Monday, June 25, 2007

Drive Slower, Cut Carbon Emissions

How are you getting on with the Drive Slower Challenge? 33 people have voted so far and there are still 5 days left until the poll closes. If you want to vote, the poll is in the right-hand sidebar.

Why do I want you to drive slower anyway? Well, it's safer, and it saves fuel which saves you money, but mainly because it reduces carbon emissions. Some of you may be well-versed in the whole carbon issue, but I suspect many people are still kind of fuzzy on what it's all about. So here is:

A (VERY) BRIEF HISTORY OF CARBON

Carbon dioxide is a natural part of earth's atmosphere, even though only in tiny amounts (4 parts in every 10,000). But it's the second most important greenhouse gas. That means it has a huge effect on the atmosphere's capacity to retain heat, trapping energy in our atmosphere.

It's not the most important greenhouse gas - that would be water vapour. The amount of water vapour in our atmosphere isn't changing. But the amount of carbon dioxide is, because in recent human history we have burnt off massive amounts of coal and oil and natural gas - fossil fuels. I'm sure you remember from school science lessons that fossil fuels are formed from prehistoric living organisms, such as animals and plants, that got trapped under rock and buried deep under the earth. This sealed away enormous amounts of carbon and stored it up for millions of years. But in just the last hundred years we have dug most of it up and burned it, releasing it into the atmosphere again.

GLOBAL WARMING? BUT I FEEL COLD!

All this extra carbon dioxide increases our atmosphere's capacity to store energy. Overall, this means global temperatures are rising. But locally it can mean warming or cooling, more rain, or drought. It means the disruption of familiar patterns and weather chaos. Some sceptics gets their knickers in a twist about this, but it makes sense. My friend Jim Finnis once explained that the climate is a bit like a child's swing. If you put more energy into it, say by giving it a hard shove to the left, you don't expect it to just move over to the left and stay there. You expect it to swing about more, both more left and more right. More energy means more everything. Just more weather.

SO WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?

Good question. I feel really strongly that we can't dither about and wait for someone else to fix this for us. I hope that governments will do something to fix it, but that will only happen if the voters demand it. I hope that businesses will do something, but that will only happen if stockholders demand it. I hope that scientists will find more solutions to it, and they are doing that. But we already know the solution - every one of us has to take responsibility for emitting less carbon dioxide.

Driving slower is one way to start.

13 comments:

Clare said...

As someone who doesn't speed (no, honestly!) I am all in favour of people driving slower, but I think that reducing carbon is more complex than that.

When I learned to drive a couple of years ago, one of the things I was taught (and tested on in the theory test - yuck) was that to drive more greenly, speed is less the issue. What is more important is to drive in as high a gear as possible for the speed at which you are driving as this will use less fuel - lower gears are more powerful and require more fuel.

I'm not in any way mechanically minded so I don't know about this, but wonder if any of your other readers do...

Melanie Rimmer said...

Hi Clare. Yes we talked a bit about it when I first raised the challenge. It's important not to accelerate too hard, but to speed up gently. So you want to move up the gears fairly early, like you say, rather than gunning it in first or second. This makes more difference than overall speed in town driving when you're frequently stopping and starting.

But I think hard acceleration is often associated with people who are determined to get to the speed limit (or more) as soon as possible. If they can get into the mindset of driving slower overall, I suspect they'll accelerate more gently as well.

On motorway driving, when you're going along at a steady speed for long distances, then overall speed makes a big difference.

Joanna said...

There's another aspect to this ... I have noticed that what's good for the planet is often good for the individual too ... a couple of months ago I started making a concerted effort never to exceed the speed limit (surprisingly difficult, and sometimes inadvertently dangerous as other drivers whoosh past where they really shouldn't) - one of the key things about this is that you have to start a little earlier (funnily enough, not that much earlier, I have timed all my frequent journeys, and it makes very little difference to overall journey times, even a journey of a couple of hours) ... pootling along at 30 is much more relaxed than racing along at 60, and motorway driving is much less tense at 70 than any faster. I don't feel cross with other drivers any thing like so often. It's calmer, and that's good. I don't know what to do about the new smugness I seem to be suffering from ...

Joanna
joannasfood.blogspot.com

PS my daughter was hit by a car going 10mph max - she had "minor cuts and bruises", together with a fear of roads and cars which has not really gone away four years later. But if the car had been doing 20 she'd have been in hospital several days, and if it had been doing 30 she might well be dead. Personal and global sustainability really do have a habit of going hand in hand.

didna said...

"But we already know the solution - every one of us has to take responsibility for emitting less carbon dioxide."
That's a possible solution for the middle classes who can afford to choose.

I'm not convinced by any of these 'green' theories of catastrophe. It seems that the scientists promoting are getting well reward with various grants and that those who say it is all part of normal earth cycles are being ignored or shouted down.
Just to illustrate that I am not anti: all my light bulbs bar three are long life, and my reading light is a home made led device powered by a burglar alarm battery that is charged by a 5 watt solar panel hanging in the window. I sort my trash and compost, I have a dual flush toilet and a shower but no bath. I store rainwater for the garden, topping up the pond and washing the dogs. I walk one way on any journey up to a mile and bus back if I have a load to carry. I often cycle if the journey is around 10 miles but have to think first about all you motorists, however slowly you may be driving. I cycle tour or canoe (homemade) for holidays. Outside of the military I have flown twice; they were the only times that I have landed in the aircraft. Each trip was on a small plane for less than an hour. To visit Europe I use the trains. My motor is over 40 years old and has done less than a 1000 miles in the last 11 months and just over 3000 in 4 years.
I do these things not because I am green, far from it, but because I chose a few years ago to live debt free on a low income. I do not believe that you can do anything to affect the climate because China and India will continue to do what they see as best for themselves. Any pretence that they have any interest in saving the world is twaddle.

Are you a teacher? You sound like a teacher, or a social worker.

Melanie Rimmer said...

Hi Didna. Thanks for commenting.

You said "That's a possible solution for the middle classes who can afford to choose", and then you went on to list loads of "green" things you do but not for green reasons, only because they're very economical. I agree with you that living frugally and living "ecologically" can be the same thing. I think middle class over-consumption is a large part of the problem.

You said "I'm not convinced by any of these 'green' theories of catastrophe", and then later you said "I do not believe that you can do anything to affect the climate
because China and India will continue to do what they see as best for themselves". If there is no green catastrophe, then it doesn't matter what India and China do. But if we can't turn the climate around because India and China are just going to wreck it anyway, then there must be a climate catastrophe in the first place. Which is it?

Personally I disagree with both those statements. I think it's foolish to say what I do can't make a difference because I'm small and others who're bigger than me should change first. I think it starts with each of us taking responsibility for our own actions. That's not just my philopsphy on the environment, but that's a cornerstone of my philosophy of everything. I think we got in this mess because we lost sight of that, and we'll get out of it by going back to that principle of individual responsibility.

You said "It seems that the scientists promoting are getting well reward with various grants..." Speaking as a scientist - hah! How many Mercedes-driving scientists do you know? "...and that those who say it is all part of normal earth cycles are being ignored or shouted down". That might be true in some parts of the the media, but that's not how science works. Science works by debate of ideas backed up by evidence. There is little debate nowadays about climate change in science, because the evidence is overwhelming. The changes we have seen in the last few decades are of a much larger magnitude and speed than the natural climate cycles.

You said "Are you a teacher? You sound like a teacher, or a social worker". Not really. I teach music to small children but that's a sideline. My main job is as a university science lecturer. Is that what you meant by teacher?

didna said...

"I agree with you that living frugally and living "ecologically" can be the same thing. I think middle class over-consumption is a large part of the problem."

I didn't set out to be 'ecological'. I did it purely because I value free time more than money. The cheaper life is the less money I need and the less I have to work. I am down to two days for 39 weeks of the year, and hope to go to one day next year.

"You said "I'm not convinced by any of these 'green' theories of catastrophe", and then later you said "I do not believe that you can do anything to affect the climate
because China and India will continue to do what they see as best for themselves". If there is no green catastrophe, then it doesn't matter what India and China do. But if we can't turn the climate around because India and China are just going to wreck it anyway, then there must be a climate catastrophe in the first place. Which is it?"

I confess that I noticed that it didn't read very well but I was too lazy to change it.

I don't know if there is a catastrophe waiting for the Earth or not.
I am unconvinced by the 'green' arguments and suspect that they are driven by middle clas angst, the prospect of more taxation, and the desire of the nanny state to keep us in control. If, however, it is true that a man made catastrophe awaits then my statement about India and China stands.
I can see from historical records, whether geographical or written, that what is going on climatically at the moment is merely repeating past events, but I don't have enough knowledge, or understanding, to say that is all it is about. perhaps it is a natural cycle made worse by human intervention. If so, once again my statement about India and China stands.

Some things I am certain about: my knees and back like warmer weather, I can expect to live about another thirty years and nothing much climatically will change in that time, and for anything other than natural events science and technology will find a solution.

I am glad that you are a science lecturer it gives me some confidence that you may not be just following the herd because you can afford to play.

ps small d for didna, please. I am saving ink as well :0)

TopVeg said...

Hi
You can't help wondering if our little effort to live frugally will make any difference. But I have just read 'Famine in the West' - & it makes you want to do something. It is on,y £3 and easy to read. Have a look on
http://peakfood.co.uk/buy-ebook/
TopVeg

Marjorie said...

Did someone say "chocolate"? I am all for saving a planet with chocolate. I will drive slowly to the grocery store to get my chocolate, promise! But really, is that slogan on a t-shirt or something? I would love to get one!

Melanie Rimmer said...

I think there are lots of t-shirts with the slogan, Marjorie.

eg here: http://tinyurl.com/2uabot
or here: http://tinyurl.com/2wvtcw
or here: http://tinyurl.com/2llygd

I typed "save earth chocolate" into Google to find those.

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