Something interesting happened in 2020.
The world’s carbon emissions dropped by seven per cent, the largest (and possibly only) reduction ever recorded.
It didn’t happen because of the commitment that virtually all countries have made to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2050, though.
It happened because measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 forced us all to consume less.
Research indicates that if climate change goals are to be met, we must get to a per capita carbon production of 0.7 tonnes of CO2 per year by 2050.
That is not entirely an individual responsibility because the average consumption is an aggregate of all sources of emissions. So, governments, corporations and all of us have a role to play if we are to meet the target.
Unfortunately, all the gains made last year have literally gone up in smoke. In order to counter the economic impact of the pandemic, governments are inciting a resurgence of the production and consumerism that drives economic growth and emissions are once again rising.
Getting that under control is especially daunting for Canadians. On average each of us produced the equivalent of 14.2 tonnes of CO2 in 2019, . Reaching the target of 0.7 — a per capita reduction of 95 per cent — is an overwhelming prospect, especially since so much of our footprint is in “embodied carbon.”
For example, Lloyd Alter, author of a new book called Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle, notes that driving a Tesla is only half as good as driving a gasoline-powered car because of the manufacturing process.
Alter argues that we need to start thinking about sufficiency not efficiency, i.e., only consuming what we need.
At a policy level, it means developing infrastructure that supports near-zero emissions and making it affordable. On a corporate level it means making tough and costly decisions about production.
On an individual level, it means driving less, travelling less, eating less meat, living in smaller spaces and generally having less possessions. In short, a lot of personal sacrifice.
If history is any indication, there is not much cause for optimism that we can collectively get it done.