5 August 2014
Radical, Not Extreme
Quite a few people tell me I'm "extreme" in my efforts to reduce my greenhouse gas emissions. Even some members of the small eco-community I live in have said the same thing. But am I extreme or is it mainstream society that is really extreme?
I live a fairly simple, but comfortable and fulfilling life working the land and trying to minimise my ecological impact at Tinkers' Bubble fossil-fuel-free community in Somerset, England. According to various carbon footprint calculators, my annual emissions are approximately 1 ton CO2e, compared to the UK average of 15 tonnes per year (CO2e = CO2 equivalent, a combination of all greenhouse gas emissions).
The Global Picture
Looking at UK emissions alone, you could be forgiven for considering my emissions extremely low, but globally, the picture is very different. I decided to demonstrate this using a graph.
Data for global per-capita CO2e emissions is not available, so I used per-country CO2 average combined with the population of each country to create a bar chart. The results are interesting and certainly illustrate my point.
The mode is 1 ton: in other words, more people have emissions of 0.5 to 1.5 tonnes than any other level of emissions.
The median is 2.5 tonnes. That is, half of the world emit less than two tonnes CO2.
In reality, emissions tend to be distributed unevenly within countries, with the majority emitting less than the mean (average) and a small minority emitting emitting much more than the mean. If this was factored in, the chart would be skewed even further to the left, making consumerist nations look even more extreme.
2 billion people live with around one ton of CO2 emissions - just under a third of the world's population. Another 900 million people live with even lower emissions - in other words, almost half of the world have emissions similar to or lower than mine.
- The average person in China emits 5 tonnes.
- The average person in the UK emits 9 tonnes.
- The average person in the US emits 19 tonnes.
As the graph illustrates, consumerist nations, such as US and UK, are a small minority with extremely high emissions.
At the current rate of emissions, we are likely to reach 4°C of warming this century; a level considered unacceptable by many scientists, politicians and even business leaders.
If everyone in the world immediately cut their emissions to one ton of CO2e per year, we might be able to avoid 2°C of warming. In other words, if everyone lived as I do, we might be able to avoid extremely dangerous climate change.
If everyone in the world lived as the average UK citizen, we could be committed to 6°C of warming by the end of the century, which could lead to extinction of most life on this planet.
Tar Sands: As conventional oil supplies decline, we are going to more extreme lengths to keep the oil flowing.
It is not just climate change. As a result of consumerist living, the world is becoming more and more polluted, resources are dwindling and species are facing extinction.
While I live a life that is simple, yet comfortable enough to be extremely happy, consumerist society defacates in our dwindling drinking water supplies; dump tons of waste in landfill; buy increasing numbers of electronic gadgets from China, which pollute their land and use up rare elements; eat vast quantities of meat and dairy from animals kept in barbaric conditions; eat chemical food which depletes the soil and pollutes our waterways; eat enough fish to push oceans towards extinction; employ the equivalent of thousands of slaves per person in fossil fuel energy.
Who is extreme?
About the author
Pedro (Pete Brace) graduated from university with a first class honours degree in Computer Science. He then went on to work in the video games industry for 7 years, soon earning a good salary as a Lead Game Programmer, but living an unfulfiling and unsustainable life. In the end he came to his senses and left his job to find a more sustainable life. He is now very happy living as an eco-peasant at Tinkers' Bubble fossil fuel free community in Somerset, UK, where he earns around 97% less than in his old job. 
1. The views in this article do not necessarily represent the views of other members of Tinkers' Bubble