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Reader Alex wrote:

I don’t see it as “changes and sacrifices” we’re willing to make but rather as what we likely can make. These are limited. We built cities geared toward the car; we built high rises that use huge amounts of resources. We have little opportunity to change the building trade since they are well protected by their political employees. Absent a revolution against the social order, the best we can do is conserve, have fewer children, use less, drive smaller cars and generally lower our standard of living. To save the earth, the people will have to suffer while those who own the earth will do business as usual. Something’s wrong with this picture and that can only be addressed by politics, to which more people have to become accustomed.

And reader Jason wrote:

Alex, I’m not clear on what you mean by lower our standard of living. Do you mean we’ll have to consume less? Considering how cluttered our garages are, how much of our stuff already ends up landfills, and current debt levels, I don’t think buying less stuff is necessarily antithetical to a high standard of living. Hmmm…we’re a pretty fat country too—perhaps we should eat less. Traffic sucks and the air is bad in many urban areas—we shouldn’t drive so much. Sprawl is sucking up land and increasing vehicle congestion and pollution. skyscrapers are looking pretty good to me right about now. Perhaps this global warming challenge will IMPROVE our standard of living.

You are correct that we should think pragmatically and not just pie in the sky. You mentioned the building industry and its reluctance to change. Buildings are an important focus of the climate change debate. About 40 percent of all energy is consumed in buildings. A commensurate amount of CO2 is emitted by buildings. There is a growing trend in the building industry to build green.

As this catches on more and more, we may see wholesale changes. There are also policy measures to make buildings more green. CA’s energy codes for new buildings are the most stringent in the nation. So our new building stock is pretty efficient — though it could be better. A significant challenge is existing buildings. Another significant challenge is the so called split incentive problem. Many commercial buildings in San Diego are leased, so the building owner does not care about efficiency since the occupant pays utility bills, and unless the occupant plans to be there for a long time, she is not interested in making upgrades to the building.

But again, efficiency is great, but building efficient homes that are 5,000 square feet ultimately might not help stabilize GHG emissions. This gets back to my point about lifestyle change n are we willing to live in smaller homes and have fewer energy intensive appliances?

You mention that “the best we can do is conserve, have fewer children, use less, drive smaller cars and generally lower our standard of living.” These and other changes could all have significant impacts. Though I agree with Jason that you confuse standard of living with quality of life. It may be that many of the fixes for climate change will wind up having a social benefit.

Reader Cory wrote:

Scott, you cannot spank Gore for his suggested solutions—no matter how short they may fall in fully dealing with climate change—without offering suggestions of your own. You suggest that there are ‘changes and sacrifices’ that we will have to take. What are they? Let’s discuss them and their pros and cons. Lay those changes and sacrifices on the table. I’m not disagreeing with your conclusion. I’m picking on the incompleteness of your argument. (But great topic!)

I did not include a laundry list because of limited space. I do agree with Gore that technological changes are key, but at some point we have to reduce our need for light, air conditioning, etc not just consume it more efficiently. Efficiency is very effective, but it can have a perverse effect as well. Driving a Prius might actually incite people to drive longer because they know their car is efficient n in such a case the outcome in terms of CO2 generated might not be any better than before. The other commenter Alex actually mentions some of the types of things I was thinking about: conservation, fewer children, smaller cars, consuming less stuff, etc. I think the list can go on — public transport, reducing air travel, foregoing the plasma TV (which is equivalent to a refrigerator in terms of energy consumption), etc. We are a very consumptive and wasteful society and we could do a much better job of using resources — energy and water — more efficiently.

My point here is that efficiency is necessary but not sufficient. We may also need to consider lifestyle changes.

The old maxim is reduce, reuse, recycle. It might be altered to read: refuse, reduce, repair, regift, reuse, recycle.


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