Human Journey

Dispatches from theCopenhagen Climate Conference—Acting Now

As I stood shivering outside the Copenhagen Cathedral this afternoon, listening to global religious leaders tell us why we should save God’s green earth from climate change, an elderly man walked to the front of the crowd with a (misspelled) sign that read “Bla bla bla ACT NOW.”

With his long white beard and portly appearance, he looked a bit like Santa Claus, or, more apropos with his temporal message, Father Time.

No matter what the outcome will be of hundreds of talks and events and discussions at COP15 over these two weeks, I imagine many would agree with his general premise: There are things we can do now to lessen our impact on the environment—regardless of whether you are wary of the science of climate change or not.

Last month I blogged about a Proceedings of the National Academy of Science study that suggested that if everyone took simple household steps like installing low-flow showerheads or line-drying clothes, carbon emissions would fall substantially.

To be exact, that’s an estimated 123 metric tons of carbon from being released by the tenth year, according to the study. That would save about 7.4 percent of U.S. national emissions.

The concept also emerged during a series of sustainable-business talks I attended at Kronborg Castle on Saturday—a castle north of Copenhagen that’s the inspirational setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

At the event, appropriately titled “To Be, or Not to Be? New Leadership for a Sustainable Economy,” business leaders pointed out that people have already made the economy greener–with their wallets.

That’s because individual consumers are demanding more sustainable products, and companies have little choice but to listen.

In keeping with people power, Dan Reicher, of Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org, told the Kronborg audience about a new—and free&#8212l;tool released a few months ago called Google Power Meter.

PowerMeter tracks in real-time how much energy your home is using from utility smart meters and in-home energy management devices, and then sends you instant updates to your computer or smart phone.

Users can thus figure out when electricity use spikes, and act accordingly to limit wasted energy–and money.

Studies have shown that users who change their behaviors based on this real-time data can realize a 5 to 15 percent reduction in their energy use, Reicher said.

There are major downsides, though: You have to have an advanced electricity meter, and a Google PowerMeter enabled device. That means, at least right now, getting either AlertMe, available in the U.K., and TED 5000 from Energy, Inc, according to Google’s Web site.

But it may be next week that delegates did heed the message to “act now” and hashed out a new climate deal–there’s certainly enough pressure.

As former U.S. vice president Al Gore has said—and which was displayed in giant print in the circa-1582 dance hall in Kronborg—”We have to do it this year, not next year. Mother Nature does not do bailouts.”

–Christine Dell’Amore

Tasha Eichenseher is the Environment Producer and Editor for National Geographic Digital Media. She has covered water issues for a wide range of media outlets, including E/The Environment Magazine, Environmental Science & Technology online news, Greenwire, Green Guide, and National Geographic News.

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