Stuff you didn't want to hear
Stuff you probably still don't.
We now know that the quantity of CO2 of fossil origin that can be released into the atmosphere without progressively (or worse) destroying the life on Earth is essentially zero. That means, at least until we get non-fossil sources of energy generation sorted out, the amount of fossil-derived C02 each of us can emit to the atmosphere every day is the amount the world can cope with (none) divided by the number of people on Earth - equalling none. It is no longer possible to "borrow" from the future as we once hoped, or believed, or pretended. If we emit now, the destruction will immediately be committed to and cannot be corrected by any action or non-action or corrective measure in future. Those were the good old days, when we could claim that the Earth could cope with a little bit for ever, or could cope with a lot for a while, and we could argue that the Earth's limited capacity to cope could be shared, with our personal share being for some reason quite large and someone else's share being correspondingly smaller. No longer. How inconvenient.
So, if we do emit too much fossil CO2, what will happen? The damage comes partly from the atmospheric CO2 concentration being too high, and partly from it rising too quickly. First, concentration: James Hansen suggests 350ppm as the maximum concentration the world can cope with for ever. We are now over that, and damage will happen when global temperature catches up with the existing concentration. Extinction, flooding, food supply failures, disease pattern changes, etc. You know all that. Actually, very high levels have existed in the past without the world being destroyed - much higher than will be caused by the fossil CO2 we emit alone (without consequential positive feedbacks). But that was before there were humans, so it does not provide much of a guide to how well we might survive. Then, there's speed of increase. In the past, there have been sudden climate changes which took place, in geological terms, almost instantaneously. For example, there was the start of the PETM, about 55 million years ago. What happened? Something (probably methane) was released into the atmosphere, the global temperature shot up and, as a result, much of the life on Earth ceased to exist. Don't take the term "instantaneously" too literally, though. That was instantaneous in the geological sense of time. We are now changing the greenhouse gas concentration of the atmosphere at a rate about 10,000 times the speed it changed then. Will we survive? I don't know. How much of the rest of life on earth will survive? Probably not much. What will life for us be like in a world where most things have been destroyed for ever? I don't know. Why are we doing this? Well actually, some of us aren't. A few scientists cycle to work, and have changed their lifestyles to fit within what they think the Earth can tolerate. Perhaps we should pretend to be scientists and copy them. It might just work. Anyway, since it is us that emits the CO2, it is pretty clear that nothing else will.
The most important information you'll ever receive...
Good news! Once you've read this, you'll know all you need to stop the destruction of the Earth.
The problem: The world is being rapidly destroyed. Not the sphere of brown material that whizzes round in space, but the living things on it (which are the only thing of value). Many or most of them will be extinct within a few decades. Presumably you know this already. It is hardly news, if you follow recent science. At best, existence will be impoverished for ever. At worst, it is a real possibility that the whole system will fail so that all life is extinguished. Tropical habitat destruction, particularly tropical deforestation, and climate change seem to be the most serious causes. Conventional "pollution" turns out usually not to be so much of a problem.
The non-solution: There are lots of non-solutions. Recycling, energy efficiency, carbon taxes, charity, wind and solar power, ex-situ conservation, insulation, offsetting, switching off phone chargers, reducing paper use, and so on. Almost everything you have heard of, in fact. These things are promoted because they are good for the people who adopt them, because they look good and feel good. They are also profitable for their promoters, because people who adopt them are thankful for not being told to do what is really necessary, and are willing to pay or donate or vote accordingly. Indeed, most of these things don't do much harm, apart from looking like solutions when they are not solutions and hence preventing everyone from facing the truth and dealing with the real problem.
Let's concentrate on just climate change, since that might be the greatest emergency.
What's needed? Virtually zero fossil carbon emissions. That's no fossil fuel at all. Immediately. It's been evident from published scientific papers that this was needed for some years now, but somehow almost everyone carried on as if a reduction of a few tens of percent would do instead.
If fossil carbon is, say, halved, will that work? Not really. It will just delay the end very slightly - probably by a few years. The only fossil reduction worth bothering with is nearly 100%. If we can't face that, we might as well just stop pretending.
The choice: In a sense, there isn't much choice. We obviously can't go on destroying the world for ever. Eventually we have to stop. Either we stop voluntarily, or somehow it will become impossible for us to continue, and then we can spend the rest of time living with whatever is left. In the absence of social pressure, it is up to the individual to decide which pathway is more less wretched, less regrettable, more noble. The more that is left, the better life can be made. For those who have never wondered what we are for, this might provide some clue for an answer.
Who has the power? This is the really good news. To illustrate the principle, in the UK, if you buy something stolen, you'll be horrified at the length of prison sentence you can get. The logic is that it is the market for goods that is said to determine the sale their production / theft, so that is what is discouraged. With fossil fuel, it is even more certain that the limiting factor for scale of extraction is scale of consumption. If no one used any coal, no one would dig it up. Blaming the miners for our burning of coal might have some moral validity, but it is our willingness to pay for the stuff that ensures someone will provide it to us. Similarly, one of the sixty million or so people in the country was bound to agree be prime minister and organise oil imports once we indicated we would vote for a government that helped us consume petrol. Do consumption and voting together put complete control over global fossil emissions in the hands of the individual in any wealthy democracy? Or just one of these? Logically, consumption is the limiting factor because, even if we vote for fossil fuel use, us not using the stuff will ensure that it stays in the ground. What is more, after (but only after) we have demonstrated our refusal to use fossil fuel, we can be sure that our willingness to pay for some alternative fuel will suddenly and immediately become the guiding obsession for every industry and government department. In other words, our wish is their command - but only after we have shown we really mean it.
All of us, or just me? Who needs to do this? The answer is, just me! What anyone else does is up to them. So long as everyone understands that using fossil fuel (directly or indirectly) can only result in the continued rapid destruction of the world until they stop, it is their decision. Simply put, it seems appropriate just to do what needs doing regardless of what anyone else will do.
Since it's each of us that's destroying the world, it's each of us that's going to have to stop. We might as well do it now while there's quite a lot of the world left.
There are, of course, lots of arguments deployed against personal choices. It will certainly be said that one person should not act alone because others will probably not join in, so the world will continue to be destroyed (for a while) almost as quickly anyway. However, it makes no obvious sense to say that although something needs doing I will not do it because everyone may not do it too. For one thing, if the rationale for one person acting is enough to persuade that person to act, then presumably the same logic will be just as effective to anyone else, resulting in others doing it as well.
Most people would, of course, say they are doing a little towards global sustainability already, by recycling or something. Everyone doing a little is, it can be argued, much the same as one person doing a lot, in that neither is anything like enough to be effective. But there is a difference. The reason why appropriate action by only a few people may not work is because of others deciding not to do the same, these decisions obviously not being within the control of the involved few. In contrast, the reason why a little action by lots of people does not work (as at present) is because each of the many millions of involved people has decided not to use the control they clearly do have.
Where will the energy come from? Humans managed without fossil energy until a few hundred years ago. Now, however, there so many people on Earth and so many of them living in cities that things are different. We assume that feeding them (even on vegetables) demands continuing conversion of hydrogen to artificial fertiliser and fuelling them needs more than firewood. In addition, people in the richer countries are unwilling to reduce their consumption to the extent necessary, and their democratic governments are well placed to obtain whatever global resources they want. So, an awful lot of low fossil energy is required in a hurry (although most people and governments don't seem to have noticed it yet). Non-fossil "alternative" sources like hydro, solar and wind can provide a small proportion of this, but only hydro can be controlled (which drastically limits the value of the others). A little research and arithmetic (McKay, Smith, etc.) reveals nuclear as our only hope for salvation from climate change. I can see no similar hope for avoiding the holocaust of extinction due to habitat destruction. This is as serious as climate change and will alone presumably bring about the destruction of most of the Earth, so I shall ignore it.
If you feel you haven't suffered enough already,
there are remnants of two websites that used to be here, as follows:
The new (shorter, simpler) bit: HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD
The old (multi-page) bit: HOW TO NOT SAVE THE WORLD
READ THE NEW
because once people have seen the old bit
they never communicate with me again
and presumably don't read anything else of mine either.
Effect on grid of mixed wind and gas generation for Leo Smith's Limitations of Renewable Energy paper
Heat loss from standard farm cottage with solid stone walls
Genetic similarities of populations for OU S366 conservation genetics undergraduate project (allow macros first)
The 2nd Fuzzy Cellan Report (about optician refraction results)
Leo Smith's Limitations of Renewable Energy paper
Leo Smith's Beyond Fossil Fuels paper
Guy McPherson's climate update of March 2014 as PDF
Carbon tax in British Columbia
MOST ENVIRONMENTALLY DAMAGING THINGS:
Standard issue environmentalists
LEAST ENVIRONMENTALLY DAMAGING THINGS:
Plastic carrier bags
Un-recycled paper (and stuff)
Mobile phone chargers left on
Old fashioned (incandescent) lightbulbs
MOST ENVIRONMENTALLY USELESS THINGS:
POINTLESS OLD CRAP:
Integrated solid waste management facility planning calculations for OU T308 undergraduate project
Non-tech summary for above