What Does A 1.5-degree Lifestyle Look Like?


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The sheer scale of the individual and societal shifts needed to avoid the worst of climate change might seem immobilizing. But real progress remains within reach if we can make those transformations soon, according to a new report from the public interest foundation Institute for Global Environmental StrategiesAalto University and D-mat ltd, a sustainable production and consumption consultancy.

Instead of looking at the climate impact of particular products, organizations or entire countries, the researchers examined greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the goods and services individual people consume in their daily lives.

In 2016, governments around the world agreed to limit global warming to 2 °C (3.6 °F) above preindustrial levels, and to aim for an even tougher target of 1.5 °C (2.7 °F).

To achieve those targets, we need hefty cuts in the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that create a greenhouse effect. Using five countries — Finland, Japan, Brazil, China and India — as case studies, the new report calculated that to meet the Paris targets, people’s carbon footprints in wealthy, industrialized countries must drop 80 to 93 percent by 2050. Depending on the nation, individuals in lower-income countries need to reduce their emissions 23 to 84 percent per person by mid-century.

As daunting as that might sound, the report notes that opportunities for creating the needed change abound.

To show how different lifestyle choices can contribute to the needed reductions, the authors delve into the examples of Finland and Japan. In both countries, the options that could help most include ditching car travel for public transportation, shifting to vegetarian or vegan diets, and abandoning fossil fuels in favor of on- and off-grid renewable energy. In Finland, the researchers found, using heat pumps to warm and cool homes could also have a huge impact — underscoring the value of tailoring emission reduction strategies to local contexts

With the gaping gulf between today’s emissions and where we need to get by 2050, however, focusing only on the big ticket items won’t be enough. Other lifestyle shifts identified in the report include ride sharing, living closer to work, consuming less dairy and living in smaller homes. The more people who make these changes, the more climate benefits we will see.

But it’s not up to individuals alone. While the report attributes emissions to people based on their use of goods and services, it notes that public policy is essential to achieving the 1.5-degree target. A truly low-carbon world will require a “radical rethink” of governance and the economic system, it says.

In calculating each country’s emission reduction targets, the researchers used population projections and assumed that each person on the planet in a given year should have the same level of emissions, a premise that the authors concede doesn’t consider “whether emission allowances were equitable in terms of historical emissions.” The report also doesn’t consider rebound effects, the unintended consequences that sometimes result when people try to decrease their emissions.

Whatever the study’s specific limitations, its general conclusions add to a groundswell of evidence: We still have a chance to keep average global temperatures within 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) of the only climate humans have ever known, but to do so we need to take immense action — and soon.

With the gaping gulf between today’s emissions and where we need to get by 2050, however, focusing only on the big ticket items won’t be enough. Other lifestyle shifts identified in the report include ride sharing, living closer to work, consuming less dairy and living in smaller homes. The more people who make these changes, the more climate benefits we will see.

But it’s not up to individuals alone. While the report attributes emissions to people based on their use of goods and services, it notes that public policy is essential to achieving the 1.5-degree target. A truly low-carbon world will require a “radical rethink” of governance and the economic system, it says.

In calculating each country’s emission reduction targets, the researchers used population projections and assumed that each person on the planet in a given year should have the same level of emissions, a premise that the authors concede doesn’t consider “whether emission allowances were equitable in terms of historical emissions.” The report also doesn’t consider rebound effects, the unintended consequences that sometimes result when people try to decrease their emissions.

Whatever the study’s specific limitations, its general conclusions add to a groundswell of evidence: We still have a chance to keep average global temperatures within 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) of the only climate humans have ever known, but to do so we need to take immense action — and soon.

Andrew Urevig is an educator and freelance journalist. He co-founded the Minnesota Debate Institute, and his writing has been published by National Geographic, Earther, Civil Eats and other publications. twitter.com/aurevig

See also:
Bill McKibben: Climate Change Is Scary—Not The Green New Deal
Environmental Storytelling Can Help Spread Big Ideas For Saving The Planet

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June 17, 2019

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