The Last Decade

Gord loves his local winter veggies.

The Last Decade…sounds gloomy doesn’t it?  Well hindsight is 2020…isn’t it.  Just look at Australia (oops that is 2019 and that is short sighted, perhaps with a stigmatism like Gord).  But tonight, it’s New Year’s Eve and time to party like there’s no tomorrow.  Then, come morning of Jan 1, 2020, it’s time for clear vision.   For this reason, Gord and I have written this blog post to share a different way of looking at the climate crisis that is useful from a personal and a community perspective.  We all must step up to the plate and take action.  Personally, we have continued to make changes in our own life.  Our motivation is three fold:

Home made candles from tallow…scrounged as food waste from a local butcher.

  1. Action prepares us for the future that’s coming.  It’s unavoidable, so we are embracing change with lifestyle choices that support Low Carbon Resilience (LCR).  For us this means even more local food, a shift to electric bikes as primary transportation, and renewed energy for building community resilience.  Action is fun, healthy, and meaningful, and we’ll be less impacted with rapid climate shocks (food, water, energy) as we have already voluntarily transitioned.  Being proactive is ALWAYS better then reacting in a crisis.
  2. Walking our own talk motivates us and gives us credibility as we advocate for more political and personal action.
  3. Personal action helps us to fight off doom and gloom.  There is endless news of death, destruction, and suffering of all life; grief is an ongoing process that we must learn to accept…it’s not going to suddenly stop with everything turning out alright.  It’s not alright and it won’t be – get over it!  We have very little time left (and maybe none), to avoid catastrophic climate and ecological tipping points.


In simple terms, it’s the remaining carbon emissions allowed to be released to the atmosphere – the budgeted carbon we have left to emit.  Our remaining global carbon budget only gives us 8 years at current emissions to avoid 1.5 deg C.  There’s a lot embedded in that statement, so Gord created a series of a few images to explain what a carbon budget is, how it’s calculated, and what it means for our home, our community, and for all of us as individuals.

Home made jewelry. My wedding ring.

Focusing on carbon budgets is far less confusing than discussing abstract ideas like 45% reduction in GHGs by 2030 and zero carbon by 2050.  A carbon budget is like a bank account…once it’s gone, it’s gone, and if you go into carbon debt, who exactly is going to finance that debt?  Your neighbour? Your children?  Poor people?  Think of the atmosphere as the central bank and Mother Nature as the  earth’s top economist.  I get a sneaky feeling that’s she’s going to charge big interest (requiring enormous carbon sequestration), and show zero compassion when we go into her garden of eden to renegotiate our debt.  Creating a larger carbon budget (like quantitative easing), is simply not possible as you cannot print more room in the atmosphere.  Welcome to physics!

Graphic Novel Format of Our Carbon Budget  (complete with stick figures)

If we do what the science says we must, we have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 deg C rise in global average temperatures. This is thought be our final chance of avoiding catastrophic climate tipping points. However, for reference the coral reefs are pretty much toast even at 1.5 C.

The IPCC SR1.5 gives us a global carbon budget of 420 Gt as of Jan 1, 2018. Given that humanity emits 42 Gt/year, we have, as of Jan 1, 2020, 336 Gt of global carbon remaining. Divide this by the global population and we have 43.1 tons of carbon person. THIS IS LIKE OUR INDIVIDUAL BANK ACCOUNT.

We have worked out the carbon budget for our small community, the District of Highlands (DOH). This carbon budget is for all the people that live here including all of our municipal services.  The total remaining carbon budget for the entire DOH is 95,895 tCO2 as of Jan 1, 2020. What does this mean and how shall we use our budget? More on this later.

People in our community have a large carbon footprint. We emit about 8 tCO2 per person every year whereas the average global citizen only emits 5 tCO2. The Highlands community emits 17,800 tCO2 each year.

If we take Highlands remaining carbon budget divided by what we collectively emit, we will have used up our entire budget in only 5.38 years. LET. THAT. SINK. IN.

Gord and I have prepared a short presentation for our community as a snapshot of current reality. As a council we have declared a climate emergency, but we have yet to define what this means.  In early January, Highlands council will be meeting to discuss our strategic plan and how we move forward.

As you can imagine, we have ideas, but for now let’s focus on the climate budget and what that means.

Here’s how carbon budgets look in other municipalities in our region:

Climate leadership Caucus with municipal elected officials at UBCM

The Hard Questions for Local Governments and Individuals to Consider:

  • Are we going to live within our carbon budget?
  • How will we use our budget and what are our plans to get to zero carbon?  For reference, to reach targets of 45% reduction by 2030, we must reduce by 7% per year.
  • If we don’t have a plan to live within our carbon budget, are we willing to pay others for the use of their unused carbon budget?
  • If not, does this mean that we are taking the budget of others without compensation or permission? (The EQUITY question).
  • If so, who’s budget are we willing to take without compensation? Our kids and grandkids? People of different cultures and colours? Poor people with a very small footprint? Indigenous peoples around the world?
  • Are we willing to pay loss and damage to all the others being hit first by climate impacts?   Help those being hit first by climate impacts?
  • What do we want to save (i.e. health care, education, food)?  What will we relinquish?  Something to think about as we work out our personal and community budgets.

Some low carbon food photos.

100% local meal: chicken (old hen that mink killed), oven fries, homemade ketchup, steamed greens.

Mostly local lunch: Apple crisp (oats not local), boiled egg, pear, fermented pickle, tomatoes, peppers, persimmon. YUMMY

Roasted mini sweet potatoes, steamed greens, meat loaf with local pork and lots of veggies in the loaf. 1 pound of meat makes 6 servings

Squash, greens with half local beef sausage per serving, steamed Apios americana (ground nut). A perennial veggie very high in protein and exceptional flavour.


Some useful CO2 numbers for reference: (estimates for perspective)

  • CO2 to manufacture a new 2015 EV (not hybrid):  8.8 tons. (regular gas car is 5.6 tons)
  • Build a new 2500 ft2 house on Vancouver Island:  77 tons
  • Build the McKenzie interchange/overpass:  millions of tons (we have no idea really…just seems like an insane amount for the purpose of having more cars).  May have made more sense to buy everyone an eBike.
  • 1 return air flight from Victoria to Toronto:  1.1 tons
  • 1 new laptop computer:  0.35 tons
  • CO2 to manufacture an eBike:  2 tons
  • Average food carbon footprint (processed, packaged, not-local, meat from industrial agriculture):  2.3 tons/person/year

The Humorous Side

Our stay-cation this year – local hiking trips.  Gord looks way too serious…smile dammit!

The funniest thing about this is… wait for it… sorry…there isn’t anything.   Get the joke?  No, neither do we.  Our humour and patience is pretty much used up.  All of us have to individually manage our financial budget, and ALL local governments must manage financial budgets.  We all get this, and we have to make trade offs as to what we spend on and what we save up for.  Carbon budgets are no different.   Local governments are increasingly working towards defining their carbon budget, calculating yearly expenditures, and making carbon budget decisions.  We all know that this carbon budget will only get smaller (no revenues), and we must look at time frames for when this budget will be exhausted (the pun intended…but not very funny).

If you’re going to get pickled, make sure it’s fermented.

Many say that individual change doesn’t work, however, system change at the UN COP25 is a compete failure to date.  Which of course brings it back to the people.  We must change and we must make our governments change.  We need both.  Many good friends, our families, and community climate leaders, who are very aware of the climate crisis, continue to fly, buy, build new, and eat through their carbon budgets.  Not funny…but we still love them though find it increasinglyhard to be around them.  Maybe after this post they won’t love us…even less funny.  However, many of our friends are walking their talk…and we are very grateful for your personal efforts and inspiration.  Thank you.

Emerging Myths:  (there are many, but here’s three)

  1. EV’s will save us if we get every Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle swapped out with an EV.  Humorous and delusional.  Just look at the carbon budget.  15-20 years ago it would have been a great step, but there is not enough carbon budget remaining to perform this transition.  We’ve squandered that opportunity.  And unless electricity was fully zero carbon to manufacture the EV with recycled materials, the embodied footprint of an EV compared to and ICE vehicle is not that different.  The embodied carbon footprint of anything we buy is the UP FRONT carbon footprint.  The operational carbon footprint of an EV is obviously much better than ICE vehicle, but timing of the CO2 emissions is VERY important in such short time frames.  Solution:  Electric public transport, EV taxi’s, shared EV’s, eBikes, personal small EV’s factored into the individuals carbon budget.
  2. Building passive homes will save us.  Once again same argument.  Passive homes are great for long term energy efficiency, but the carbon footprint up front is enormous.  Solution:  Passive homes built with materials that sequester carbon.  See
  3. Just switch to green energy and decarbonize our economy.  Hilarious, that some actually think this is the holy grail to “Fix” the climate and ecological crisis.  Just look to the hybrid cruise ships being built…wow, they can run for short periods of time completely on electricity.  Ack.  Hello?  Physics?  Critical thinking?  Don’t get us started on the electric plane.

Actions – the fun side

There is so much that we must do, including creating a green energy grid, decarbonizing our economy, more EV’s, building carbon sequestering buildings, eating low carbon diets, local food, regenerative agriculture, increasing energy efficiency of existing buildings, stop clear cut logging, circular economy, etc, etc, but primarily we must buy less stuff, live and eat locally, and share material goods.  However the two BIG ELEPHANTS in the room are that none of this can happen unless we change our economic system away from economic growth and the whole debt and interest thing, and to do that we need a new political system with more community participation.  And for icing on this year end cake, we simply must re-wild half the Earth…our biological long term survival depends upon this (and by the way, the climate models demand this).  We must create an ecological economy based on equity, well-being, re-wilding, and public participation.  Ooooh, I like the sounds of that.

“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” ~ Václav Havel

Winter lemon blossoms

We have much work to do in this decade. I think of it like we have 10 years to treat a potentially fatal diagnosis. We know what the treatment is, we just have to do it and then “hope” for the best outcome. If we are unsuccessful in this decade, the work does not stop, we just move into palliative care for people and all creatures. Life doesn’t end in ten years.

Below is just a few great links for inspiration and reality checks.

Happy New Years everyone,

Ann and Gord

Re-wilding:  This video is an awesome demonstration of nature re-wilding.

Sequestering Soil Carbon: This podcast is great.

Failure of COP 25 Climate talks:  Here’s a video summary.

Greta Thunberg’s speech at COP 25:

For books, check out the End of ICE by Dahr Jamail.


5 responses to “The Last Decade

  1. Thank you Anne and Gord. I really needed your inspiring thoughts. Happy New Year. Francis and Ellie

  2. \here is to at least another 10 years together doing the good work….much love out to both of you for what you bring to our community, how full in you put yourselves, and how much love you bring to the effort of it all – even when you don’t feel like you can! Your journey is a great inspiration to all who have the privilege to be connected …..many thanks Brandy

  3. Hi Brandy, thanks for your comment. Yes we have much work to do in this decade. I think of it like we have 10 years to treat a potentially fatal diagnosis. We know what the treatment is, we just have to do it and then “hope” for the best outcome. If we are unsuccessful in this decade, the work does not stop, we just move into palliative care for people and all creatures. Life doesn’t end in ten years.
    Thank you Brandy, for your vision and unstoppable determination in all that you do.

  4. A third Big Elephant: Human overpopulation. There’s a big story about how we won’t be able to feed the additional 2.5 BILLION people expected to inhabit this planet (more than the total population of the earth when I was a kid) by mid-century unless we totally change our food system. Why are we not making sure there are 2.5 billion fewer people on the planet instead? Can’t get my head around that one…

    • I agree with you about overpopulation… the inability to see this elephant is directly related to our economic need for growth. Our economic system has failed us. If we drastically slow our reproduction we will have room (resources to share) for refugees, AND we all still need to consume less.


      Impact = population x affluence x technology

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