First published: Jul 21, 2022, 2:28pm EDT
Last edited: Aug 1, 2022, 1:06pm EDT

Anthropocene Calamity, part 3: Every part of the pie must shrink

This is part 3 of an 11 part series. For the introductory post to set the tone, please see Holy shit things are super bad.

Here’s the EPA’s graph of what is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions:

The problem with a pie chart is it gives you no sense of the overall magnitude.

Here’s Our World in Data with a sense of magnitude:

In 2018, the IPCC said that to limit warming to 1.5°C, by 2030 we need to get down to 18 billion tonnes annually, and by 2050 we need to get to net-zero, which means that for every tonne of carbon we output, we take a tonne out of the air with technology that doesn’t even really exist at that scale yet. The current IPCC report says we’re pretty much all but guaranteed to miss 1.5°C due to lack of action, but still could do things to avoid 2°C, which would be much worse. We’ve already crossed 1.2°C, and the 1.5°C estimate, uh, missed some stuff.

So, okay, first of all, holy crap, but second of all, the smallest pie slice according to the EPA (which is buildings) at 6% still represents 2.1 billion tonnes of carbon.

You read the title already - every single slice of the pie must shrink.

Mathematicians frequently discuss whether or not claims are “necessary” and/or “sufficient.” It is really important to clearly delineate the difference between whether or not something is necessary to prove something and whether or not something is sufficient to prove something. Necessary means it is a required step, but it alone can’t complete the job. Sufficient means that the job is done.

It is not sufficient to save the planet from an extinction-level event to reduce your own carbon footprint, but it is necessary, now. It is not sufficient for the US to reduce its carbon footprint, but it is necessary, now. It is not sufficient for people to stop eating so much beef (switch to chicken if you can’t cut meat out!), but it is necessary, now. There are different interventions for every type of carbon production that are activity specific, but they all must happen, and they all must happen now. They cannot wait for other activities to go green first.

The biggest hangup that I see so many people get stuck on is, well, if it’s not sufficient, why try? Why should I care about my meat consumption/personal airplane travel/SUV when international shipping causes way more carbon emissions? Because it’s necessary! We must try anyway. We know what we need to do. We don’t know everything about what we need to do, but we do know some of the things we need to do.

Do them.

Will you, by yourself, alone, personally make a dent? No! But are you alone? Also no! We are doomed if everyone concludes it doesn’t matter if they do anything. Of course it matters that we do things!

It definitely matters that you make enormous cuts to your carbon footprint and it definitely matters that you make those cuts immediately. We cannot wait for the other parts of the pie to come down first. If you have been waiting, get off the couch. For some outcomes (see past and future posts!), next year will be too late.

On to part 4, which considers your personal maximum leverage.

Thanks to Christy Olds, Jeff Wendling, and Moby von Briesen for advice and feedback on early drafts.