Climate change is already a reality. Our goal is not to prevent it from happening, but to prevent it from being too devastating. In this episode, I will talk about the four most effective solutions with which you can fight climate change. And I will also reveal another four that you have probably never considered.
In the last episode of AltruPhysics, I briefly explained what climate change is, and what its consequences are. If you haven’t seen it yet, I invite you to take a look to understand the problem a bit better. But today we’re going to put the problems aside to talk about solutions.
And it seems that everyone on social media knows what the great solution to the problem is: Solar panels! Electric cars! Geoengineering! Reusable cotton bags!!
But the real solution to climate change… doesn’t exist.
You see, there isn’t one solution to climate change, but many solutions, and some are much more effective than others. In fact, some of the solutions you can put into practice yourself.
But before we talk about that, let’s see what we can do globally.
What can we do globally?
Many politicians prefer not to do anything against climate change, and excuse themselves by saying that it’s in the hands of China and the United States. And, indeed, as it stands, these two countries are the ones that generate the most emissions: 31% for China and 13% for the United States. By comparison, the vast majority of countries, including Spain, contribute less than an insignificant 2%.
But here comes the big problem: If you add up the emissions of all those “negligible 2 percent countries”, the result is a scary 36%. In other words, no matter how much China and the United States get their act together, that 36% will continue to dominate. So we really do need the collaboration of all the countries in the world.
Luckily, we already have part of the task done, with The Paris Agreement. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better to have this agreement, with its 195 member countries, than to have none, or to try to come up with a new one. The objective of the agreement is to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, with respect to pre-industrial temperatures, and ideally to 1.5 degrees. It’s a reasonable agreement. Now what we need to do is take it seriously. How can we achieve these goals?
First, we have to decarbonize our energy, which means putting aside our old friend coal, as well as gas and oil. In their place, we have to invest in cleaner energy such as solar, wind, hydraulic, geothermal or nuclear.
We also have to be more efficient in areas such as construction, industrial processes and transportation. We must promote the use of electric vehicles, public transport, and make cities much more bike and pedestrian friendly.
We have to encourage the different economies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, for example through carbon taxes, or emissions trading systems.
We also need to promote plant-based eating and alternative proteins, which have a much lower environmental impact than meat and dairy. And we have to adapt our agriculture, increasing crop productivity and improving soil management. In addition, the enormous amount of food that is wasted must be reduced.
Forests must be protected and restored. We must avoid deforestation.
We need to invest in education, research and development, which will provide us with cheaper and more efficient technologies for obtaining and storing energy, as well as reducing emissions.
Finally, we not only have to invest in mitigating climate change, but we also have to learn to adapt to it, so that the damage is as mild as possible.
And all these solutions, as well as many others I haven’t mentioned, have to occur while the world’s poorest economies continue to grow, increasing their demand for energy and food. Because in this war against climate change we are all together.
But we shouldn’t put all the responsibility on our politicians and on technology. It’s time to focus on what you can do individually.
What can you do?
Since I was a little kid I’ve always been told that I have to recycle, turn off the lights when I leave a room, unplug the appliances that I don’t use, consume less plastic, etc. And in the minds of many people, this is still the way to “help the environment”. But are these things actually effective?
Well, the truth is… not really. It’s not that they’re bad, but if our goal is to reduce emissions, we have to be a bit smarter. And while there are many individual actions that I could mention, to simplify, I’m going to explain four of the most important:
- Reduce meat and dairy consumption. Getting nutrients directly from plants is much more efficient than growing food to feed animals, keeping those animals alive until they’re big enough, and then killing and processing them to feed us. This is true regardless of whether you consume local meat or “sustainable meat”. Plus, of course, by adopting a diet that is wholly or mostly plant-based, you prevent many animals from living through a horrible existence ending with a painful death. And luckily, today there are more and more products on the market that imitate the animal products we’re used to, but made from plants, and with a much smaller carbon footprint.
- Fly less. Aviation contributes 3.5% to total global warming. It may not seem like much, but it’s also true that most of the world’s people do not usually travel by plane. In fact, the richest half of the world is responsible for 90% of aviation emissions. So although at a global level it’s not a very large contribution, at an individual level it is. And it should be noted that there’s a long way to go until we have planes powered by renewable energy. So as other emissions start to decline in the next few years, aviation will continue to grow, and that 3.5% will get much higher. So, if you can travel by train, you will be polluting much less than going by plane.
- Use your car sparingly. If you can get around by public transport, by bike or on foot, great. If you can work from home, even better. And if you have no choice but to travel by car, consider buying an electric or hybrid car. Yes, today they’re usually more expensive than conventional ones, but just as with solar panels, the price of electric cars is very likely to decline rapidly in the coming years.
- Adapt your house. You can start by signing up with a renewable energy provider. In practice, your impact is limited by the amount of renewable energy available in your country’s electricity grid. So if you have the option, installing solar panels is definitely a surer way to reduce your emissions. And in the kitchen you can use induction stoves and microwaves instead of gas stoves and ovens, or replace old appliances with more efficient ones.
If these four actions don’t seem like enough, you can watch this video by Quantum Fracture in which he explains 26 individual ways to fight climate change.
But now I’m going to give you four more solutions that are also in your hands, and that are not usually talked about.
Other solutions that no one talks about
The impact of these other solutions is much more difficult to measure, but can potentially be much greater:
- Donate money to effective organizations. Realistically, there’s a limit to the amount of emissions that you can reduce per year with individual actions like the ones above. That limit is the amount of emissions that you would emit if you didn’t change anything. For example, in Spain, a typical person produces about 7 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year – that’s the most a typical person can reduce their carbon footprint by. However, by donating money to effective charities that work, for example, to improve laws about climate, the reduction in one’s emissions can be much greater.
- Align your career to maximize your impact. If you’re young and still deciding what field to work in, consider using those 80,000 hours that you will dedicate throughout your life to your career in an area with potential impact. And if you’re older, like me, and already have an established career, you can still make an impact within your workplace, for example by sharing information with your colleagues and redirecting company decisions to be better for the environment.
- Contact political leaders directly through letters, emails, or via social media platforms. I’m not talking about harassing anyone, but about politely contacting our leaders and asking them to take the science of climate change into account when making important decisions.
- Vote. It may seem hard to believe that putting a piece of paper in a box from time to time could be so important. However, on certain occasions your vote is capable of significantly changing the course of an election, which has a huge impact. But since you can’t predict when your vote will be most useful, it’s always best to just go vote every time. It’s a simple, potentially high-impact action… and it’s free! And of course, vote for parties which have serious policies about climate change, which support the Paris Agreement, and who care about the future of your country and the rest of the world. In short, vote for parties that pay heed to science.
Climate change is a massive problem that requires large-scale solutions: We need good policies, capable of reaching agreements and taking action, and at the individual level each of us can and must play our part.
We have the power, the need, and the responsibility to make this world a better place.
What do you think of the solutions I have proposed? What other important solutions should I have mentioned? Feel free to leave a comment if you feel so inclined.
In a future episode, we will bust some of the myths related to climate change. So if you’re interested in learning more, don’t forget to subscribe and hit the bell.
As always, thanks very much for your time and I hope to see you in the next episode of AltruPhysics.