Thursday, August 12, 2021

Choosing to fight climate change -- Aug. 12, 2021 column


As if fires in the American West, floods in Europe and more intense storms everywhere weren’t enough of a wakeup call, a United Nations panel Monday issued a “code red” warning on global climate change.

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” states the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, urging immediate action to avert more dire effects of climate change.

The report, based on 14,000 studies, the most comprehensive summary ever, was approved by 195 governments. It says human-caused emissions have pushed the average global temperature up 1.5 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial average.

“We can’t wait to tackle the climate crisis. The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. And the cost of inaction keeps mounting,” President Joe Biden tweeted.

Biden wants to put the United States on a path to net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation is a key contributor to emissions, and the bipartisan infrastructure bill the Senate passed Tuesday includes $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and $7.5 billion to replace school buses and ferries with lower-emission ones.

A separate $3.5 trillion budget blueprint Senate Democrats passed Wednesday – dubbed the Build Back Better plan – promotes sales of electric vehicles, clean energy manufacturing and a Civilian Climate Corps.

Both bills face hurdles in the House. To some congressional Democrats on the left, the bills are too lean, and to congressional Republicans on the right, they’re too fat.

Republicans continue to insist the climate is always changing, American jobs will be sacrificed, and, besides, our Chinese competitors are worse climate offenders. Our reducing emissions will only benefit them.

With COVID-19 again surging across the country, this may seem the worst possible time to bring up behavioral changes individuals can make to help ameliorate climate change.  

But the changes the pandemic brought to our lifestyles over the last year and a half can be helpful as we consider how we want to live moving forward.

What can one person do to fight climate change?

n  -- Contact your elected representatives

n  -- Eat less meat and dairy

n --  Fly less

n  -- Leave the car at home

Those are among nine steps Imperial College London, a public research university devoted to science, engineering, business and medicine, says individuals can take.  It also proposes reducing energy use, protecting green spaces and planting trees, investing responsibly, minimizing waste by donating items, and talking about the changes you make.

It quotes Al Gore’s mantra: "Use your voice, use your vote, use your choice."

I like the list because it’s straight-forward. I found U.S. government sites so fearful of offending someone they larded up very similar suggestions with “where possible,” “where feasible,” “where affordable,” and “where practical.”

Yes, of course, no one can do what’s impossible or unaffordable, but such qualifiers muddy the message.

Nobody pretends individual actions alone can end climate change, but individuals can raise a sense of urgency, which can lead to change.

Maybe we don’t resume flying to in-person conferences and continue to meet virtually. Embrace Zoom? That, I know, is a reach.

Go on foot or bike to the store. Choose a plant-based diet and make ourselves and the planet healthier. Explore charity organizations or Freecycle groups to give unwanted household items a new home, rather than sending them to the landfill.

“While individuals alone may not be able to make drastic emissions cuts that limit climate change to acceptable levels, personal action is essential to raise the importance of issues to policymakers and businesses,” Imperial says.

Bill Gates writes in his new book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”:

“When somebody wants toast for breakfast, we need to make sure there’s a system in place that can deliver the bread, the toaster, and the electricity to run the toaster without adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We aren’t going to solve the climate problem by telling people not to eat toast.”

Gates is right. Telling people, “no toast” is a non-starter. But if more of us voluntarily take small steps now, we can help reduce our carbon footprint and stave off disaster.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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