I heard a teenaged boy being interviewed on NPR the other day, about the protests young people are staging against climate change. I had to smile a bit, as every generation complains about the world left to them by earlier generations. But in this case, there is every right to complain -- climate change is the number-one threat facing all of us on earth.
Warming weather; sea levels rising; low-lying cities, islands and even countries being inundated; more violent weather – is it possible that we puny humans are really damaging the earth so badly? Unfortunately, YES.
The Fifth Report by the UN panel on climate change (IPCC) was released in November 2014. Hundreds of scientists and other experts in all different fields concluded that it is "extremely likely" (95-100% probability) that human activity has been the primary cause for the warming of the earth since 1950.
As explained on this NASA site, greenhouse gases (water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) act as a thermal blanket for the earth, not letting heat escape. The biggest offender is the burning of fossil fuels, which creates carbon dioxide.
So why are we not racing to stop climate change in its tracks? History tells us that after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, American factories changed from consumer goods to war materiel practically overnight. The threat was recognized as real, and we scrambled to defeat it. Why not the same with this far greater threat?
Because it's a disaster in slow motion, a slow suicide, you might say. It's hard to get our minds around the magnitude of the problem – not helped by politicians who either don't understand or pretend not to.
So, to hell with the politicians. We the people have always had the power anyway. Yes, each of us makes only a tiny difference, but if we all work together we CAN and WILL change the world – literally.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
1. CUT DOWN ON FOSSIL FUELS. Drive less, carpool, group errands into one outing. If you can, buy food produced close to home. Consider a hybrid or electric car. Look into solar panels and geothermal heating.
2. LOOK FOR WAYS TO INCREASE YOUR ENERGY EFFICIENCY. Use LED light bulbs, get a home energy audit to make sure your house is properly insulated and tight. And think -- do you really need to heat your house to 75? (wear a sweater!) or cool it to refrigerator temperatures?
3. SKIP MEAT/CHEESE ONE DAY A WEEK. Animal agriculture emits a lot of greenhouse gases. If everybody in the US had a meatless day, over a year, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road, according to the Environmental Working Group.
4. REDUCE AND REUSE BEFORE RECYCLING. Recycling is great (although we Americans do a lousy job of it – 9% of plastic – really?), but better yet to avoid having to recycle. Use a cloth bag for groceries, don't buy water in little plastic bottles, skip excessive packaging.
5. PLANT TREES. They suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
6. PAY FOR YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT. This is really cool. Go through a short questionnaire on a UN website to estimate the size of your carbon footprint; then support environmentally friendly projects in other countries. I sent $33 to a small hydro plant in Brazil. The UN just acts as a conduit, not keeping any of the money.
7. TALK TO YOUR FRIENDS. There is evidence showing that people are more likely to make good environmental choices when they see others doing it.
WE CAN ALSO PRESSURE OUR POLITICIANS. I know I said to hell with them, but we also have the power to force changes in public policy. Tell them these are your priorities and you VOTE.
Pressure them to take climate change seriously – put strict controls on utility emissions; stop fossil fuel subsidies; reinstate tax credits for buying clean energy systems; increase funding for research and development for improving clean energy; force fossil fuel companies to stop spreading lies about climate change.
WE CAN DO THIS!