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Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture

Last update - Thursday, July 30, 2009, 13:04 By Charles Laffiteau

Turning out the lights, lowering the thermostat and buying more energy efficient appliances represent only minor tweaks to our daily living to reduce our carbon emissions. But parking our cars at home and taking public transport to work or school embodies a much more significant reduction – so why are so few of us taking this option?

The answer is very simple. Even despite the fact that using a car is more expensive for us, and more damaging to the environment, many of us still refuse the obvious alternative because we don’t like to be inconvenienced. How selfish is that? Put it this way: if a friend or family member told us they wouldn’t come by to pick us up on the way to a party because it was ‘inconvenient’, wouldn’t we think they were being inconsiderate, if not downright rude? The answer is obvious!
So why shouldn’t our children and grandchildren think we were being just as selfish in refusing the option of public transport to reduce our carbon emissions? Most of us will probably just lie and blame other people, including our political leaders, instead of admitting the truth about our own behaviour. At the same time, there are those of us who will try to justify continuing our energy-wasting, polluting lifestyles, arguing that we shouldn’t have to change our behaviour because we can’t make much of a difference by ourselves. It’s the same argument people use for not voting, or anything else that requires only a moderate amount of effort.
I happen to prefer another alternative. I want to be part of the solution, rather than the problem, but trying to change my lifestyle in ways that significantly reduce my own contribution to global carbon emissions. One of the key benefits of this approach is that I won’t have to lie to future generations about the part I played in the climate change they’ll have to adapt to.
And they will have to adapt to it, because even if the world stopped all man-made carbon emissions today, our lack of action over the past 20 years means that global temperatures will continue to rise for at least another decade or more. Given the fact that we are currently a long way from agreeing even a minor reduction in worldwide emissions, it’s a problem that will affect the planet for many decades to come.
Make no mistake, coping with these consequences will also prove to be very costly to all nations. However, it will be the poorest counties and poorest people in this world who will suffer the most severe consequences, even though they have contributed the least to the problem. Ironically, it is those that have benefited most from fossil-fueled economic development who will essentially get off scot-free.
By doing my part to reduce my own carbon footprint, I don’t have to feel guilty about the harmful consequences that others will suffer, and I can be a morally legitimate participant in the debate about who should pay to mitigate these consequences. But just like those who don’t vote, if I don’t do my part then I have no right to voice my opinions about who should pay and how best to adapt to the consequences of climate change.
Morality aside, there is another important reason why we should all do more as individuals to reduce our carbon emissions. While doing so may be inconvenient at times, in both the near term and in the long run it will also save us money – money that we and our families can put to other uses, and that we will also need down the road to pay for the costs of adapting to climate change, if nothing else.

Charles Laffiteau is a lifelong US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is currently pursuing a PhD in International Relations at DCU with a focus on environmental policy

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