What you can do about Climate Change

The July 3rd post featured my interview with Moms Clean Air Force National Field Manager Gretchen Dahlkemper-Alfonso. This week’s post continues the conversation about the climate change agenda, drawing on information from that interview and from recent studies that suggest that that time for sounding the warning bell is over: now is the time for taking action.

Taking action on climate change is not just something for policy makers and governments to tackle: there are things you can do, too. So we end this post with a list of 6 things you can do to take action on global climate change problems. But before we get to that it’s important to understand something about why action now is so crucial, and so timely…

As the previous post mentioned, there seems to be a groundswell of interest nowadays in climate change; arguably, there hasn’t been this much interest since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 (it fell apart, mostly because of the inaction of the US on this issue those 14 years ago). There are reasons why the interest in climate change has spiked lately, and reasons why it has become one of the most important, if not THE most important, environmental issue of our generation. Here are a few of them.

Recent studies have suggested that extreme rainfall, flooding, and drought will continue to increase in parts of the country, such as the Great Lakes region and the SouthWest. The Third “National Climate Assessment” study, completed in May 2014, notes that the Great Lakes Region emits over 20% more greenhouse gases than the rest of the country and that climate change will continue to aggravate risks to the range and distribution of fish species currently found in the region. This translates into an increase in harmful species of fish and harmful algae blooms, and a deterioration in the health of beaches. Some of the apparent benefits of climate change, namely longer growing seasons, are being offset by the occurrence of extreme weather events (heat waves, droughts, floods).

The Southwest region, this hottest and driest part of the United States, is expected to get hotter and drier, increasing stresses on crops, affecting tourism, and making extreme weather events more frequent. Reduced crop yields and stresses on certain high-value specialty fruit, nut and vegetable crops (because of shorter chill seasons) means that your grocery bill will continue to increase. There will be shorter ski seasons, lake and river recreation will be negatively affected, and you’ll see more outbreaks of insects and parasites, and the diseases they can spread. Rising sea levels, extreme high tides, storm surges, and wildfires will pose increasing risks to homes and property, ecosystems, highways, power plants, and sewage treatment plants, while shipping in the port cities (which handle half the nation’s incoming shipping containers) will also be threatened. The Southwest is not the only region that has been suffering drought: California’s extreme drought is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. If you think it has nothing to do with you, take a look at Buzzfeed’s list of 14 facts that reveal how the drought in California has economic, social, and environmental effects that are being felt all over the country.

That is just a small part of the greater climate change picture. If you have noticed summers getting longer and hotter, winters getting shorter and warmer, heavier downpours of rain, longer allergy seasons, more flooding around the country, higher bills at your grocery store, fewer jobs in your neighborhood, longer fire seasons, more drought, or poorer air quality, then you have been noticing some of the effects of climate change. It affects all of us, in many of the major aspects of our lives.

The good news is that individuals, state governments, and now, the federal government, are finally getting serious about acting on climate change. The Nicholas School for the Environment and the Duke Cancer Center (both at Duke University) recently reported in a study that state and federal air pollution controls in place since the 1990s have resulted in fewer emergency room visits for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and emphysema, and fewer deaths from these ailments in the state of North Carolina. The study demonstrates that federally mandated pollution controls do work to improve health outcomes in step with improving the environment. As of July 2014, over 200 bills focusing on this environmental challenge have been introduced in Congress. The Department of Defense (DoD) has also been taking steps to address climate change since at least 2007 (surprised? Don’t be – the U.S. military is a pragmatic institution, and realized the acute need for dealing with climate change long before other agencies of the US Government did). Although the McKinley amendment to the U.S. National Climate Assessment and the IPCC international assessment, passed by the House of Representatives in June, attempts to make it much harder for the DoD to comply with the White House’s climate change bill, the Pentagon seems determined to ignore or undermine this short-sighted act of subversion.

Internationally, some of the biggest polluters have taken steps that, if pursued earnestly and over the long haul, will have a major impact on reversing the damage caused by global warming. Last month, China and the US agreed to seriously pursue (jointly and separately) large-scale Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects. These kinds of projects, which aim to capture carbon at the source and store it in underground containers deep in the earth, or recycle it to be used as biofuel, have been hampered by lack of action, high costs, and various technical difficulties in implementation, but efforts to improve them continue.

In India, the government has stopped rejecting calls to quantify its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Now it is willing to do not only that, but has begun ramping up domestic efforts to undertake 20 initiatives to address climate change. These include reforestation, installing 20 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2020, and 50 gigawatts by 2050 (the most ambitious solar plan any country has put forward so far).

In the United Arab Emirates, Masdar City (located in Abu Dhabi) was billed as the world’s first zero-carbon city. It is almost car free (its citizens are transported in driverless electric pod-like vehicles), there are no light switches or water taps (lights and water come on and off with the aid of movement sensors), and the walls of the city have been designed so as to reduce the need for air conditioning by over 50%. Although its designers have had to scale back some of their ambitious plans since its initial design in 2006, Masdar City has managed to radically transform the discussion on climate change in a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This is a significant achievement coming from a country whose citizens have one of the world’s largest carbon footprints.

Still, we’re a long way from where we need to be on climate change. With sustained effort on the part of governments and individuals, though, we can reverse some of the damage. Here are six steps you can take to help combat climate change today.

1. Go to the Moms Clean Air Force website and educate yourself. They have a lot of tools, and a great new resource on the health effects of air pollution.

2. Contact Moms Clean Air Force National Field Manager Gretchen Dahlkemper-Alfonso, and find out how to host a house party. Alternatively, you can sit down for a pot of tea with friends and neighbors, and talk about what you’re seeing in your neighborhood. The point is to have an intentional conversation about these issues. As Gretchen noted in our interview last June,
“that’s where real change is going to come about… It’s something we can all do!”

3. Sign petitions that are focused on combating climate change, or some aspect of it. You can find a few of them on the Green and Prosperous website under the “Take Action” tab.

4. Consult the EPA website for ways to reduce your carbon footprint. (They have tips for your home, school, office, and mode of transportation). One useful tool they have is their household carbon footprint calculator, which lets you measure your household consumption and compare it against the national average.

5. Take part in one of the climate change-related events scheduled around the country this summer and fall. Are you in or near NYC? Attend one or more of the many events scheduled for Sept 22-28. You can check out the events and lineup of speakers at http://www.climateweeknyc.org/.  You can also attend one of the world’s largest climate marches in NYC this September 21st: find out more at  http://peoplesclimate.org/march/.

Internationally in September, you can also attend the
People’s Climate March and Mobilization” in Vancouver, BC, Canada, the “Laf değil, eylem!” (“Action, not Words”) climate change event in Istanbul, Turkey, the “People’s Climate March” in New Delhi, India, the “Climate Happening” in Göteborg, Sweden, the “Urgent Action, Not Words” events in Perth, Australia, or other events during climate action week that you can find around the world on the People’s Climate March and Mobilization website by clicking your region and country.

6. If marching in the streets isn’t your thing, or you just can’t attend one of these events in person, you can also watch a free webinar. There are many out there: National Wildlife Federation is hosting a series of six free webinars in conjunction with the Climate Change Live! Distance learning adventure.  Gaia education, an international NGO that works to help people understand how we can design much lower impact communities, in the city and in rural situations. Their current project is to launch a series of free webinars with the first one exploring Climate Change Solutions. Find out more on their website.

Climate change isn’t going away, and now that the world is mobilizing, why not join in?