10 Acts You Can Take on a Daily Basis to Combat Climate Change
As the year’s final days are approaching, many of us may be thinking about our resolutions for the year ahead. In the face of the many warnings and long-range consequences of climate change, this might also be a good time to think about the roles that each of us can play in helping to mitigate these impacts going forward. One grim consolation is that most of us—the people who are in power today—will not be seriously impacted by the rising sea levels, inland flooding, drought and pestilence that lie ahead. Instead, the most severe consequences will be born by future generations. As one public official put it recently, “We are watching our house burn down with the children and grandchildren in the attic.” Our choice, and our moral imperative, is to act now for the benefit of these future generations.
A report issued in November by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear that decisions made within the next ten years will have far reaching implications for centuries to come. In an essay “Losing Earth; The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change,” that essentially comprised the entire August 1, 2018 New York Times Magazine issue, author Nathaniel Rich reported on what these implications might look like:
“The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris Climate agreement, the non-binding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016, hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called the two-degree warming ‘a prescription for long-term disaster.’. Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario.”
The Nature Conservancy predicts that global temperatures are projected to rise by 3.2°C, increased air pollution will affect 4.9 billion more people, and 2.75 billion people will be subjected to water scarcity. Even our own Federal government seems ready to throw in the towel, as a 2018 draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration outlines why freezing fuel efficiency rules for cars and light trucks for six years will do little to avert a global temperature rise of roughly 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.
According to Rich: “Three degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; as areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the America Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization. “
Given a global political and economic engine that favors short term profiteering from fossil fuels over long-term environmental health, it appears that the solutions to counter long-range cataclysmic events will largely depend on efforts generated from the bottom up—from the population-at-large. The following are ten daily actions that each of us can take to help address the problem:
1. Reduce (or even eliminate) your consumption of meat and cheese. Beef and dairy cattle are one of the largest producers of methane on the planet, and one of the largest contributors to global warming. If everyone in the U.S. gave up meat and cheese just one day of the week, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
2. Adjust your thermostat. Set it at 68 in winter and 78 in summer, and get a programmable one so that your HVAC is off during the day – set it 8-10 degrees cooler or warmer while you are away. Get a Home Energy Audit and act on it. Make sure your house is well insulated. Install an on-demand tankless water heater.
3. Conserve Electricity. Install photovoltaic solar collectors. Turn off lights in rooms that are not in use. Change out you light bulbs to LED’s. Use recyclable batteries. Install power strips for computers, and when not in use, unplug chargers, coffee makers, and other appliances that have LED lights on all the time. Simply turning off your television, stereo, or DVD player when you are not using them can save thousands of pounds of CO2 a year.
4. Buy local. This not only bolsters the local economy, it also minimizes the environmental effect of transporting goods long distances.
5. Reduce food waste. Have a food plan. Eat your leftovers and compost food scraps. $218 billion in food is wasted in the U.S. annually, and food waste accounts for 21-percent of landfill volume.
6. Minimize single-use plastics. Don’t use plastic water bottles. Use a reusable water bottle. Don’t accept plastic bags at stores – bring your own reusable bags. Use china rather than plastic plates and utensils.
7. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Especially paper, aluminum and cardboard. You can save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per year by recycling just half of your household waste.
8. Use alternative forms of transportation. Carpool one day a week. Plan ahead to combine several trips into one. Walk, bike, carpool or take mass transit. You’ll save one pound of carbon dioxide for every mile you don’t drive. When it’s time to buy a new car, buy either a more energy efficient model, a hybrid, or an electric car.
9. Telecommute whenever you can. The International Air Transport Association says planes were the source of 2 percent of man-made carbondioxide emissions last year. Advancements in telecommuting like Go-to-Meeting, Zoom and Facetime make it possible to meet face-to-face virtually in lieu of jumping on a plane.
10. Plant a native tree! Through the natural process of photosynthesis, trees absorb CO2 and other pollutant particulates, then store the carbon and emit pure oxygen. On the Indonesian island of Borneo, The Nature Conservancy is working with partners to address deforestation in the Berau district. This effort alone has the potential to reduce carbon pollution by 1.5 million tons each year—the equivalent of removing 300,000 cars from the roads. Plant trees in your own yard, and in your neighborhood. Well-shaded streets can also be up to 6–10° F cooler than those without street trees, reducing the heat-island effect and reducing energy needs. Shaded parking lots keep automobiles cooler, reducing emissions from fuel tanks and engines, and helping reduce the heat-island effect in communities.
Perhaps the most important thing that we all can do, on a civic level, is to keep our politicians from letting climate change become a partisan issue and vote only for representatives that have the courage to act based on the severity of the issue. As a new year approaches, let’s think not only about the year ahead, but about the longer view. “We have the means to limit climate change,” says Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC. “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change.”
Featured image vis PBS/Nova.