Sunday, August 07, 2011

Eaarth: 11 ways to prepare for, adapt to, and live with climate change

We need to build the architecture for the world that comes next, says Bill McKibben, in his book Eaarth. He's talking about the fact that pretty fundamental changes are already happening in Earth's climate, and that we need to do what we can to limit that damage.

The 'architecture' McKibben is talking about are the social and economic changes that we're going to need to make in the way we live our lives on a world that's not longer quite as supportive or forgiving of us. It's the shift from a culture of growth, huge scales, speed and the search for new-ness to a culture that's durable and stable. In McKibben's words:

The economy that has defined our Western world is like a  racehorse, fleet and showy, bred for speed, with narrow, tapered legs; tap it on the haunch, and it accelerates down the back stretch. But don't put it on the track where the rain has turned things muddy; know that even a small bump in its path will break its stride and quite likely snap that thin and speedy leg. 
The racehorse, like our economy, has been optimised for one thing only: pure burning swiftness.
What we need to do, even while we're in the saddle, is transform our racehorse into a workhorse - into something dependable, even-tempered, long-lasting, uncomplaining. Won't go fast, will go long; won't win the laurel, will carry the day. 
The high praise for a workhorse is "she's steady." "She can pull." We're talking walk or trot or jog, not canter or gallop. 
Our time has been marked by ever-increasing speed - paddle-wheeler to locomotive to aireplane to rocket, Model T to Formula 1. 
Can you imagine slower?
McKibben makes the case that we need a slower, more durable and robust economy, one that's more local and community focused by exploring how the international systems we use to get our fuel and food are now 'too big to fail' ... which means they're too big, because they're basically guaranteed to fail quite a few times over the next 15 years, and the shocks for us each time that happens are going to be painful.

These are messages that I've heard a few times before. The difference is that now I'm on a kick to convert the stuff I read (especially ideas with huge implications) into specific practical actions that I can take. (*)

* Obviously, I'm doing that with the idea that if other
 people also do it to then it adds up to something.

11 ways to live with and adapt to climate change

The basic ideas that McKibben puts forth are that we need to massively drop our energy consumption and put less stress on our food supply (by being able to make up any shortfalls ourselves).

Extrapolating from the stuff he talks about in the second haalf of Eaarth, I've come up with some initial steps I'll need to take in the short term and the medium term (none of them should be particularly surprising). I'm going to add to this plan as I keep reading about this stuff.

In the short-term:

Switch all of the light bulbs in my apartment to energy efficient bulbs: either LED or CFLs (Welcome to |

Increase the amount of vegetarian meals I eat during the week by one. I'm already eating one or two, and I feel like I can comfortably push that up to two or three meals a week.

Start gardening (even the tiniest amount). This isn't a skill I'm comfortable with but it seems smart to start thinking about it.

Downsize and declutter. I cannot thank Jennifer enough for breaking me of my pack-rat habit. By owning less stuff (that's more precious to me), I can actually find the things I want. Incidentally, I can also live in a smaller place which is (a) cheaper, and (b) easier to insulate and heat.

Make sure that the power company we're using doesn't use coal as a source of energy. Investigation and possible switching companies is required.

Join a group like or Coal Action Network (Coal Action Network Aotearoa | leave it in the ground). Actively campaigning against the use of coal in energy generation is starting to seem like a very very effective use of time and money (but I'll be investigating this more).

Wherever possible, car pool or use public transport. I'm also keen to get a bike.

In the medium term:

Start moving towards energy self-sufficiency (or at least generating part of the energy I need, myself). Solar-powered hot water seems to be a pretty established technology.

Look at solar panels more general, and check out the state of wind-generators.

In the longer term:

McKibben picks de-urbanisation as becoming a growing trend. I need to keep an eye on the costs and benefits of living in particular locations, and be prepared to shift lifestyles slightly if required - for instance, move to the country or flatting/living communally again.

Investigate (or instigate) schemes to establish communally owned power generators.

Previous posts about Eaarth
multi-dimensional: Eaarth: A first look at our new planet
multi-dimensional: Eaarth: the problem with climate change is the little things

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