Can We Downsize to Save our Environment?

The Old Man

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Overconsumption Must EndPhoto by Andrew Haimerl on Unsplash

What might that look like? Maybe it will feel like coming home, stepping off the rat race.

I read quite a lot about the individual efforts to combat climate change. It feels good to make constructive changes, do more with less, forego the mansion for a smaller footprint, resisting the world wrapped in plastic — but individual action is like pissing on a forest fire. It relieves your bladder, but it does little to alter the big picture.

We have gone backward since the first Earth Day in 1970. It begs the question, Will we ever change? Our planet is much worse off than it was 50 years ago.

If we decide to change, we must eliminate the top ten global emission sources. It’s our only hope for a future. I want to be optimistic for my grandchildren, but I am not. Acting alone will not ensure their future. It will only salve my guilt. These ten activities are fouling the environment and ruining our future. Plan A, business as usual, is not working. We need a Plan B.

Burning fossil fuels for heat and electricity — accounts for 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions

Transportation —the 15% share is from vehicles and airplanes emissions

Manufacturing and construction — 13.3% of greenhouse gas emissions come from energy in the production of building and manufacturing materials

Our food system contributes — 11.1% from soil emissions from farming, meat production, dairy production, and food packaging

Burning wood for heat — 8.2% many people believe this to be a time-honored “green” way to heat a home, it’s not

Cement and aluminum production — 5.8% combustion emissions to generate high temperatures needed to produce aluminum and cement

Deforestation — 5.7% caused by forest fires and deforestation

Flaring off unwanted or un-captured gas during energy extraction — 5.3% gases could be captured, but it’s more cost-effective to burn it off

Methane produced by landfills — 3.1% from the decomposition of organic waste

International shipping bunker fuels — 2.2% shipping goods around the world

Added together these actions account for 94.7% of our greenhouse gas emissions.

The Action Plan

We are in a global war to save humanity. If you don’t believe that, rest assured, it’s only a matter of time until it becomes crystal clear. Sure many will continue to deny it because that’s a handy escape mechanism. Once you accept that humanity faces possible extinction — then you have to do something about it — unless you are a lemming.

We are all stuck on this planet together; we need a Plan B in place to turn to when everything we know begins to fall apart. The importance of a Plan B was noted in The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. If you don’t have a Plan B, when Plan A goes to shit, all that remains is chaos and anarchy.

I believe the sooner we implement Plan B, the better. We must think as a global population in a war for survival. That means some things no longer make sense. For example, no one should profit from providing the basic elements for survival. I don’t mean that individuals shouldn’t get paid for honest work. However, there is no margin for investors. At least not in the business of providing necessities — food, water, energy, shelter, and education.

Those basics need to be guaranteed. Otherwise, we face global panic. Our resources should be rationed equally to ensure that some don’t sit back fat, happy and comfortable while others make all the sacrifices — as we have a habit of doing in the US.

We need to move to non-profit, publicly owned utilities. There is no margin for investor profit providing electricity. Energy is a resource we have to scale back until we can make all generation “green.” Every dollar over wages and operating expenses need to be plowed back into the transformation to “green” energy.

We need to ensure that the world’s utilities are working for us rather than against up. We have to guard against the utility predators that are a menace to society.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) our utility in northern California is a twice-convicted felon

PG&E was negligently responsible for the gas line disaster and explosion in San Bruno, California, and the countless fires caused by their equipment in northern California, including the Dixie Fire, the 2nd largest fire in California history.

Yet this convicted felon continues to operate. PG&E shamelessly awarded top management with performance bonuses and their stockholders with profits amidst the disasters they caused, and at the same time declaring bankruptcy!

PG&E dared to pay past CEO Bill Johnson, formerly of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a $3M signing bonus and a $2.5M a year contract! Guess what? Johnson’s already retired, after only 14 months. He’s leaving with an $18.5M severance package. Why? Did Johnson have a banner year? Well, no, Johnson presided over a company that burned down massive areas of northern California — so of course, he should be rewarded. PG&E is before the Public Utilities Commission once again, asking for rate increases. I suppose their latest CEO is ready to retire and has earned a lavish sendoff, so it’s time to increase rates again.

We don’t need utilities like PG&E. How California has suffered under this private utility for so long is a mystery to this northern California resident.

Plan B

De-Population — Every person we add to the planet multiplies our problems. Nobody likes to hear it, but we need to shrink the population to a sustainable size. We will be much better off with half the population because they will require half the resources by default. The solution is simple and fair, and a bit heavy-handed.

A global child voucher

One child voucher per woman — use it, trade it or sell, a woman’s choice. De-population will slowly ease the housing crisis, relieve the strain on our food and water supplies, cut electricity usage, and reduce transportation needs permanently.

But we can’t de-populate fast enough. De-population will only make the world a better, more sustainable place in the future — if we make it to the future. We need short-term, monumental changes tomorrow.

De-Transportation — Nobody likes rationing, but rationing is how we cut our fuel use in half tomorrow. We need a worldwide fuel voucher (tokens) system. Every adult on the planet receives monthly fuel tokens that cover all modes of transportation. People who limit their travel will be rewarded for conservation. Use your tokens, trade your tokens or sell the leftover portion — there will be a ready market.

Fuel tokens in the hands of 3rd world citizens will be a global equalizer. Some people on the planet only walk or bike for transportation — we have been unashamedly using their share of global fuel resources. They will now have a global resource to sell or trade. Bicycle enthusiasts will have a new source of income. Walkers with have a new source of income, and voluntary conservationists will finally be rewarded for their efforts.

Transportation emissions will be immediately reduced by half even if all the available tokens are used

Total monthly, global tokens will max out at half of today’s combined usage for vehicle and air travel. If every single token is used every month, global fuel usage will still be cut in half. If the wealthy wish to fly, they may do so by helping third-world citizens through the purchase of their unused tokens. If a billionaire wants a joyride into space, he will have to raise entire populations out of poverty to do so.

On the flip-side, if an enterprising individual installs sufficient solar panels to charge their electric vehicle, they can drive to their heart’s content. But an electric vehicle charged from the grid would be subject to the limits of their household energy allotment(below).

Tokens

Electronic tokens would be delivered to the registered users by phone or internet account. Blockchain technology could be used to secure the tokens, trade transactions, and redemption. Blockchain uses a distributed record-keeping system called a ledger that keeps track of changes to assets (tokens) within the chain. Unlike a bank or financial accounting system, the ledger isn’t centralized but is distributed to all the computers in the chain. This could secure the tokens and guard against fraud.

Tokens are not payment, but a voucher for the right to purchase a specific quantity of fuel or electricity.

De-Energy — Canada and the US are the energy hogs of the world. This inequity has to end. With fewer than five percent of the world’s population, the US consumes 17% of the world’s energy.

We are in a global fight, so we must share global resources equally. After global energy resources are adjusted downward for conservation, the remaining global energy will be rationed equally. Then everyone will be forced to live within their energy allowance.

Every household worldwide will receive monthly tokens for their energy allotment based on the number of occupants in their household. The household energy allotment will also be restricted to some extent by your nation’s reliance on fossil fuels for energy generation. Use your allotment as you wish, or be rewarded for your conservation by selling or trading the unused portion.

To calculate the world’s available household allotment, the total energy generated by fossil fuels will be halved. That half portion will be added to the total energy generated by “green” energy sources — that total will be divided between the business sector and the household sector. The remaining global household sector will be divided among the total number of households in the world. The household allotment will factor in the number of members in each household.

Today fossil fuel-generated electricity accounts for about 60% of all electricity generated. As more renewable energy comes online, everyone’s allotment will increase. But only one-half of the fossil-fuel energy generation will ever count toward the total global allotment.

Global electricity generated by fossil fuels will be cut by 40% the first year — and the rush to develop “green” energy will begin in earnest.

Rationing based on the percentage of fossil fuel reliance will spur the growth of renewable energy. Many citizens of the world do not have electricity. This will be a means for them to acquire it. Imagine the siren call of all those waiting energy tokens. New utilities will spring up overnight. In the meantime, the poor people of the world have a new asset to sell. As new publicly-owned third-world utilities emerge, residents will pay for their newfound electricity by selling a portion of their tokens to the residents of wealthy nations. If everyone uses 100% of their tokens, that’s fine. We will still hit the target for reducing the reliance on fossil fuels generation of electricity by half.

Businesses and individuals who have had the forethought to invest in “green” energy privately will have that much more energy available for their use. This advantage will further provide more incentive for private investment in “green” energy development.

De-consumption — In the US, we consume too much of everything. Even our government refers to us as consumers.

Plastic — Every trip to the grocery store, we wallow in plastic. Plastic simply has to be eliminated from our lives. There is too much prepackaging. We need to return to a time when food-stuffs were available in bulk, so shoppers can bring their reusable containers and fill them up. Tidy little packages have to be eliminated. At the fruit and vegetable counters, more plastic. Take away all those single-use plastic bags in rolls. Instead, let shoppers place fruit and vegetables directly in their carts or in their own containers. Meat packaging is ridiculous. Always the Styrofoam tray, covered in plastic. Let’s return to the butcher shop of old wrap purchases in paper and take it home. When I owned a retail beauty supply business, we offered refills on all the popular shampoo and conditioner brands. Our customers saved 50%. Think of all the plastic bottles and plastic packaging that goes into the waste bin every day. Most of it can’t be recycled, so it will be with us for the next 5,000 years.

Food waste — Each day in the United States, approximately one pound of food per person is wasted. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this wasted food adds up to 103 million tons of food waste generated in America in 2017, or between 30–40 percent of the food supply. All that tonnage ends up rotting in our landfills, producing methane, a gas that is worse than carbon dioxide for the environment.

Food production — There are two primary agricultural-related greenhouse gas emissions sources: crop cultivation and livestock production. Crop cultivation represents 50 percent of agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions, while livestock production represents approximately 42 percent of agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions. Beef production is the biggest culprit. Cows produce an enormous amount of methane, causing almost 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The US currently raises about 94.4M cows. We need to eat less beef. Given the US population’s seemingly insatiable desire for beef, it will take some form of rationing to break our beef habit in a meaningful way.

Lots of carbon dioxide is emitted by farm equipment moving across a farm’s fields during tilling, planting, the application of pesticides and fertilizers, and harvest. The more passes across the farm field, the more carbon that is emitted. The US currently has 391.5M acres that are actively farmed and 654M acres dedicated grazing land for cattle. It’s hard to imagine the number of tractor passes needed to cover 391.5M acres five times! All-electric farm equipment is the answer, equipment charged by 100% solar energy.

Planned Obsolescence — our consumer culture has a vicious cycle of buy-use-toss and replace. It’s relentless, and the insatiable need for more sales drives it. Sales of phones, electronics, and appliances are motivated by new features, the promise of energy savings, slick style upgrades, and advertising to push the cycle faster and faster — meanwhile, our landfills are overflowing. We must resist the urge to upgrade, and we must support manufacturers who build durable products with replaceable parts that remain in stock to support more extended life for their products.

Local consumptionwe need to be self-sufficient within our geographic zones to limit the transportation of goods across the country. Sure, every fruit and vegetable will not be in season every day of the year, but we can live with that.

The first three steps will take government intervention and cooperation on a worldwide scale. As a world population, we tighten our belts together as we raise the standard of living for the people living in less fortunate countries.

It’s disgusting to continue hogging the world’s essential resources for our exclusive use while third-world countries suffer the initial disasters of climate change. It is the gluttony of wealthy nations that has brought about the calamity of climate change.

There are many impediments to the changes necessary to win this battle. The wealthy will fight to keep their profits. The corporations will try to maintain their stranglehold on business, resources, and profits. Many will resist any sacrifice, many will continue to deny, but eventually, it will come down to survival. If the situation unfolds as the world’s scientists predict — we face extinction.

With three major sacrifices and half a dozen changes in current practices, we could halt then begin to reverse the gasses in the atmosphere that are warming our planet. It will take bold leadership because this battle can only be won if we band together.

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Looking for solutions to improve our world. I write about politics, education, climate change, and any issues important to average Americans struggling to survive in a world gone mad.

Chico, CA
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