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The ultimate irony - George Bush slashes worldwide carbon emissions

By Kim Hudson - posted Thursday, 19 March 2009

Ironically the man who signed off from last year’s G8 meeting with the quip "Goodbye from the world’s largest polluter" and his big-business, neo-con allies have done more to reduce global carbon emissions than all the environmental efforts by governments, green groups and individuals put together. It’s time we acknowledged that we are completely on the wrong track in tackling global warming.

If you’re concerned about global warming, you’ve probably already changed to energy-efficient light bulbs, you take your own reusable bags to the shops, compost your scraps and turn your TV off standby. That will solve the problem. After all, that’s what the government and environment groups tell us to do, right?

Except of course this type of demand-reduction behaviour, while slowing the rate of increase in greenhouse gas emissions, will never solve the problem.


These sorts of behaviours have been going on world-wide for some years now, so surely it must have had some appreciable impact? Well, no. Take a look at atmospheric CO2 levels to date - notice anything? They are not only going up, but the rate at which they are increasing is accelerating.

Now take a look at future projections of CO2 - the rate of increase is, again, exponential.

So what’s wrong?

George Marshall, writing for The Guardian took a look at these sorts of demand-reduction measures in his article “Can this really save the planet?” and found them wanting:

The average Brit uses 134 plastic bags a year, resulting in just two kilos of the typical 11 tonnes of carbon dioxide he or she will emit in a year. That is one five thousandth of their overall climate impact ... The electricity to keep the average television on standby mode for a whole year leads to 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. It's more than plastic bags, but still very marginal: 0.2 per cent of average per capita emissions in the UK.

... Imagine that someone came up with a brilliant new campaign against smoking. It would show graphic images of people dying of lung cancer followed by the punchline: "It's easy to be healthy - smoke one less cigarette a month."
We know without a moment's reflection that this campaign would fail.

So why do we persist with something that we know is failing?

Marshall explains:


Their logic is as follows. Simple actions capture people's attention and provide an entry-level activity. Present people with the daunting big-ticket solutions and they turn away. Give them something easy and you have them moving in the right direction and, in theory, ready to make the step up to the next level.

That is the theory, but, as plentiful social research confirms, it doesn't work. For one thing, making the solutions easy is no guarantee that anyone will carry them out ... And there is a greater danger that people might adopt the simple measures as a way to avoid making more challenging lifestyle changes ... In other words, people can adopt the simplest solutions as a part of a deliberate denial strategy that enables them to feel virtuous without changing their real behaviour.

The government’s tokenistic schemes

It’s not just individuals who fall into this tokenistic trap; just take a look at the Australian government’s Greenhouse Friendly carbon offset projects and its proposed emissions trading scheme.

It turns out that Australians who voluntarily spent money with the government's Greenhouse Friendly carbon offset projects to cut their impact on the planet were simply "giving big polluters a free ride", because the government could sell the spare emissions created by voluntary action to another country which was producing excess emissions. Josh Harris, head of carbon markets for The Climate Group, a global coalition of government and industry groups, said Greenhouse Friendly offsets "were not benefiting the atmosphere".

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About the Author

Kim Hudson has been admitted as a barrister and also conducts voluntary global warming educational presentations as part of an international program.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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