The choices we make have a direct link to levels of carbon emissions – a major contributing factor in global climate change. Some of these choices may be obvious, such as the type of transport we use, but others are less obvious. The food we eat and clothes we wear; what we buy and throw away; where we go on holiday all can be connected to our changing climate. These decisions are close to our everyday experiences. Our choices matter.
If you live in Birmingham rather than the Maldives, Uganda, Alaska, or any of those places feeling the effects of climate change right now, why should you be worried about what is happening there? Many people feel we should be doing something now, whether or not we are directly affected.
One of the arguments for taking action now, is that it should be the people who produce the most carbon emissions [generally living in wealthier nations such as the UK] who should be doing something about it. This is based upon the fact that they produce more carbon emissions from using large amounts of energy.
So who should take responsibility for reducing carbon emissions? Should it just be wealthier countries with higher emissions per person, or do ‘developing’ countries need to act too?
Recent debates have focused on the increase in emissions from China and India, as they work to improve their economies. As their economies grow to compete with the US and Europe, they will need more energy to power factories and transport. Their carbon emissions will therefore grow, contributing a greater proportion of the world’s carbon emissions.
While there is a sense of urgency to reduce global carbon emissions, people have the right to live above the poverty line, which means economic and industrial growth.
Governments, climate change campaigning groups, environmental and development organisations are all trying to find a fair answer to this challenge. One idea is to find an emissions level that relates to the relative income per person in each country. Some countries would be allowed to increase carbon emissions to a certain point to enable economic growth. Those countries currently producing high levels of carbon emissions would have to reduce their emissions. You could think of it like a set of scales. The aim would be for everyone to live outside of poverty, but manage their carbon emissions.
Other ideas include carbon trading, carbon taxes and carbon offsetting. See what you can find out about these ideas.
One of the challenges for all countries is: How can we continue to seek wealth and development, while reducing carbon emissions?
One focus has been the development of renewable sources of energy. Sources of energy such as the wind or solar power do not burn fossil fuels, so they do not release carb
on dioxide into the atmosphere. However, there is continuing debate as to whether these sources can actually produce enough energy for our needs. There are also other important questions about measuring carbon emissions that need to be asked. For example, do we know how much energy [and therefore carbon] it takes to make a wind turbine? Nuclear power as a low-carbon alternative is also creating considerable debate.
What about differences in carbon emissions within each country? Some individual people produce far less carbon than others. So the question is; Where do we fit in?
One way of thinking about this is the idea of carbon footprints which are measured using carbon calculators. There are many different carbon calculators available that ask us about our life choices and then estimate how much carbon we are personally producing.
If you have a look at a carbon calculator you will be able to see whether you think it is useful in helping you to make decisions about your life.
The diagram above asks some questions that might help you to explore your own connections to climate change. What other questions would you like to ask? Answers may not always be easy to find and that is part of the challenge, but asking questions helps us to make those connections rather than simply doing as we are told.