The movie does well to dispel the myth that current warming trends are a result of normal climatic swings that have occurred over the course of the earth's history.
Graph from Mongabay.com
This graph is not exactly like the one in the movie, but it shows the same basic trend (present day is on the left). Carbon dioxide levels during the periods between the Ice Ages and the warmer cycles would typically swing from just under 200 ppmv during an Ice Age, to around 300 ppmv during a warm cycle, but never had CO2 levels gone much above three hundred (that is, until about the mid 1960's). As you can see from the graph, levels are now at almost 400 ppmv.
What this chart doesn't show that the one in the movie did was the relationship between global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels - there was an almost exact correlation (when CO2 levels went up, temperatures went up, and vice versa). If 100 ppmv can mean the difference between an ice age and a warm period, what kinds of temperatures can we expect in the future? CO2 levels continue to rise at a consistent rate every year, so it's inevitable that our temperatures will too.
The above graph is called the Keeling Curve, which shows atmospheric CO2 levels since 1958. Levels wax and wane throughout the year in relation to winter and summer cycles - CO2 goes down when it's summer in the northern hemisphere and there are more plants to absorb it, and it goes up in the winter when plant life goes dormant and the trees lose their leaves. The problem is, each year the levels never go down quite as far as they were the year before, causing the levels to gradually creep upward. If this trend is projected into the future, levels of this greenhouse gas are expected to double over normal levels to almost 600 ppmv. That scares me to death, but it also give me hope. If the change of seasons can have such an immediate effect on CO2 levels, then imagine what we can do if we stop putting it out there in the first place
So what am I going to do about it? We've been making efforts to reduce our impact for a long time now, but the more I learn about it (and the more we get pummelled by wild weather), the more hard-core I find myself becoming.
Here are some of the things we've done so far:
- Bought a fuel efficient car (a Toyota Echo) several years ago. Its mileage is similar to some of the hybrids out there but the sticker price is much lower.
- Our lovely fuel efficient car remains parked most of the time (making me wonder why we even have it). We get a large percentage of our groceries delivered, and we save our errands up so we only make one trip out instead of multiple trips.
- My husband rides his bike to work instead of driving (45 minutes each way). It keeps him fit as a fiddle and is a great way to burn off the day's frustrations (earning him a reduced rate on his life insurance because he's so darn healthy).
- We've replaced most of our incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents (click the link if you think you hate them). I'm also pretty tough about only turning the lights on when absolutely necessary.
- We keep our heat turned down to just above 15 degrees C (about 60 degrees F). Our bodies seem to acclimatize as we tend to find most other buildings overly warm. In addition, we all wear slippers (which make a huge difference; we never had them growing up, so I had no idea!), as well as cardigans or a hoodie, and if we start to feel chilly, we grab a cozy blanket before cranking up the heat.
- We quit using our inefficient 35 year old gas furnace and have been using small electric space heaters instead. Here in BC that's a much more green option, as our electricity is all hydro generated (not that hydro power is totally light on the planet, but it doesn't produce the greenhouse gases associated with oil or coal generated power).
- We only heat the main living areas. Rooms that aren't used during the day (like our bedroom) are kept closed until just before bedtime (when the heat goes off).
- We're slowly replacing our old inefficient appliances with Energy Star certified ones, and we occasionally choose to live without them. Also, we've decided to choose better quality (if slightly more expensive) appliances and pay to repair them instead of replacing them when they die (our defunct washer/dryer is being repaired and sent to live with my in-laws, who need a more efficient machine).
- Most of our electronics are plugged into surge protectors. They remain switched off until we actually need to use them, and are turned off right away when we're finished. Up to 50% of electricity used in a home is in the form of a phantom load, which results from the slight draw of electricity used by LED lights when in standby mode, or digital clocks on electronic devices.
- We live in a tiny house (770 square feet). This takes less energy to heat, and less stuff to fill (and less time to clean!!). We're thinking of going slightly larger (although I'm struggling with this), but we are real believers in the not so big house.
- We're growing as much of our own food as we can, and purchase the rest of our food from local sources as often as possible. I was shocked when I read in The Omnivore's Dilemma that a box of organic mixed greens (the quintessential green food) is a huge waste of energy, providing us with 85 calories of food value in a one pound box, but requiring over 4000 calories worth of fuel to reach our stores (and that's doesn't include the oil required to make the plastic box). We also try to make most of our food from scratch, rather than buying foods that are packaged in all that cardboard and plastic and shipped from who-knows-where.
- I keep cloth shopping bags in my purse so that I never have to take a plastic bag while shopping.
- We use a push mower to mow our lawn instead of a conventional lawn mower. A gas model produces as many emissions in an hour of use as a driving a car 100 miles.
- We eat very little or no meat. Factory farming is a large contributor to greenhouse gases, so if you can't produce your own milk, eggs, and meat, cutting back on these things will reduce your carbon load.
Here are some of the things that we hope to do in the future:
- Replace our drafty, single-paned windows with good ones.
- Get rid of our car and either join a car co-op or buy an electric model.
- Replace our gas hot water tank with an electric tankless model. They use a lot less power because they only heat water when you need it, rather than keeping a large amount of hot water at the ready.
- The increase in crazy weather has inspired use to get a wood stove for heating instead of our electric space heaters (if the power goes out, we're screwed!). We've already got the stove, we just need to finish installing it (the fireplace retrofit is almost complete!). Wood heat is essentially carbon neutral.
- I would like to try following the guidelines of The Compact pledge for a year. We already try to live like this for the most part, but I think setting myself the goal of not buying anything new for a whole year will really make us more aware of how much we don't need those shiny new things we like to think of as necessities. This will be interesting with regard to the renovations we've got planned for the house (I guess we'll be making good use of the Habitat ReStore and demo sales).
That's not a complete list, but it's all I can think of for now. If you've read this far, I'm sorry to have been so long winded, but I really wanted to see these things written down (I think better when I can see something in front of me).
I'm currently reading The Weather Makers and am finding it very informative. Other books that I'd recommend include The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, and The Long Emergency (not technically about global warming, but another look at the problems with oil dependency).
For a list of movies that you can watch for free online (including An Inconvenient Truth), click here.What kinds of things are you doing that we haven't thought of yet?