A tremendous amount of the energy that we consume and greenhouse gasses that we emit worldwide comes from making “stuff.” And that is just counting the portion of energy and greenhouse gasses that we directly attribute to “stuff.” Even most metrics like WARM that address the lifecycle impacts of “stuff” do not include all of the ancillary impacts related to it.
For example, most metrics do not attribute any part of the “personal-transportation” portion of our energy use to stuff. At the risk of sounding like an early 80’s George Carlin routine, how much of those personal-transportation impacts are attributable to traveling back and forth to the store to buy more stuff, traveling back and forth to work to make more money to buy more stuff, or traveling back and forth to the town dump to discard your old stuff to make room for – you guessed it – more stuff? Nor do most metrics that address the impacts of stuff account for the fact that much of the home energy use, whether HVAC or lighting, is to heat and light spaces that have over the last half century gotten much larger – as Mr. Carlin noted decades ago in his foresighted brilliance – in order to make room to store our stuff.
So when we talk about climate action plans and greenhouse gasses, I find it nearly impossible to have that conversation without talking about stuff. I would argue that any climate action plan that omits stuff – the stuff we buy, the stuff we use, the stuff we throw away – is at best incomplete.
For the folks who have been in the business of stuff: making stuff, buying stuff, transporting stuff, reusing stuff, disposing of stuff and recycling stuff, climate change represents both a new opportunity and a new challenge. There is a new math of greenhouse gas accounting by which some people are viewing and evaluating everything. So if it is impossible to talk about climate change without talking about stuff, how does the business of stuff fit into this new math?
Join us all Earth Week as we take a daily look at this new math, and opportunities that it provides.