Ahvenanmaalta Babyloniaan


Zero Carbon Life

How a living organism can stay alive by producing no carbon dioxide at all? It can't. But net effect can be zero. If we don't want to end the story of humankind, it's more relevant to find ways how to neutralize emissions than stop living.

Dinosaurs are the second coolest thing in the known universe, only humans are cooler. The next disastrous asteroid won't hit the Earth anytime soon, so we have plenty of time to discover more, go further and just have fun. Unless we screw up our home planet by ourselves.

But it's not only about us. First and foremost it's about other awesome human beings not yet born. It's also about other animals. There will be time when we don't eat so many animals anymore but that doesn't happen before we find cheaper and tastier alternatives to chicken, pork, beef, salmon, whitefish and tuna ... mmm ... oyster, shrimp and scallop and squid, lamb and duck, goose, moose and snail. Reindeer and rabbit.

Hindus have tried to convert humans to vegetarians for thousands of years but it looks like no politician or religious leader can turn our heads once and for all. On top of that it's probably even more difficult to get people to stop eating meat than to get them to stop drinking alcohol which has been tried several times without success. We are hedonistic bastards but other animals are too so we are in good company. We will stop eating meat only after science and free market have produced something better than meat, the most natural food to human being after milk.

But it's not about meat. Our entire lifestyle hasn't been sustainable for the Earth since industrial revolution began 200 years ago. The most destructive years for both mother gaia and ourselves have been 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. The amount of poisons released into the atmosphere, soil and water systems during the world wars surpass greatly all other actions of humankind. So the first rule is: make no war.

The second biggest threat to the Earth and ourselves is uncontrolled nuclear power. Because no technology can be erased entirely after it's invented, organized societies and certain global institutions are necessary to keep this powerful energy source in control.

But what is the third biggest existential threat to humankind? Let's ask epidemiologists, virologists, toxicologists and hydrologists first. At least misuse and overuse of antibiotics is a serious problem but let's assume those things are in satisfactory condition in order to finally get to climate change, the sexiest threat of present-day.

Great concensus of scientific community including IPCC and Nasa says that the Earth has warmed about 1.5 degrees Celsius since 1750 and it will increase much more causing severe problems if we don't limit the net effect of greenhouse gases. Even though Finnish people could enjoy a little bit longer summers, let's agree in the name of common good that we as a humankind need to manage our emissions better.

But how? What emissions we need to cut down and how do we get everybody involved? Ban meat and private cars? Flying to Thailand? Let's organize a march and when they hear our opinion, everybody will change theirs with joy? That is utopistic and it just doesn't work because people have conflicting interests. We need civilized political process to make decisions what to do and how much.

The good news is that we don't need to stop anything. We can use emission taxes to encourage people and companies to less harmful behaviour. The more emissions something produces and the more unnecessary it is, the higher tax. Tax can be also negative if the net effect of a product or service is positive to the environment. But then again, what is unnecessary? A private car or a dog? We need political discussion to sort that out.

The discussion is just about to start. Are plastic straws 100 000 000 times more unnecessary than pets? That's roughly the proportion of them in emission net effect. EU banned plastic straws but rapidly increasing number of pets doesn't seem to be an issue. I bet something like 10-100 dogs produces more emissions than all plastic straws used in whole Europe. And there are something like 200 000 000 pets living in Europe. On top of that the number of pets is actually increasing and by faster than the fertility rate of human beings is declining – at least in Finland – so one who thought that less children is a solution to climate change, can have a second thought. And a third.

Instead of entirely banning items with practically zero effect, politicians could have added emission taxes to them, for example +200 %, meaning that every plastic straw bought neutralizes two other items' emissions in addition to itself. But that would had revelead that those insignificant items have no effect at all even if the tax was +1000 %. The bureaucracy of banning plastic straws produces probably more emissions than they will ever save.

The infamous argument that every action matters, even a small one, is false. Insignificant actions are just waste of time. It's like saying: walk one millimeter every day and one day you have walked around the globe. Nope. If you live 100 years, you will advance only 36.5 meters during your lifetime, which is about 0.0001 % of the total distance. A better approach is to use 36 years to figure out how to run 20 km everyday. That gets you 11 times around the world.

Plastic straws are just eyewashing and buying time. If politicians did anything that had real effect, they wouldn't get re-elected. Politicians - at least some of them - know what they need to do but it can take decades until their voters will accept the facts. The change won't be that ugly plastic packages are replaced by cute wooden boxes but everything just gets a bit more expensive because we need to collect money to pay the emission neutralization costs. And thanks to technological progress and continuous growth we hardly notice anything in the end.

The world is not going to collapse and the party is not over. The ongoing century will be the best ever for humankind with very high probability. We just need to implement emission taxes to stabilize the net effect of the greenhouse gases. And make no war.

In fact, everybody can already voluntarily take care of their share, to live a zero carbon life and stop worrying about everything. It's easy:

  1. Calculate your personal carbon footprint or use the average: 10 000 kg CO2.
  2. Multiply the footprint by the price of European CO2 Emission Allowances. The average cost per year at current level is 289 euros (2019-08-11).
  3. Use that money to buy a piece of swamp.
  4. Enjoy life like never before.