Applying the 80/20 rule to climate change shows why we need government action

My wife and I booked off September 27. We’ll be taking the kids out of school and joining the Global Climate Strike. It comes during a Canadian federal election. We need to send a message to politicians about the importance of action on climate change.

I intended to follow that paragraph with a list of the top things that I (and you) can do to fight climate change. I often use the Pareto principle (AKA 80/20 rule) to make action plans. I had intended to do so here. I planned to find the 20% of things I do that contribute 80% of my carbon emissions. I could then find ways to reduce or eliminate them.

Alas, not so easy, as this image from the Prairie Climate Centre shows:

Try to apply the 80/20 rule here, and you see that citizens have little direct control over most emissions. Turn down the thermostat at home? Okay, but that affects 6% of total emissions. Stop flying? Okay, but that affects 2% of total emissions. (This chart shows 1% as it doesn’t include flights outside of Canada. See this global data on aviation.)

Your biggest lever is car and truck transportation, at 19.9% of total emissions. Which is a big chunk. But even if everyone stopped driving, flying, home heating, and home electricity? That’s still only 27.9% of emissions. The balance of 72.1% includes things like oil and natural gas leaks (7.8%) and mining, oil, and gas exploration (14.5%). As a citizen, I can indirectly influence these through consumption. But it’s hard for me to directly affect them.

That’s why political action is so important. So in the end my list for today has two items. First, take the direct actions you can. Drive less, use less energy at home, and reduce consumption of carbon-intensive products. Second, pressure politicians to regulate and reduce the emissions beyond your direct control.

That’s what we’ll be doing in a few weeks at the Climate Strike.

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