The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Babel Fish and Global Warming
The infamous science fiction/social satire work, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has given us the remarkable species of the Babel fish.
In that infinitely improbable setting with intergalactic travel, multitudinous life forms, and countless languages, the Babel fish is a universal translator. Just stick one in your ear, and you can easily understand what anyone (anything?) is saying.
Thankfully, our daily lives don't have the same sort of communication challenges that are found in Douglas Adams' fictionalized universe. But neither do we have such a convenient way of translating between different modes of expression.
A person who cares about global climate change, and who wants to be responsible in their energy use, needs something like a Babel fish to make sense out of the many different ways that our society measures energy. To get a clear sense of how much energy you are using -- and how much carbon dioxide you are adding to the atmosphere as a result -- it is necessary to deal with many odd units of measurement. Much of our energy use is so hidden, and so taken for granted, that it takes a special effort to track it down.
Think about all of the ways that different forms of energy -- most of them derived from fossil fuels -- enter your life.
Enter the modern equivalent of a Babel fish: the carbon calculator. These translators range from sophisticated computer programs to a simple sheet of paper. In whatever form, the purpose of these calculators is to take all of those confusing measurements of energy use, factor in how much of each type of energy you personally use, and give a single figure at the end about how much damage you are doing to the world's climate. Plug in all the figures, and find out how many tons of carbon dioxide you generate in a year. Sounds like fun, huh?
Learning the truth about your carbon footprint isn't supposed to be enjoyable, but it certainly is enlightening. Knowing that information is essential if any of us are to make appropriate choices about our personal impacts. It is important, too, if we are to have an awareness about how to shape public policy decisions. If we're oblivious about how much energy we use, and if we're unaware of the massive quantities of the invisible greenhouse gasses we create, we can't possibly be responsible in our energy stewardship.
Changing light bulbs is good, and having an efficient car is great -- especially if you don't drive it much -- but all of that care can be overwhelmed by an inefficient old furnace or refrigerator, or lots of air travel. The calculators help us make sense of the many different ways we use energy, and give a coherent way to understand our impacts. It can be eye-opening.
My friend Ted, who is a technically sophisticated and conscientious environmentalist, was astounded when he did his calculations this summer. Over the years, he has worked hard to reduce his energy use at home and with his car. He discovered, though, that all of his careful reductions in greenhouse gasses in those areas would be more than cancelled out by one vacation flight to Hawaii. He knew that air travel was high-impact, but he'd never been able to compare it with his home energy use before.
The carbon calculators help us understand the relative impacts that we have from our different kinds of energy use -- an important insight in and of itself. They also reveal where we can change our equipment and behaviors. They inform us about how many carbon offsets it would be appropriate to purchase (as I described in last week's Notes).
I have links to four different carbon calculators at the end of this article. When you go to do you calculations, here's what you'll need:
Knowing our impacts as we watch the films makes the experience more personal and more powerful. So gather your utility bills, and calculate your impact. You don't have to stick a fish in your ear to do it -- just spend a few minutes at one of the websites below.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * Home Page: www.eco-justice.org
Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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