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Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • Understand the problem of green-house gas emissions;

  • Explore what you can do as an individual or household to lighten those emissions;

  • Identify how much you would need to reduce your carbon footprint to achieve an environmentally ‘sustainable’ level of emission.


Author(s): The Open University

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Introduction

This unit focuses on the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, and explore what you can do to lighten those emissions to help reduce the rate of climate change. You will assess your ‘carbon footprint’ and see what actions you and, if relevant, other household members could take to lighten that footprint. You will also better understand which actions are more and less effective, and the scope and limits of what individuals can do at the personal and household leve
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Acknowledgements

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Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this unit:

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References

Edwards, P. N. and Schneider, S. H. (2001) Self-governance and peer review in science-for-policy: the case of the IPCC Second Assessment Report, in Miller, C. and Edwards, P. N. (eds) Changing the Atmosphere: Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Available from: http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Mediarology/Mediarology.html (accessed 10 May 2007).
IPCC (2000) Land Use, L
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2.8 End of unit question

Question 12

The writer and campaigner George Monbiot wrote the following (in The Guardian Weekly, 10 February 2000): ‘Every time someone in the West switches on a kettle, he or she is helpting to flood Bangladesh’. What is th
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2.6.2 The role of modelling studies

State-of-the-art models are designed to simulate the workings of the climate system (in so far as this is currently understood), and include the ‘internal’ interactions that generate short-term natural variability in the real world. They provide modellers with a means of carrying out ‘virtual’ experiments on the climate system. In the present context, an important aim of these experiments is to identify the ‘signal’ of a human influence on climate, so studies typically involve ‘
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2.6.1 Weighing up the evidence: the full cast of suspects

Figure 36 (again adapted from the TAR) takes your thoughts on Question 11 on a stage. It gives estimates of the cumulative effect since pre-industrial times of the various climate change agents, with the contributions expressed in terms of radiative forcing. Note that the figure also includes yet another device for communicating the IPCC's confidence in a particular finding – an indication of the ‘level of scientific understanding’ that accompanies each estimate. This reflects the autho
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2.6 An evolving consensus on attribution

The fact that the Earth really is warming up now commands near-universal support. However, it is one thing to detect a global warming trend that appears to be unprecedented in the past millennium (Subsection 2.2.2), and quite another to establish with a given level of confidence that it has been caused by (i.e. can be attributed to) human activity – specifically, the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and associated radiative forcing since pre-industrial times (reviewed in Sec
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2.5.2 Environmental indicators

The notion of a link between climatic conditions and the behaviour of plants and animals (e.g. the growth of trees or coral) and the composition of natural communities or ecosystems (the type of vegetation in a given area, say) is fundamental to the use of proxy data to reconstruct past climates. Some examples of biological responses to recent climate change were included in Box 9. Here we should be wary of jumping to conclusions. Such changes involve complex living systems that can respond i
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2.5.1 Physical and weather-related indicators

The indicators collected in Table 4 have been observed to change over large regions of the Earth during the 20th century. According to the TAR, there is now a good level of confidence that what is being recorded is the result of long-term change rather than short-term natural fluctuations. As we noted earlier (Section 2.2.2), the most recent period of warming has been almost global in extent, but particularly marked at high latitudes. So are the changes in Table 4 consistent with rising tempe
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2.2.2 Temperature changes over the past millennium

One of the most striking images in the IPCC TAR is reproduced (in adapted form) in Figure 24. Together, these two temperature records tell a compelling story, crystallised in our earlier quotes from the SPM. So let's just pause to take a closer look at each of them.

Figure 24

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2.2 Records of the Earth's temperature

To put the temperature records reported by the IPCC in context, we start with a longer-term geological perspective on the Earth's GMST.


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1.5 ‘Radiative forcing’ as an agent of climate change

Since its first major report in 1990, the IPCC has used the concept of ‘radiative forcing’ as a simple measure of the importance of a potential climate change mechanism. The basic idea is straightforward. Any factor that disturbs the radiation balance at the top of the atmosphere has the potential to ‘force’ the global climate to change: it will either warm up or cool down until a balance is restored. The perturbation to the energy balance of the whole Earth-atmosphere system i
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1.4 An overview of the global energy budget

Figure 12 incorporates the additional factors considered in Section 1.3, including the non-radiative energy transfers across the surface-air boundary (green arrow). Essentially a more detailed version of Figure 7, this figure gives quantified estimates of the globally averaged energy budget for the whole Earth-atmosphere system, and its component parts. Question 3 should help you to find your way around Figure 12, and to draw together many of the key points developed so far in this chapter. M
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1.3.4 The role of convection in the atmosphere

We come now to our final refinement to the simple picture in Figure 7. Recall that the troposphere is heated from below, with temperature then falling with increasing altitude. This situation sets the scene for the onset of convection – the bulk flow or circulation of a fluid driven by differences in temperature. Convection in the atmosphere plays a vital role in two further mechanisms – quite apart from the emission of longwave radiation – whereby energy is transferred from the
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1.2 A framing paradox: experiencing nature with cognitive tools

Whilst language tools are helpful in conveying meaning in conversation amongst humans, establishing what matters in ‘conversation’ between human and non-human nature, or amongst non-human living entities, requires different cognitive tools. Cognition refers to the way in which external information from the environment is processed. As sentient beings, humans and some other animals are able to experience wellbeing and suffering. In the next reading, Ronald Moore examines how we engage with
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Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • understand why systems thinking might be useful and know something about how it can be applied in the context of environmental responsibility;

  • describe the significance of environmental pragmatism and cognitive justice as tools for supporting environmental policy and action.


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1.1.3 Introduction continued

The difficulty perhaps is that things which happen at some distance from the everyday routine of our lives are often hard to place or connect with. Moreover, it has to be said that not everyone views factory sweatshops in quite the same way as groups such as Oxfam, or indeed endorses their negative claims about the use of cheap labour in places such as East Asia. For that is what the statements of such groups are: claims. And they are far from uncontroversial.

In fact, it is poss
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References

Anon (2002) ‘The Windicator’, Windpower Monthly, January, p. 50.
Blake, William (1994) The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Dover Publications.
Boyle, G. (1966, 2003) Renewable Energy, Oxford, Oxford University Press in association with the Open University.
BP (2002) BP Statistical Review of World Energy [on
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1.1.1 Where do we get our energy from?

The world’s current energy systems have been built around the many advantages of fossil fuels, and we now depend overwhelmingly upon them. Concerns that supplies will ‘run out’ in the short-to-medium term have probably been exaggerated, thanks to the continued discovery of new reserves and the application of increasingly advanced exploration technologies. Nevertheless it remains the case that fossil fuel reserves are ultimately finite. In the long term they will eventually become deplet
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