Climate Action for Others
Oh, yeh, for us too: music concerts, internet, and online shopping with home delivery
Often we exhort others — fossil fuel and all other industries, large and medium businesses, institutions, and politicians — to do more to counter climate breakdown. As for individual actions, some, if not many, argue that individual action is nice but hardly sufficient to counter the unfolding climate breakdown, and that only international agreements will work.
There is no question that international actions are necessary. But that does not nullify the push to have individuals to take what actions they can. First, if those engaged in the larger conversations and arguments ignore their own carbon footprint, they undermine their “global” arguments. Second, if individuals who are living their life outside the bubble of international negotiations are encouraged to take what actions they can, they more likely will support what is unfolding on the larger stage, and also push their local politicians to support regional, national and international climate actions. Otherwise they can dismiss their individual responsibilities on the grounds that it is up to others to resolve this overwhelming problem.
Finally, in 2019 we have seen that collective street actions and protests have generated widespread support and pressure on local and national governments while international forums are ineffectual, and at times regressive, thanks to autocratic-led governments like the United States, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Hungary and Poland.
So individual action is much needed.
The focus on individual action often is about switching to more efficient light bulbs, avoiding plastic bottles, and walking or riding public transport instead of driving private cars — all most useful steps. But there are other more challenging individual actions that require broader behavioral changes. Here are a few of those challenging behaviors, applicable especially to privileged people.
With a nod of deep appreciation to Greta Thunberg, “flight shame,” or “flygskam” in Sweden, is increasingly undercutting air travel because of its heavy carbon emissions. While many of us rely on air travel from time to time, and need to avoid even that usage as much as possible, others rely on air travel as a significant part of their life style or work experiences.
One instance is the music business where many, if not most, successful musicians, whether from the world of rock or classical music, fly to a lot to concerts they arrange. Some musicians perform close to 100 concerts a year, around the world, to reach their audiences. Some are beginning to acknowledge the impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from these actions.
Arranging a global tour for a rock or classical group, or individuals, requires use of concert halls and large venues, like sports stadiums. Each facility will be responsible for GHG emissions, in construction and operation, and these have to be calculated. Audiences have to travel, from near or far. The performers have to travel around the country or world.
The question is to what extent do they “have to” travel like this.
Some performers are offsetting concerts with music written as a reaction to climate breakdown, and donating proceeds of any sales or performance of that music to environmental projects. Some are substituting train for air travel. Several are working with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research to assess the impacts from concerts and to find solutions.
Some are re-organising their tours to concentrate their concerts in space and time to reduce travel.
While the music business is dealing with its GHG emissions, so too should the global climate negotiations business as it periodically brings together thousands of people from far distances to one spot.
We do need to acknowledge that coming together to experience music can be thrilling, and networking with others trying to address climate breakdown can be very useful. And exploring other cultures at far distances in person can be enlightening, and advance global relations. At the same time, we need to think about alternatives, including telecommunications.
You used the internet to get access to this magazine and to read this BLOG. If you think that is unusual behavior, just count the number of days you did not use the internet in the past week, month, year. Probably not too many, if any. Indeed many are connected to the internet from the moment they wake until they go to sleep. The explosion of live streaming has deepened that reliance.
And all this connectedness comes at a heavy cost, not just for your personal budget but also for your personal GHG footprint. “Streaming one hour of Netflik a week requires more electricity, annually, than the yearly output of two new refrigerators.” Lozano, in Sources. The internet accounts for 10% of global electricity demand, and it is estimated that the internet will use 20% of global electricity by 2030, producing more carbon than any country except China, India, and the United States. Moreover, half the world’s population has not yet logged on the internet, but they are coming soon.
At the same time that the internet is draining more electricity, and producing more carbon, it is becoming more vulnerable to the very climate breakdown to which it is contributing. Data centres require cooling and energy, and these costs will rise in hotter environments. Thousands of miles of conduits, tubes and wires will be destroyed by salt from water from coastal flooding, and rare earth metals necessary for the internet will become rarer and more costly with climate changes. As faster 5G wireless networks expand, along with 4k and 8k video, clouds and streaming, GHG emissions will ride along with this growth. It has been suggested that the total electricity usage of the internet could reach 50% of global usage.
Some are promising to create a satellite-distributed internet, or files on “manufactured DNA,” whatever that means. But as usual, such technology may be available only to the well-off.
Some propose that we need local control over internet usage, not unlike local control over energy supplies with locally owned wind and solar power. For example, when superstorm Hurricane Sandy struck New York City, Goldman Sachs protected its headquarters, in a vulnerable spot in lower Manhattan, with thousands of sandbags and backup power generators. A short ferry ride away, a section of Brooklyn, Red Hook, lost power for weeks. However, a section of Red Hook happened to be the site of a pilot program where a foundation had created a local intranet system, called a MESH network, built on rooftops of homes. That system, with its inherent limitations, remained in operation during the power loss.
While system-wide advances develop in reducing the GHGs from the internet, you can certainly shut off your connections whenever possible.
Buying Online with Home Delivery
More than 1.5 million packages are delivered every day in New York City. The systems behind these deliveries also deliver gridlock, pollution, and safety risks. And it is clear that online shopping and home delivery of all these purchases is only going to increase. As one CEO of a delivery company noted, “Seven years ago, thinking that you’d be getting cheeseburgers delivered by the millions was kind of crazy, right?” That’s right! Ingram, in Sources.
Besides cheeseburgers, we also get groceries, household goods, furniture — almost anything that can fit in a box.
Besides the convenience of all this stuff showing up on our doorstep or in our lobby, the deliveries are creating havoc on our streets. Cities were not designed to handle all this local traffic, much of which represents the “last mile” of delivery, that portion of the entire delivery from distribution or fulfillment centres to doorstep. The “last mile” can account for up to 28% of delivery costs.
Warehouses that can store goods for this last mile, generally within the city, are now required also within or on the edge of cities. The trend now is for building vertical, multifloor warehouses because of the cost of land within large cities.
There just is not enough room in most cities for street access and parking to accommodate all the vans and trucks needed for these deliveries.
Lisle Illinois Library system
While city planners are struggling with the design of new spaces and re-design of existing spaces, others are searching for short-term fixes. Some are experimenting with delivery by drones, cargo bikes and electric scooters. Others are requiring customers to meet drivers at the curb instead of the front door, or requiring customers to buy online but pick up in a store, which becomes a sort of a mini-fulfillment centre. Presumably customers would pick up the order and take it home by walking, bike, cab, subway or bus.
Regardless of what people do in the global negotiations or what other individuals do, there is a lot of room for each of us to do things that will help reduce our GHG or carbon footprints. And to help save the planet.
Jasper Parrott, “Classical music must play its part in tackling the climate crisis,” The Guardian (20 Dec 2019). bit.ly/2EMst7k
Laura Foster, “Climate Change: Plan to cut carbon emissions from concerts,” BBC News (28 Nov 2019). bbc.in/2MH5b7k
Kevin Lozano, “Can the Internet Survive Climate Change?” The New Republic (18 Dec 2019). bit.ly/2ZzptER
David Ingram, “Delivery dilemma: Americans are ordering more, but the U.S. can only handle so much: The delivery crunch is a year-round phenomenon that’s causing people to rethink the design of American cities,” NBC News (23 Dec 2019). nbcnews.to/2rpzNml
Adam Robinson, “What Is Last Mile Logistics & Why Are More Shippers Looking at This Transportation Function?” Cerasis https://bit.ly/355pUrF