Today’s Climate Change Lesson: How Doing Something! Accomplishes Next To Nothing

Not that the True Believers actually ever “do something!” themselves, since they cannot afford it right now, and, anyhow, government should “do something!,” especially to those Evil Oil Companies which let the True Believers drive the SUVs that they cannot afford to give up because little Henry has soccer practice, darling Barbara has ballet, and baby Al has his play dates. Got that? I’m confused, and I wrote it. What You Can(‘t) Do About Global Warming

We are always hearing about ways that you can “save the planet” from the perils of global warming—from riding your bicycle to work, to supporting the latest national greenhouse gas restriction limitations, and everything in between.

In virtually each and every case, advocates of these measures provide you with the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (primarily carbon dioxide) that will be saved by the particular action.

And if you want to figure this out for yourself, the web is full of CO2 calculators (just google “CO2 calculator”) which allow you to calculate your carbon footprint and how much it can be reduced by taking various conservations steps—all with an eye towards reducing global warming.

OK, now we’re getting somewhere

Just for fun, let’s see what we get when we apply this to a few save-the-world suggestions.

According to (in association with Al Gore’s, if you stopped driving your average mid-sized car for a year, you’d save about 5.5 metric tons (or 0.0000055 million metric tons, mmt) of CO2 emissions per year. Divide 0.0000055mmtCO2 by 1,767,250 mmt/ºC and you get a number too small to display on my 8-digit calculator (OK, Excel tells me the answer is 0.00000000000311ºC). And, if you send in $84, NativeEnergy will invest in wind and methane power to offset that amount in case you actually don’t want to give up your car for the year. We’ll let you decide if you think that is worth it.

How about something bigger like not only giving up your mid-sized car, but also your SUV and everything else your typical household does that results in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Again, according to, that would save about 24 metric tons of CO2 (or 0.000024 mmt) per year. Dividing this emissions savings by our handy-dandy converter yields 0.0000000000136ºC/yr. If you lack the fortitude to actually make these sacrifices to prevent one hundred billionth of a degree of warming, for $364 each year, will offset your guilt.

And finally, looking at the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill that is now being considered by Congress, CO2 emissions from the U.S. in the year 2050 are proposed to be 83% less than they were in 2005. In 2005, U.S. emissions were about 6,000 mmt, so 83% below that would be 1,020mmt or a reduction of 4,980mmtCO2. 4,980 divided by 1,767,250 = 0.0028ºC per year. In other words, even if the entire United States reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 83% below current levels, it would only amount to a reduction of global warming of less than three-thousandths of a ºC per year. A number that is scientifically meaningless.

So, True Believers, get cracking. Send in your money to Al Gore, er, Native Energy. At least you’ll feel better while pretending to “be green.”

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