02 tons a year and replacing light bulbs with energy efficient ones saves .04 tons a year.  Such measures feel good, but don’t produce much benefit.  The New York Times June 29, 2021 reports, “…chucking a gas range that works won’t make much of a positive impact on the environment or most people’s health. … gas cooking doesn’t deserve as much climate-related ire as it has been getting lately, because it represents a tiny part of household energy use and carbon emissions. As of 2015, the most recent year with detailed data (PDF) from the US Energy Information Administration, gas stoves accounted for less than 3% of household natural gas use in the US. ”  Although Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan encourages replacing gas with electric stoves, houses that came on the market for the past few years have felt obligated to install new commercial type six burner gas stoves as an attractive sales feature.

Piedmont’s Climate Action Plan does not ask residents, the public or staff to make any of the most significant lifestyle changes. 

Shifting from a fossil fuel engine car (including hybrids) to an all-electric car saves .47 tons a year, only about twice as much as foregoing use of a clothes dryer.  (Hanging clothes to dry rather than using a dryer saves .22 tons a year.)  Replacing gas stoves with electric may not yield the desired benefit.

According to the UN Environment Program, although building energy consumption from heating, cooling, powering equipment, heating water, has remained steady year-on-year, energy-related CO2 emissions increased by 9.95 gigatonnes in 2019,  largely due to a shift away from the direct use of coal and oil  towards electricity, which has a higher carbon content due to the high proportion of fossil fuels used in generation.

Greenwashing* has been a sales tool of some brands and investment funds, but also a feature of local climate policies.  The modest climate prescriptions in such plans can be more than offset by conflicting policies that allow or even promote demolition and construction.  Manufacture of steel (for cars, building construction, appliances) emits 7% of the world’s carbon according to the New York Times.  Nigel Topping, United Kingdom High-Level Climate Champion noted: ‘We urgently need to address carbon emissions from buildings and construction, which constitute almost 40% of global carbon emissions.”

*Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly.

The October 31 New York Times pointed out the extent of ineffective global action in reaching the agreed goals.  “The global use of fossil fuels which has been on a steady march upward for 150 years, is projected to peak by the middle of this decade, assuming countries hew to the promises they’ve made under the Paris accords.”  In particular, coal generated electric energy has increased 21% in 2021 compared with 2020, when it  increased similarly over 2019 according to the US energy Information administration.  In Rome the G 20 gathering was unable to agree to reduce coal generated electricity.

Mandates on Individuals Are Preferable to Government Restraint

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference gathering in Glasgow got off to an unfortunate symbolic start with more than 400 private jets flying in the delegations. Five jets for the US Presidential delegation produced 2.5 million tons of Co2 and on the ground the Presidential motorcade numbered more than 85 vehicles.

Although 40 nations signed on to phase out coal, several leading economies (US, China, India and Australia) were conspicuous in their reluctance to sign on Reuters (“COP26 coal pledge falls short on support as emissions surge”) reports here.  The increasing demand for coal quadrupled the price this year.  Finally, after Greta Thunberg and other Climate activists belittled the  holdouts, two weeks of negotiation produced the compromise “phase down” coal and other fossil fuels.  This new term without a clear meaning, seemed even more ambiguous as the US and EU simultaneously urged OPEC Plus to increase production of fossil fuels.

Professing Climate Concern State and Local Government Actions Undermine Climate Action

California State laws prevent cities and towns from protecting their environments to support healthy climate lifestyles by enacting limits on the most egregious CO2 emitting activities.  The State even mandates increased accommodation of a proliferation of cars to the detriment of public transit as well as bicycle and pedestrian safety.

The State and Piedmont are reducing setbacks and backyards, eliminating natural options to air cooling and clothes dryers to the detriment of Climate Action.

 *United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty agreed in 1994. The 2021 meeting is the 26th meeting, which is why it’s called COP26.

Editors Note: Additional information on Green House Gases can be read at this link >


3 Responses to “Effective and Ineffective Climate Actions”

  1. Excellent reporting by PCA.

    The City can render significant compliance to its own Climate Action Plan by having the new pool use onsite solar and geothermal to heat both the building and especially the water. Given that the $19+M bond measure the City asked of residents has generated well north of $25M, there should be funding available to accommodate on-site solar.

  2. Thank you PCA for this very informative and provocative piece about climate change. Too much to unpack here but four quick points:

    Natural gas usage in Piedmont homes is mostly used for heating, not cooking. Gas bans address both these uses. And always remember that natural gas production, distribution and usage leak methane, a much more potent Green House Gas (GHG) than CO2, so there’s added value to banning the use of natural gas.

    Agree that electricity from coal is a bad thing. It’s probably not a source of much if any of the electricity in the California grid. A big global problem though.

    “Green washing” is nuanced. Through its EBCE membership, Piedmont claims its electricity is 100% renewable but that’s unlikely as the state-wide grid from which Piedmont draws that electricity still relies substantially on NG and fossil fuels to generate it.

    From what I’ve seen, the housing policies Piedmont is considering have not addressed potential climate impacts. Yes this new construction will be all-electric but the GHG inputs from construction and needed transportation have not been factored. It may be premature to do that but directing that all new multi-family developed be situated near transit lines would be a start.

  3. I am pleased to see some indepent ideas being expressed, outside of the city’s largely futile electrification mandates. Worldwide, there has been a massive increase in GHG emissions since 2000 even AFTER the scientific demonstration of the validity of Climate Change. Asia, not the US or Europe, produces the majority of the world’s GHG emissions, and that Asian production is growing rapidly, while declining in the US and Europe. What happens in Asia doesn’t stay in Asia. Global warming is global. Atmospheric currents travel around the world. A carbon tax in the US would have a substantial benefit at least relative to our own GHG emissions, and should be pursued. There’s little that we can do about Asia’s massive and growing consumption of fossil fuels. The sorts of “paper vs plastic” mini-efforts that cities like Piedmont are pursuing should fall into the Greenwash category in my opinion.

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