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The Consumer Side of Climate Change

Updated on August 11, 2014
As more and more people gravitate to cities, a number of issues arise being, pollution, a urbanized heat sink, rubbish and increased social tension.
As more and more people gravitate to cities, a number of issues arise being, pollution, a urbanized heat sink, rubbish and increased social tension. | Source

Buying into the Status-Quo Won't Solve a Thing!

There is plenty of quick and ready condemnation of big oil, coal and gas with good cause, but far too little is said about the responsibility of everyone else who literally buys into the existing energy structure while condemning the big companies. The problem is that everyone insists on driving their car just about everywhere, which contributes heavily to the collective carbon footprint. But cars are far from the only cause. There is the fact of what we consume and where it comes from. If we are to seriously to address the question of fossil fuel driven climate change, we need to take a deep look into our habits of consumption that drive the whole carbon based system and how we can personally change our input. It is not enough to point fingers. We must also take personal initiative! It is not enough to protest and then drive away in our gas guzzlers; we must practice what we preach! What that means is a thorough investigation as to how much fossil fuels drives our lives and what must be done to reduce and eliminate wherever possible, our dependence on fossil fuels. The areas that fossil fuel use penetrates our lives is staggering. They are not limited to cars and home heating, but include food delivery, food growth, processing and packaging of all consumer goods, power in the form of electricity, manufacturing, the war effort and luxury items. Fossil fuel use is pervasive and highly profitable. It is also deceptive, lulling us into a false sense of security. This will indeed be a tough monster to slay! The short list on fossil fuel consumption is as follows:

  • Any consumer end product with an internal combustion engine

  • Home heating

  • Foreign food item imports

  • Off shore manufactured goods

  • Plastic

  • All commercial, private, corporate and military jets, helicopters and planes

  • Cruise and bulk goods shipping

  • Electrical production

  • Most railway lines

  • Manufacturing of fuels

  • Pharmaceuticals

This scene is now typical in large metropolises around the world. All to often, the cars and trucks don'e move too fast and grid lock is a common problem. Massive amounts or pollution from fossil fuels result.
This scene is now typical in large metropolises around the world. All to often, the cars and trucks don'e move too fast and grid lock is a common problem. Massive amounts or pollution from fossil fuels result. | Source

There are a lot of automobiles and in addition, there are boats, ski-doos, ATVs, motorcycles, generators and toys with tiny internal combustion engines. Every last one of them with the possible exception of a few that are reconfigured to run on bio-fuel, use non renewable fossil fuels that add plenty of green-house gasses to the atmosphere as well as creating small spills due to leakage. In some cases, the consumer may be able to exchange the internal combustion engine to something that is electrical, but even here there is a catch. It is plain to see in any large metropolis almost anywhere in the world that we are internal combustion engine crazy. In many large metropolis, there is the incessant reality of grid lock with thousands of vehicles just sitting and idling, spewing out pollution in a total waste of energy. As almost all of us insist on using a car, truck or motorcycle in order to pack as much activity into our daily routine. The use of these machines is generally considered to save time, but an analysis of transport of the 19th century, versus the 21st, shows that transportation by the horse and buggy was actually faster than city stop and go traffic of today. Where then is the saving, especially in those long commutes to work and home. Unfortunately, most major cities are designed to accommodate large numbers of private vehicles with destination spots spread far apart and many hectares of valuable land consumed as tarmac or parking spaces. No one it seems, will willingly give up the convenience of the car or motorcycle unless they are forced into it by accident of poverty.

Home, shopping center and office tower heating in the winter especially, uses a tremendous amount of energy and much of that directly or indirectly is based on fossil fuels, mainly oil, gas or coal. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to keep homes and businesses heated, especially if they are poorly insulated. The more extreme the temperature, the more the heating plants are used to keep everything in a suitable living condition. In the summer, air conditioners are in use, and though these do not use fossil fuels directly, the electricity driving them likely does. Over the winter months, the spike of fossil fuel use actually shows up in graphs of atmosphere change, at the same time photosynthesis has by and large ceased.

Hidden from the sight of most is the sources of most of our food. Whether it is mega farms well outside of cities across the developed world, palm oil from tropical regions, out of season fruits from half way around the world or items that simply do not grow in any particular region, many foods are shipped of flown it with a huge carbon footprint. There is a growing movement concerning growing and eating locally, but there is still a huge international shipping industry that moves millions of tons of food around to various destinations of the planet. US and Canadian wheat and grains are shipped to China and China sends the west mandarin oranges and other foods not grown locally. In the middle of the winter, fresh strawberries are flown in from New Zealand to all parts of the northern hemisphere that can pay up. Another choice food is chocolate that grows mostly in tropical Africa. Then there is the banana republic factor where huge numbers of bananas are shipped all over the world. Most of the shipments are via tanker and container ships that are heavy carbon producers. These are booming businesses and carbon heavy as they have to be flown or shipped across the ocean to be distributed all over the developed world to waiting buyers. Many of us have gotten used to non-local foods and that is by no means all that is produced that is shipped. We have a choice; to eat in season from local producers where possible, or forgo certain foods altogether, or learn to produce these locally. The same can be said for most natural fibre clothing items.

Another growing business, especially since the crash of 2008, is the manufacturing sector. Thousands of factories have closed and relocated. Millions of jobs have been replaced by off-shore labour. The US, Canada and UK have lost a huge amount of manufacturing jobs and the “:gainers” have been cheap labour pools in China, Asia Minor and India. Labour there is cheap, there are little or no health and safety standards and the wages are low. The several garment factory disasters of 2013 in Bangladesh and Pakistan exposed a lot of corruption, but little in the way of real change has occurred. Many jobs are also heavy on the environment due to little protection for the same. The cheap goods are manufactured there and shipped to the US, Canada and UK and sold to waiting buyers. In some cases, raw materials are shipped across the oceans, manufactured into useable goods and then reshipped as commodities back to the places where the raw materials cane from. Even after all the carbon added shipping and middleman costs, the goods are cheaper than the equivalent locally made ones and this is the reason why it is still going strong and growing. One might argue that the loss of jobs locally means a shrunken market, but some of the goods are so cheap that even the poorest here can afford them. One of the worst development ever under the Thatcher regime in Britain, was the closure of still productive coal mines in favour of shipping in cheaper coal all the way from China. Extra carbon was added to the atmosphere, just to ship the coal that would be burned in Britain for home heating and running power plants and the like. It is like a double whammy as Britain still has lots of coal reserves now sitting idle and many former coal miners now on perpetual dole. This was clearly a political act, but it has a heavy impact on the environment as many people still rely on coal, even though shipped half way around the world.

One of the ubiquitous materials of the modern world is plastic and astronomical amounts of it. Plastic is now absolutely everywhere including in huge archipelagos in several locations in all the major oceans. It litters most of the land in large cities in India. Plastic is made from chemical derivatives based on oil mixed with other chemicals to create many unique types. It is found in packaging, in electronics, toys, clothing, cars, lighting, in Canadian bank notes, credit and debit cards, as a building material and other applications we can barely fathom. Most plastic is not biodegradable and in itself represents an environmental threat. That is on top of the fact of toxic run offs from production, waste trimmings, the processing of oil and its derivatives to make it and the shipping involved to refineries and huge chemical and plastic production facilities. In short, it is one of the worst of the offenders in consumer products and all of us would do well to limit the amount of all plastics we use inasmuch as possible for substitutes, such as used by our ancestors before the advent of plastic. The main difficulty in weaning off plastic is its extreme versatility, but with modern innovation, even this limit can be overcome, such as through plant based bio-plastics that do break down in the environment and are safely recyclable.

Jet engines consume tons of fossil fuels in a single flight and generate plenty of fossil fuel waste that ends up high in the atmosphere.
Jet engines consume tons of fossil fuels in a single flight and generate plenty of fossil fuel waste that ends up high in the atmosphere. | Source
The oceans are becoming a waste dump for plastic refuse of all kinds. There are several plastic archipelagos in the world's oceans.
The oceans are becoming a waste dump for plastic refuse of all kinds. There are several plastic archipelagos in the world's oceans. | Source

A Presentation on Consumer Contributions to Fossil Fuel Use

What Can You Do Right Now to Cut Down on Fossil Fuel Use?

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Almost everything that flies outside of birds and insects, relies heavily on oil derived fuels. They also tend to be heavy consumers, but most of us would prefer to fly if we have to go some distance as going by train, bus or car takes too long and is often grossly uncomfortable if not impossible. All commercial flights, all combat planes, corporate jets, police and rescue helicopters all rely on some form of oil based fuel. Though some electric planes are under development, these so far, are a weak copy of the robust, fuel driven jet turbine. The amount of fuel consumed by all of these flying machines is staggering. When aloft in the major airways around the world, one can see a brown haze from all the fuel burned by previous flights, even at 35,000 feet, cruising altitude. The brown haze stretches from horizon to horizon in all directions. Much of the fuel for planes is consumed by fighter jets and now drones. These contribute nothing but destruction and mayhem when in combat and add hugely to pollution, War is one of the main contributors to pollution and war is driven by blind consumerism, backed up by imperialist adventurism as foreign policy.

The very worst fossil fuel polluters of all by far are cruise and bulk container ships. They are slow, ponderous and emit many thousands of tons of carbon into the atmosphere for a single cross ocean passage. The cruise ships are opulent floating hotel and casinos with plenty of other options. Some are huge. Most are the size of small towns, floating and cruising the high seas. But for every cruise ship, there are a hundred container and tanker ships. There are also plenty of warships too, but at least a few of these are nuclear propelled. There are still and handful of tall ships that can sail entirely by wind power and these are usually naval training vessels. Almost all of these ships spew out pollution like there is no tomorrow. Most aboard them could not care less as they enjoy all the amenities that are offered in their bid to escape from the high pressure world of civilized life. Being waited on hand and foot by the crew is a very pleasant escape despite the damage done to the environment.

As the world gets more wired for electrical power, many of the new plants coming on line are oil, gas or coal fired which adds to the environmental carbon load. Most new coal fired plants are being constructed in China and the US. As Japan has had a triple meltdown, they are now also turning to fossil fuels. Despite carbon cap and trade offs and pledges to reduce emissions, the output is actually escalating rapidly.

Our ever expanding dependence on fossil fuels means that pipeline construction can't keep up. So as a stop gap, rail shipment is under increasing use. The problem here is two fold as seen most dramatically in Lac Megantic earlier in 2013. The train pulling the filled oil tankers ran on diesel and got out of control causing a huge fireball after derailing causing the volatile N. Dakota crude to eplode, killing 47, levelling the downtown and contributed substantial ecological damage right across the board from air, land and water. From a paltry few thousand tanker cars a year a few years ago to more than 400,000 now, rail business for transporting oil has exploded exponentially by 2013. Oil is shipped by rail from N. Dakota and the Alberta Tar Sands, mainly to the east coast. Train shipments threatens to grow even more, risking every city and town along the main rail transport. There are talks of train shipping liquified light natural gas as well. All of this has happened because the major pipelines have not been completed.

The manufacturing of fuels is on full throttle as demand for fossil fuels continues to escalate. However, getting the easy oil is long over and the harder to process oil is now the main supply. These oils come from fracking and from the viscous bitumen of the Alberta tar sands. It takes a lot of energy just to extract these resources and that is before the are refined that takes more energy. That energy, you guessed it, comes from the consumption of fossil fuels.

Believe it or not, many pharmaceuticals are made from by products of fossil fuels. As pharmaceuticals are the number two profit making business right after war, there is a lot of fossil fuels used to transport, manufacture and to be included in the chemical makeup of many of these medicines. There are alternatives, but these are under attack as the big chemical companies like Monsanto, Dow and Bayer are heading the blockage of alternatives as this would cut into their profits.

Buying consumer goods of the status-quo will not help the lessening of the use of fossil fuels one iota! In fact, our use is increasing due to consumer based demand, instead of shrinking. If we at the consumer end are so concerned about the health of the planet for ourselves and our children, we are going to have to act! We have to change our ways by producing more locally and seasonally to cut down on food and fuel shipments. Talking locally, we should bring back manufacturing of everything closer to home to cut down substantially on cross ocean shipments. But the problem here is one of international economics and labour cost, so the situation will have to be addressed on that level. We are going to have to consider using the car or truck less and think of alternatives like bicycles and riding horseback. At the very least, we need to consider electric vehicles and mass rapid light electric transit. Our ancestors lived without plastic wrapping and we should return to those methods as plastic is highly toxic, lethal to wild and domestic animals, and does not degrade in the environment for thousands of years. There are plastics being made that will degrade faster, but this is only covering the real problem cosmetically. Plastic gets into the food chain and ultimately into our own bodies. There is no telling what kinds of diseases may be caused by ingesting indigestible materials like plastics. Planes that fly within a continental airspace can be replaced by high speed bullet trains, such as in use in Japan and China. These bullet train rail lines are electric powered, reducing the need for fossil fuels. Power grids can be run from geothermal sources, such as in Iceland, but the consuming masses are going to have to force these changes. The change will not do itself as long as the established businesses continue to fight to maintain the status-quo of how they have always done business. Change will come only when the majority of us force it into development. One of the proven methods is what is called sanctions and boycotts. Entrepreneurs can develop new ways to do the same jobs we have gotten used to without relying on fossil fuels and develop as viable competition to established businesses. Homeowners and landlords should consider more insulation to cut down on heating costs. Passive solar collection is another option to cut down fossil fuel heating. Forget the cruise ship and consider a sail boat or at least a tall ship cruise instead. These are many of the things that consumers need to consider and act upon if any real change is going to unfold. We must act!

Some Alternatives to Fossil and Nuclear Fuels


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    • syzygyastro profile image

      William J. Prest 4 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      Meanwhile, in Canada, the Harper government terminated the careers of several hundred environmental scientists, ostensibly on a cost saving measure. There was a protests in the summer of 2013 on Parliament Hill over the firings. At the same time, most of the formerly protected regions were removed from protection in order to ease the way for tarsands related projects and pipelines. This was met with resistance from Idle Bo More and confrontations with the RCMP resulted causing knock on effects with protests cross country during the Christmas season. Years ago, Canada opted out of the Kyoto protocol. Recently, there has been news about a mass book burning by the same government and guess what books were targeted? Why they were research results based on the continuing degradation of the environment and the resulting changes to the climate due to that degradation which includes, pollution, deforestation and added carbon. Book burnings are a bad sign indeed for Canada because this is what historically happened in Nazi Germany before the purges of millions began in a genocidal pogrom. We are not play footsies here; this is utterly serious business. Harper has declared war on science and the environment for profit!

    • Goodpal profile image

      Goodpal 4 years ago

      Having a scientists career behind me, my personal conclusion is that talking of carbon and temperature and devising newer ways to measure them more reliably now makes no sense (because it is too late), except for the short term sense of achievement to the scientists and engineers. Just as numerous doctoral degrees and countless research papers got published by poverty researchers in the past decades, now the global climatic mess (I prefer this term over GW and CC which hide more than they reveal) is a great topic for research everywhere and will remain so till the planet and current civilization exist.

      In fact, in the future the global poverty will reduce as poor people start vanishing as victims of climatic disasters which are happening now in bigger frequency, greater ferocity and more unexpectedly. The creator of these problems will also soon discover that having more advanced technology and thicker concrete barricades around them are also too fragile before nature's fury.

      In the meantime, it might be a good idea to protect and spread the correct world viewpoint that humanity has preserved since ages and seen in the local indigenous cultures everywhere in the world. It exists even in the Western nations but is almost lost under the louder noise of corporate money makers and their self-serving cacophony. I consider them as aliens on this planet who came here with the only intention of consuming everything and did a superb job!?

    • syzygyastro profile image

      William J. Prest 4 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      Either we team up in a global sense to stop what is going on against nature and ultimately ourselves, or our own negative option will be visited upon us by nature run wild. As temperature extremes widen, the weather will become wilder until it is almost impossible to survive. The mega typhoon the ripped through the Philippines, sheering everything off at ground level and the killer F-5 tornadoes that destroyed Oklahoma, twice, in as many weeks and many, many other examples are a taste of the new normal. Will we collectively respond in time? This is a pivotal year and if this does not go off well, then business as usual means we will descend down the slippery slope to world chaos.

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 4 years ago from Pasadena CA

      We're starting to link together via the Internet to share ideas and projects. I see it all over the place on the ground level. This film is only one example of communication that the Internet has enabled. The parts of the world where violence reigns on the ground level are where the US has supplied training and many countries have supplied guns. Hopefully, those areas will soon "get it" that real revolution happens en masse by ignoring the so-called "governments," teaming up, and living the peaceful, creative lives we really want to live.

    • Goodpal profile image

      Goodpal 4 years ago

      I would like to replace the word "indigenous" with the phrase "non-Western", syzygyastro. All Eastern philosophies are basically non-material and focus on well-being of every thing, people as well as their surroundings. Greed is considered an evil virtue and harming other people or nature is looked down upon. In fact, in so many places around the world people express gratitude towards the nature for what it has given them and worship rivers, seas and mountains along with trees and animal. To a material mind, all these are meant to be consumed and possessed. So no complains if the "developed" humans today are consuming everything because they also have developed sophisticated killing technological machines.

      In fact, the money based monoculture is spreading across the world and killing all local skills, traditions, culture and diversity. International policies are designed so that mega corporations can enter any country and make money by reducing locals to mere cheap labor-force or consumers of what they want to sell. So, as you rightly said, "indigenous cultures around the world are under threat."

      But I am positive the undercurrent of recentment is also growing with time everywhere. Combined with water shortages and increasing climatic disasters about which the "powerful" of the world are "powerless", I am sure, we heading towards a revolutionary global uprising. It will decide the matter one way or another. At that time, no one is likely to worry about all the weapons of mass killings rich nations show-off. The "Occupy movement" and uprisings in the Arab nations are just signals of things to come. Common people around the world (including in the West) are frankly very tired of playing pawns to the interests of the rich nations and their corporations.

    • syzygyastro profile image

      William J. Prest 4 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      I agree; it's a good film. There is but one obstacle and that is the weaponized corporate state that will not go away without a fight. Any war is proof of this. Indigenous culture around the world is under threat. These are a couple of reasons why I support Idle No More.

    • Goodpal profile image

      Goodpal 4 years ago

      Thanks watergeek, for posting link to the video. It really uncovers what is happening in the world and the so-called world leaders behave the way they do.

      Now the question is how to fix this faulty thinking before it ends destroying every good thing humanity stands for.

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 4 years ago from Pasadena CA

      This is a great, five minute film a friend just posted on FB for me today. It addresses this discussion exactly, comparing western with indigenous ways of living life.

    • Goodpal profile image

      Goodpal 4 years ago

      Despite the apparently hopeless prognostics, there is hope if the concept of "development" is redefined and we change it from the current narrow focus on "economic growth" alone to "people development". Currently, increasing consumption is the only yardstick of growth and "development". Thus, increasing GDP year after year is the only way to keep the economic engine running, backed by ever increasing consumption by people. This is obviously unsustainable; we all know that.

      The UNDP's Human Development model, which is ideologically founded on Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's Capability theory of development, offers the correct path to follow. Sen's capability approach prescribed "development" as expansion of people's capabilities and puts people at the center of development. This is quite different from the current "growth" led development where people are secondary and eternal economic expansion is the primary goal.

      The problem is further compounded by extremely narrow definition of capitalism, limited to safeguarding investor's interests and maximizing their profits, to the exclusion of everything else. As a result, societies are turning into wild human jungles following the principle of "survival of the fittest" and no one is really concerned about the nature, its resources and its well-being. In this jungle, poverty must exist so that labor remains cheap and the rich can make bigger profits. Exploitation of people and nature is inbuilt in today's economic growth that we call "progress."

      If people are made center of development, their all round development becomes the prime focus of all developmental activities. Progress then will not be obsessed with economic expansion alone which is only a tool for human well-being.

      Let's see if wisdom prevails while there is time.

      This article might help:

    • syzygyastro profile image

      William J. Prest 4 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      In the end, persisting in the present course will lead to extinction. This will come as more and more forests are destroyed and all free oxygen is used up, resulting in mass asphyxiation that does not discriminate by species or locale. Most have forgotten how to live in harmony with nature and further, they are so caught up in the rat race, they do not care beyond immediate profit and survival. The population of life is about to crash and this is seen in mass bee die-off, the collapse of the sardine population and mass deaths of black birds among other things. It may already be too late, but earth has recovered from other cataclysms. Species have died off and mankind is not immune!

    • Goodpal profile image

      Goodpal 4 years ago

      The topic of "climate change" has joined the company of evergreen topic "poverty". A lot of scholarly research will continue to appear for years and decades to come. Yet, no one will ever comment on the resource guzzling lifestyle promoted by the current global economic order. People have to keep consuming more and more, year after year, so that that the economic engine keeps running.

      So far only people in the Western hemisphere were dominant consumers of planet's resources, now populous China and India along with other countries are closing the consumption gap.

      The race to consume appear to have no finishing line. The end result is going to be the same whether we count carbon or not and who we blame.

      Poor countries and their people are at the forefront of climatic disasters, but then who cares! Not the rich of today anyway!!

    • syzygyastro profile image

      William J. Prest 4 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      Arranging meetings via the internet is a good idea and it has been around in one form or another for at least a decade. A broadband link is best and Skype can be flaky at best and unworkable if it gets to busy or the broadband limit is exceeded locally or remotely. I don't like Skype but sometimes it's the only option. If you have the cash, then broadband is the way to go and many news shows use it. I understand Google has something like this that is less troublesome than Skype.

    • Nathan Orf profile image

      Nathan Orf 4 years ago

      A very good analysis and presentation of the facts, syzygyastro. I have always found people like Al Gore to be unfortunately hypocritical when they fly around the world in their private jets, warning everybody else about the dangers of using too much fossil fuels. They do not seem to be practicing what they are preaching, though perhaps I should take into account the fact that they need to fly to get to their presentations. Still, why not host an online event where they speak to millions, live, on the Internet?

      I'm happy that you took the time to write this hub, and that I got to read it. It gave me some wonderful food for thought, and I have started thinking about what I can do to live locally. Voted up and interesting.

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 4 years ago from Pasadena CA

      Most of these I do already. I gave up my car four years ago when I moved to the city. Now I take public transit, carpool, or walk everywhere. Only if it would take too long to get to a place with these methods will I rent a car. I also buy local organic food whenever I can, and I conserve electricity and water. Good information, zyzgyastro. Thanks for writing it.