Carbon Consciousness & Action

Archive for the tag “Climate Change”

Making Progress on Climate in the Trump Years

nueromarketingTrump’s election is a huge setback for the transition away from fossil fuels.    Obama’s policy initiatives relating to oil and climate are very likely to be reversed.   Carbon taxes will not rise, the federal electric vehicle tax credit will be either terminated or allowed to expire, fleet efficiency standards will be lowered, and oil infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL pipeline will be given the green light.

Clearly, environmentalists must continue to defend these policies as best we can.  But playing defense is not enough:  we must also find a way to make progress during these years, so that oil consumption is less in 2020 than it is now.

While Trump and the oil companies are masters of the political process right now, consumer perception is much harder for them to control.  It is in this field–the consciousness and perception of consumers– that we have a lot of room to run. If we can turn consumers’ hearts, minds, and pocketbooks away from fossil fuels, we can make important progress on climate despite a Trump presidency. Read more…


Interview with Rob Shirkey, Proponent of Gas Pump Warning Labels


Rob Shirkey

In my last post, I discussed a new initiative from Canada to mandate the inclusion of warning labels on gas pumps.  Today, I interview the guiding force behind the campaign, Robert Shirkey, Executive Director of Toronto-based Our Horizon.  The text below is a summary of our interview, not a transcript.

Q.  How do  you assess  consumer consciousness regarding gasoline?

A.   The act of pumping gas is normalized, habitual, and automatic. We scarcely even think about gasoline, and have complacent about using it.  We need to bring the conversation about gasoline and carbon reduction closer to the end user.

To the extent we think about the global warming problem, we tend to think of it as a problem caused by industry, not by ourselves.

The goal of the sticker campaign is to shake up the complacency with which we view gasoline and create demand for alternatives.

While our goal is not to create guilt, if the end user does feel guilt, that helps establish conditions where change comes from.  Change comes from dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Q.    Are there sufficiently viable alternatives to gasoline right now?  Is it fair to ask people not to use gasoline before there are viable alternatives?

“If you make them want it, then you get to build it, then they will come.” If we keep on buying the old internal combustion engine, then it will take longer for better alternative vehicles to come to market. If you can signal to a producer broader market interest, you are signaling to them an opportunity to produce at greater economies of scale.

The sticker will create a thirst for better alternatives.  You make people want it first.

As long as consumers are complacent, we will not get the alternatives we want.  Complacency doesn’t drive change.  Consumers’ distance from the global warming problem perpetuates the status quo.  If consumers become dissatisfied with the status quo, they will demand better alternatives.

Q. Why have the mainstream environmental organizations not asked their membership more directly not to drive gasoline-powered cars?

A.  There is an ideological blindspot, a disconnect.The narrative popular with many activists is that there are big, bad evil corporations responsible for global warming.

If there is a narrative that we are all conflicted, that we are all part of the problem, it is harder to go to a protest and shake your fist.  The real enemy is inertia and the status quo in which consumers are comfortable using gasoline.

Sure, there are some bad apples in the petroleum industry, but our challenge is systemic inertia, not cartoonish big, bad corporations.  This narrative is more complex, but more honest.  I think it will be more effective.

Q. Where do things stand with labeling in San Francisco and Berkeley?  What do you think will be the first jurisdiction in the world to actually adopt the warning label requirement into law?

A.  There is a group in San Francisco and Berkeley that I have been advising.They haven’t yet implemented a labeling law yet, but they are at the tail end of the legislative process, and we are looking at another month or two before it is complete.  In West Vancouver, they recently passed a resolution in favor of climate change stickers on all gas pumps throughout Canada.

Many jurisdictions are reluctant to mandate the use of stickers now because of the threat of litigation.  No one municipality has as of yet been willing to be first, but I believe a number will be willing once the law is decided that municipalities do have jurisdiction to require warning labels.

In West Vancouver, the mayor was formerly a petroleum distributor, and he has said that he will voluntarily put the warning stickers on the gas pumps he owns.  Some consumers might want to support gas stations that voluntarily use the stickers.  Voluntary placement of stickers could be a big growth area for the sticker movement.

Q.  Is the time right for a gasoline boycott or similar coordinated withdrawal of gasoline purchasing?  When will the time be right? How could it be achieved?

A. I wouldn’t go the boycott route. But it would introduce another perspective and be an interesting downstream intervention.  We need to look at where fossil fuels companies get their revenue, which is from markets.  The only reason that pipelines, tar sands, and oil drilling occur is because there is a market for the product.  If we take away the market, all of these problems will disappear.

Aos Meus Amigos Brasileiros

Aos meus queridos amigos no Brasil,Brazil flag face

Muitos brasileiros vem visitando meu blog. Fico contente em ver que ha interesse na conexao entre o consumidor e a producao de gas carbonico. Os brasileiros estao cientes de sua propria contribuicao a geracao de gas carbonico? Existe alguma pressao social para que a diminuam? O governo, propagandas, ou a midia promove essa atitude? Existe ja alguma estrategia que tenha funcionado?

Obrigado pelo seu interesse, e espero ouvir suas opinioes em breve.

The Carbon Pledge

Carbon Pledge Classic PhotoI have contributed to the carbon pollution shrouding our Earth;

Now, therefore,

I pledge to no longer add to the problem;

I will cut my carbon use by 25% each of the next three years

I will offset the carbon I emit

I will encourage my friends to do the same

I will support policies which reduce carbon pollution.

I will do my share.

. . .

. . .

What is the responsibility of each of us to reduce carbon pollution?   The Carbon Pledge defines those responsibilities as reducing our personal carbon use substantially, offsetting the carbon we do use, and supporting policies that reduce carbon pollution. Read more…

Our Atmospheric Commons Doesn’t Have to Be a Tragedy

collective action image

Worldwide annual CO2 emissions are about 35 billion tons and rising.  So what difference does it make if I ride my bike to work every day to avoid 5 tons of emissions this year, or if decide not to make that family trip to Hawaii because of the 20 tons of CO2 it will emit?  Even if I do make these sacrifices to reduce my carbon footprint, China’s emissions are increasing so fast that they will cancel my reductions out by a factor of millions.  I might as well just live my life and hope that our governments deal with the problem, or that a new technology comes along just in time to save the day.  And even if the Earth’s atmosphere becomes unlivable, there is nothing that I could have done about it.

Even for people deeply concerned about climate change, these attitudes are widespread and rational.  Why make a personal sacrifice when its effect on overall climate is negligible?  Even though my children and I would benefit from a cleaner atmosphere, we, and a billion other families, will get that benefit regardless of whether or not I personally “green up my act.”

Similar calculations are made by individuals, companies, industries, and countries the world over, and represent a major barrier to action on climate change.  No one wants to sacrifice unless everyone else is sacrificing, and many would prefer to be a “free rider” on sacrifices made by others.   Economists and social scientists refer to the refusal of individuals to give up a small individual benefit for a large collective benefit as a “collective action problem” or the “tragedy of the commons.”

Because of the widespread belief that the collective action problem makes voluntary approaches to carbon reduction impractical (or that focus on individual voluntary action will reduce pressure for institutional change), much of the focus on addressing carbon emissions has been on achieving global-level climate accords or national-level actions such as a federal carbon tax.  These supra-national or national-level efforts promised to avoid the collective action problem by imposing binding quotas and restrictions by ensuring that the sacrifice is borne by all.  Unfortunately, international climate negotiations and national carbon taxes have borne little fruit (in large part because of collective action problems occurring at the national and international levels.) Read more…

Consumer Education Key to Climate Policy Progress

Getting consumers to accept personal responsibility for their carbon usage is a critical step in building a durable political coalition to address climate change.  Consumers who are concerned about their personal CO2 emissions are likely not only to reduce their emissions, they are much more likely to strongly back carbon taxes and other climate-friendly legislation.

Key messages of a consumer-directed campaign include:  “Each gallon of gas you use puts 20 pounds of CO2 into the air,” “the CO2 you put in the air stays in the air,” and “reduce the CO2 that you can, offset what you can’t.” Read more…

What Plug-in Hybrid Sales Say About Our CO2 Emissions

What do the sales numbers of the Chevy Volt and the Ford Fusion Energi tell us about carbon reduction efforts in the United States?

In June, 2014, Chevrolet sold 1,777 of the 98 MPG Volts, compared to 26,008 for the comparably-sized 30 MPG Cruze.   Ford sold a record 1939 of the 88 MPG Ford Fusion Energis in June 2014, compared to 25,665 of the other 25 MPG Ford Fusion models. Read more…

Do Gasoline Consumers Deserve a Free Pass?

While public pressure mounts on universities and pension funds to divest from oil companies because of their role in causing global warming, consumers that buy gas from the oil companies are getting a free pass.   As long as a person isn’t driving a large SUV or Hummer, his or her gasoline usage is considered beyond reproach.  No moral stigma is attached to filling the gas tank up on a weekly basis, even though those 15 gallons of gas are releasing about 300 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.

There are four main reasons why personal gas consumption is not negatively judged—the subtle nature of carbon pollution, the necessity of a car for modern life, the ubiquity and scale of the problem, and the fact that most of us are afraid of being branded as hypocrites with respect to our own carbon usage. Read more…

Carbon Education for Consumers

Strategies for reducing global warming have focused mostly on stopping large oil infrastructure projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline, enacting carbon pricing strategies such as cap and trade, and promoting divestment from carbon extraction businesses.  Relatively little attention has been paid to effectively promoting voluntary carbon use reduction by American consumers, even though changing consumer carbon usage patterns holds the potential for enormous carbon emissions reductions.   On a per capita basis, Americans emit 17 metric tons (37,000 pounds) of CO2 per capita, roughly twice the European Union average and eight times as much as the Brazilian average.

The majority of Americans understand generally that it is important to conserve energy to help the environment, but lack the conceptual foundations to translate that notion into an understanding of personal CO2 emissions.  Consumers should be given the following basic conceptual tools to understand the volume of their carbon emissions: Using 1 gallon of gas releases 20 pounds of CO2 into the air; the 15 gallons in your car’s gas tank will spew 300 pounds of CO2;  1 kilowatt hour of electricity equals 2 pounds of CO2; 1 airplane mile = 1 pound of CO2.  A firm understanding these basic equivalencies, driven home by repetition, will give people a way to measure, understand and evaluate their personal carbon output, and the output of others.    Read more…

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