Regardless of where you stand on environmentalist issues – fearmongering, imminent catastrophe, or somewhere in between – it has helped to further expose something we’ve always known: whether for personal/environmental or economic reasons, living within our means, being more efficient, and thinking sustainably simply makes sense. Still, while we understand that we can’t live as excessively as we have in the recent past, very few of us are willing to abandon all of our modern comforts and innovations for a return to the hardships of life before the Industrial Revolution. So, what can we do to find this sweet spot? The answer lies in today’s word: mitigation.
Referring, in this sense, to an action that will reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions, but generally understood as abatement or minimization of the loss or damage resulting from a wrongful act, mitigation entered English from the Anglo-Norman mitigacioun, meaning ‘an alleviation of anything painful or severe’, and finds its root in the Latin verb mitigare, meaning ‘to soften or mellow’. The first use of our term comes from the allegorical narrative poem by William Langlang, Piers Plowman, where, around 1376, he writes: “But for thy much mercy, mitigation I beseech; Damn me not at doomsday for that I did ill.”
As an abstract concept, mitigation, according to the definition above, isn’t too hard to understand; however, it is in the individual application that mitigation is having the most impact. For example, considering that fossil fuels account for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, mitigation can take the form of an increased use of natural gas, solar panels, biomass, even clean coal. On a personal level, mitigation can take the form of simple steps, such as planting trees, buying a more efficient car, making sure your home is properly/adequately insulated, teleconferencing (instead of travel), or buying energy efficient light bulbs.
Naturally, from the societal to the personal level, there are seemingly countless ways to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but certain elements must always be taken into consideration. First and foremost is popular acceptance and impact: in other words, if people don’t support a specific project or the impact is too adverse on too many people, mitigation can’t work. Second is the issue of economic viability: technologies like ocean fertilisation, nuclear fusion, and carbon sinking may hold massive promise, but they’re not currently timely or economically viable for widespread use; however, when fully examined, there are mitigation steps that anyone can take, based on location and cost.
The beauty of mitigation lies in the fact that, whatever your opinion of it is, you soon realize that you can do better with less and, with less, contribute more.