Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 27, 2015

Can we address even the trivial contributions to climate change?

In a recent article by Joshua Melvin (see it at http://news.yahoo.com/whats-carbon-footprint-email-102042606.html;_ylt=AwrXnCbGDFdWqTIApAnQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTByM3V1YTVuBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMzBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg ) he lists a large number of  seemingly harmless activities routinely undertaken by most of us and then assigns a “carbon footprint” to each of these.  His examples include the issuing of emails messages, the use of plastic bags and bottles, lab top computers, and even coffee and TV’s – as well as the consumption of banana’s and cheeseburgers. While the provocative title of his article was “What’s the carbon footprint of an email”, he was remiss in not also including anything concerning how we can and should pay for the carbon costs of these activities.  Mr. Melvin was doubly remiss in not making this solution clear because it is so very simple and has been advocated by climate scientists for many years.

The answer to this question is (for the nth time on this website) is to assign an appropriate fee (call it a tax if your like) for all use of fossil fuels for energy production and then let the free market provide alternate means of energy production and, indirectly, the means of providing all of the functions, including electronic emails, listed by Mr. Melvin. All of this can be done without emissions of CO2 using existing technology and would, indeed, be done if we had an appropriate carbon tax.

To address just one of the examples listed by Mr. Melvin, consider our use of plastic bags.  I would not be surprised if Mr. Melvin assumed in his calculation of the carbon footprint of these ubiquitous items that they will always be burned after use.  But why would we continue do that if the burning of plastic converted its fossil-fuel-derived carbon to CO2 and a charge was applied to that activity?  Instead, we would undoubtedly either bury that plastic forever in a land fill or reuse its carbon for the production of other plastic materials.  Or we might then use bags made out of paper coming from a paper mill powered by a renewable source of energy.  Or we would use our own cloth bags dedicated to such purposes. Where there is a will, there is usually a way.  Mr. Melvin’s article draws attention to how needed changes will affect even simple activities we all take for granted.  While he is correct, it should also be understood that the only thing required to address the trivial list of challenges he describes is just a tiny bit of will.

While we still have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, we should also acknowledge that have so much to do during the remainder of our lives if our grandchildren and their families are to be similarly blessed.


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