Responding to this blog just hours after the previous post was published, a government spokesperson said it was true that the United States had missed its goals in 2021 for reducing carbon dioxide emissions but hoped to be back onto its Paris Agreement track in 2022.
“We need to see annual emission reductions of around 5% each year, and this year we saw emissions grow over 6%,” said Kate Larsen of the Rhodium Group, which released the latest data. The Dow index fell 400 points on this news, as traders took profits to buy doomsteads.
Weasel words. A 5% decline slope would be in agreement with the Biden Administration’s announced target for meeting its national commitments to the Paris process. It gets that number by shifting around the starting year. To actually be on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement would require slimming the world greenhouse footprint by 184 billion tons over the next 8 years (36.7 GtCO2e in 2019 times 10 years, divided in half).
With just 8 years to make up for ground lost, I have 8 suggestions of simple, relatively painless, ways to drop global emissions by 11 percent per year and hit the 2030 target of halving global emissions. Here, then, is my top eight countdown:
8. More vasectomies
It is not difficult to convert vasectomies into billions of tons of carbon dioxide. For each child avoided in Luxembourg 41.82 metric tons of CO2/y do not get released each year. That is based on buying habits, not land use, insurance, or cement being poured, so the number is likely a little low. In United States the average child costs 17.75 tons per year, Russia 9.59, Italy 7.68, China 6.27. In 14 African countries combined it is 2.61. An Indian child adds 1.67. World average is 4.78, so if one billion vasectomies could cut the global birth rate by 50 million per year it would save 0.25 GtCO2e/y, or 2 billion tons by 2030.
7. Avoid stuff from faraway places, and going there
Flying is often thought of as a major impact, but eliminating all passenger air travel would only give us 0.8 GtCO2e/y. Still, we need to lose pounds by losing ounces. Shipping, like flying, accounts for 10.6% of global emissions. Staying close to home and buying local would give us back 1.6 GtCO2e/y or 12.8 billion tons by 2030.
6. Grow more bamboo
The carbon sequestration properties of bamboo have been studied in countries where it naturally forms wild forests, such as México and China, but also in unusual places like Ireland, where they are considering it for a biofuel crop. Bamboo is the second fastest growing plant in the world, after algae, and already employs more than one in six humans in its commerce. With more than 70,000 varieties to choose from, it can grow nearly everywhere and does not need good soil and water. Presently, bamboo occupies an area of 36 million hectares worldwide, which is equivalent to 3.2% of the total forest area in the world. About a third of that bamboo is in India and 12% in China. On average, one hectare of bamboo absorbs 62.3 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year, so adding just 10% per year to the world’s bamboo forests would absorb 0.2 billion tons per year. But why stop there? Don’t you remember the lush bamboo scenery from The Time Machine? It grows everywhere. Why don’t we loose it to double the bamboo forested area annually? Result: 4.29 GtCO2e/y or 34.32 billion tons by 2030. Just make sure you harvest a third every year and don’t let it rot and go back to the atmosphere.
5. Grow more algae
You remember we said bamboo is the second fastest growing plant in the world, after algae? No? Put down that reefer and re-read the last paragraph. Two thirds of the planet is covered with water. 5 GtCO2e/y or 40 billion tons by 2030.
4. Skip electric cars. Bike
Road transport accounts for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Eliminating just personal automobiles (including electric) would give us back 3.8 GtCO2e/y or 30.4 billion tons by 2030. Sorry this is out of sequence but I couldn’t resist the reefer joke, and incidentally we could also be growing more cannabis.
3. The night of the short knives
Pets are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions each year than energy-related emissions from oil and gas extraction or manufacturing of fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and refrigerants, combined. Twice as much as commercial air travel. Twice as much as cement. More than all freight trucking. Twice as much as freight maritime transport and cruise ships. Each pet owner can hold whatever farewell ceremony seems appropriate and then quietly euthanize their dogs, cats, parakeets and goldfish and substitute lifelike animatrons. Drop in Greenhouse Gas Emissions: 5.8 GtCO2e/y or 46.4 billion tons by 2030.
Switch to vegetarian diets. Drop in Greenhouse Gas Emissions: 7.1 GtCO2e/y or 56.8 billion tons by 2030.
And finally, the number one thing we could do right now to hit the 2030 goal:
1. Green cities
After accounting for the carbon footprint of materials and installation, which take from 6 to 15 years to offset in the 50 year life of a roof, the positive effects of vegetating rooftops or siting new buildings underground and planting grasses come mostly from energy performance and urban cooling. Still, vegetation like mosses and sedums, which are weather and drought resistant, remove 2.5 kg CO2 per square meter. Covering a city like Paris (100 million square meters of roofing) with mosses on pitched roofs and sedums on flat roofs would draw down 0.25 billion tons per year. There are 123 cities in the world the size of Paris or larger, so just repeating the Paris example in half of those would cancel out emissions by 15 GtCO2e/y, or or 120 billion tons by 2030.
If all of these ideas are not enough for you, Paul Hawken describes 100 more in his books, Drawdown and Regeneration.
Summing the top 8 tips, we’ve achieved 42.84 billion tons of CO2 emissions reductions and/or carbon removal per year. Keeping that pace for eight years would pull 342.72 billion tons and our target was 184 billion tons. We didn’t just hit our target, we smashed it! Maybe we could ease off the pace, only go vegan 3 days per week, let our pet die of old age, and keep the electric car for rainy days.
That said, from 2030 to 2040 we will need to do it all over again, make up any shortfalls from this decade, and adjust the goal if natural emissions have increased in response to warming already in the pipeline, such as methane from melting permafrost or CO2 from wildfires and burning peat, or if there are — dare we imagine? — renegade countries that choose to ignore the UN targets.
Of course, the last thing you want to do when you are dieting is to binge. There should be no new gas stations or car dealerships opening up. There should be no new leases for oil exploration. There should be no more pipelines and offshore rigs being built. And no more pet stores in the mall! One definition of insanity is to keep repeating what you already know is killing you.
Jackson, R.B., Friedlingstein, P., Le Quere, C., Abernethy, S., Andrew, R.M., Canadell, J.G., Ciais, P., Davis, S.J., Deng, Z., Liu, Z. and Peters, G.P., 2021. Global fossil carbon emissions rebound near pre-COVID-19 levels. arXiv preprint arXiv:2111.02222.
Kuronuma T, Watanabe H, Ishihara T, et al. CO2 Payoff of extensive green roofs with different vegetation species. Sustain. 2018;10(7):1–12. doi:10.3390/su10072256
Getter K, Rowe D, Robertson G, Cregg B, Andresen J. Carbon sequestration potential of extensive green roofs. Environ Sci Technol. 2009; 43(19):7564–7570.
The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.
As the world confronts the pandemic and emerges into recovery, there is growing recognition that the recovery must be a pathway to a new carbon economy, one that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backwards — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience.
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