Climate change is a global issue which can only be remedied by individual responsibility and collective agreement. Each person can play their part in helping to deal with this challenge.
Reduce and substitute
Each of us can begin in our own daily routine by reducing the unnecessary activities which waste energy and so contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. A simple change such as turning off unused appliances like TVs and lighting would be a good start.
New energy efficient alternatives to existing products are being released regularly, and where they are already cost effective they should be seriously considered. By substituting energy-saving light bulbs for traditional alternatives, public transport or hybrid cars for road journeys, or by improving insulation, it is possible to reduce an individual's carbon footprint.
As most of these choices will reduce the energy we consume, they should also save money, even if they have higher upfront costs.
Offset CO2 emissions
While we can generally make some reduction in our own CO2 emissions we will never be able to eliminate them completely. Any use of energy, for electricity, heating or transport, is likely to be responsible for the emission of some CO2.
We can, however, offset these outputs by contributing towards the planting of new trees, the use of renewable energy, or the lowering of someone else's CO2 emissions. Many organisations allow you to help these projects by paying a small monthly contribution. The cost each organisation charges for offsetting one tonne of CO2 varies considerably. Carbonfund.org seems to have one of the lowest prices, and it allows you to calculate exactly how much CO2 you emit by inputting figures on your electricity and heating bills, or your annual vehicle mileage.
Whilst individual responsibility is necessary, it is unlikely to be sufficient to deal with the problems of climate change. The chief responsibility lies with the major contributors to greenhouse gases, the power generation and transportation sectors. Many of these companies are themselves keen to do their bit to lower CO2 emissions but it is essential that governments provide better incentives and structures so that the goal of greenhouse gas reduction can be achieved.
An effective international agreement is required as a foundation on which others can build. The current Kyoto protocol lacks support from the USA, the biggest emitter, and will run out by 2012 anyway. The successor to Kyoto will have to include not only the major industrialised countries, as the current treaty does, but also the rapidly expanding developing nations such as China and India.
It will then be necessary for governments to implement policies within their own borders to achieve the commitments which have been agreed. A combination of taxation, which imposes higher costs on anything responsible for greenhouse gases, and emissions trading which gives firms flexibility in how targets can be met, are likely to play a part.
It is the responsibility of each citizen to contact their political representatives to encourage such agreement and implementation.
The problem of climate change is real and happening now. If current trends continue an Unnatural Disaster will change the world as we know it, but with a committed response this need not be so.