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"On calculating my annual carbon footprint recently, I realized how inadequate those efforts are."

Source: https://commentwise.com/2019/12/06/will-the-rich-change-for-the-planet/

In the given sentence, present tense (those efforts are) has been used after past tense (I realized). Is this grammatically correct?

I think it should be:

  1. On calculating my annual carbon footprint recently, I realize how inadequate those efforts are. [if Present tense]

  2. On calculating my annual carbon footprint recently, I realized how inadequate those efforts were. [if past tense]

  3. On calculating my annual carbon footprint recently, I have realized how inadequate those efforts are/were. [if present perfect tense]

  • On.... is a prepositional phrase. It often happens in English that tenses in prepositions mix with different tenses in other clauses. The tenses all convey slightly different senses or meaning of times, however. @Accumulation's answer does a very good job of describing these in detail, so I won't duplicate that effort! – BadZen Dec 15 '19 at 23:57
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This is a case where both are grammatical, but express different concepts.

The past tense gives the sense that the efforts are in the past; there were specific efforts made, "my efforts" refers specifically to those efforts, and those efforts are no longer existing. An example would be "I tried to find the travel option with the smallest carbon footprint when I traveled to my relative's wedding". Travelling to the wedding was a one time thing that happened in the past, so past tense would be appropriate.

The present tense gives the sense that the efforts still apply in the present. This could be because the efforts are ongoing, still possible, etc. An example would be sorting recyclables out of the trash. If you are still currently doing this, then the present tense is appropriate. Even if you currently aren't doing it, one can still speak in the present tense of the effectiveness of it, if one treats the discussion as being about the general concept of sorting recyclables, rather than the specific acts that happened in the past.

One issue is whether "my efforts" refers to already determined efforts, or what efforts one does. That is, "My efforts are inadequate" has the primary meaning of "There are particular efforts that I made, and those efforts are inadequate", or it could mean "Whatever efforts I end up making, they will be inadequate". While the present tense can work for either, it works more for the latter.

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On calculating my annual carbon footprint recently [past],

I realized x or I have realized x.

Either one.

The first is when you mean a single point in time in the past.
The second shows it was in the past, and you don't say when at the time of speaking in the present.

  • What's wrong with I realize? (Answer: nothing is wrong with realize) – BadZen Dec 16 '19 at 0:13
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    In the past, as I said in my answer,it can be realized or have realized. I obviously didn't bother with the present tense, as it was fine. – Lambie Dec 16 '19 at 0:31
  • Ah, OK! I thought you might be saying that the present tense could never be used, as another answer here does! Carry on, then. :) – BadZen Dec 16 '19 at 0:33
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The efforts are inadequate is an universal truth. It is a fact. The efforts will not help to improve the state of the climate. More drastic measures are needed.

The earth rotates around the sun is another universal truth. Universal truths are expressed in present simple tense.

  • Personal efforts are not universal. here in statement efforts are put by writer. – user4084 Dec 11 '19 at 11:33
  • That is not what I mean, I mean that being inadequate is what the efforts are, always. The nature of the efforts is that they are not adequate to change the climate. – anouk Dec 11 '19 at 15:57

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