Both Al Gore and polar bears warned you. After slide shows and severe hurricanes, it seems that even the White House is willing to admit that the climate is changing. Shawn Wozniak lays out five relatively simple things you can do to help save our great big blue world.
The debate on global warming has been something I’ve heard about most of my life. Maybe it was growing up near Seattle, but it entered my consciousness at an early age. As a child, though, it didn’t seem like a big deal, and the 10 hottest years in the last 15 years hadn’t actually passed. Penguins still had their homes mostly intact, and polar bears weren’t drowning and resorting to cannibalism. The bigger (but related) worry at the time was the hole in the ozone layer, and the efforts to ban chlorofluorocarbons. Since then, we’ve seen a semantic shift, with it being called ‘climate change’ instead of ‘global warming.’ Neither is wrong, as places around the world (a globe is a representation of the world, in case you hadn’t noticed) are experiencing changes in their climates, while as a whole, Earth’s temperature is rising. For the purposes of this column, I’ll stick with ‘global warming,’ as I feel the other castrates the urgency of our predicament.
Al Gore released An Inconvenient Truth on book and in theatres in the summer of 2006. In case you missed it there, you can pick it up on Netflix or buy a copy. If you’re a teacher, you can probably still score a free copy. The documentary consists of Gore interpolating a stop on his global warming lecture tour and some vignettes explaining his political career and how he came to care so much about this issue in particular. He points the finger at us (since the US is the largest consumer of energy in the world), at corporations (Exxon-Mobil has been funding bunk-science on global warming for years), the media (for second-guessing science), and the government (for sitting on their hands). The documentary was at least partially responsible for the death of the global warming debate (only to be subsequently reframed as a debate regarding just how much humans contribute to it and how much damage has been done). Since then, we’ve seen a lot of dialogue and action around it. All levels of decision-makers are becoming involved, from citizens to governments around the world. And, I’d even credit him for bringing that semantic shift back to ‘global warming’ from the past few years of ‘climate change’ dominating the lexicon.
Individual citizens have been heeding the call to offset their carbon emissions through various activities. Not content to sacrifice energy-intensive habits, many have invested in wind power, biomass, and solar projects elsewhere. Hybrid cars have become a controversial choice for new car buyers, delivering higher gas mileage for a higher cost, and long-term savings on fuel costs, while throwing into question the disposal of hybrid car batteries in the future. Others have been buying trees to plant in their communities, or adopting plots of rainforest, all in the hopes of putting into practice their biology lessons on photosynthesis. Being uncritical of this action has proven to be errant, as a recent study shows that planting trees in the North Hemisphere has a negligible or even negative effect, and it’s preserving and restoring tropical rainforests that’ll properly capture CO2. What doesn’t cross many people’s minds is to reduce consumption of energy by turning off unused computers and appliances,
Corporations have slowly been giving credence to the warnings. The UK’s Tesco has promised to contribute £500 million toward offsetting their emissions, despite caring little for their social impacts. Exxon-Mobil has actually slashed funding to Competitive Enterprise Institute. Still, only 18% of corporations indicate they are worried about global warming. Others are trying to meet the demands of a growing number of citizens demanding energy efficiency.
The US government, after denying global warming’s existence for the last 6 years, and pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol (which would have at least done something toward mitigating the effects), President Bush hinted at solutions in his recent State of the Union address, throwing in the phrase ‘climate change’ once and then scooting right on into long sections on the War on Terror and Iraq. His administration, though, is still censoring real science (use any search engine to find out how many times and to which groups within the government to which they’ve done this) and abdicating all responsibility to provide for the welfare of its citizens with regard to global warming.
Across the pond, those folks we beat in one war and who’ve allied with us on this insane war to change the minds, hearts, freedoms, or lives of terrorists everywhere are much smarter than we Yanks and Rebels are. Prince Charles is going to offset emissions from his compulsory travels and cancel a ski trip. Tony Blair has been catching a lot of flack and pressure over his hedging around the issue of late after giving it good lip service around while chair of the G8 summit in 2005. China’s been looking into growing its economy sustainably after watching its energy costs rising as its become the #2 importer of oil (mind you, they’re still considered a developing country).
So you’ve got the rundown on the last 6-8 months’ worth of impacts of Al Gore’s documentary and political advocacy. What good is that to you? The point of this column is to say that individually, we could all be doing more. Throw “energy efficiency” into a search engine and you’ll find scores of ways to cut your carbon imprint and lower your energy bills. Throw “alternative energy” and you’ll probably find ways to get tax credits for installing solar panels on your home (through the Department of Energy’s Million Roofs initiative). Type “carbon offsets” and you’ll find ways to invest in as much clean alternative energy as you produce in carbon each year. Want a short list of things to do? Here’s my short list.
- Drive less. Simple. When you think about driving, combine your errands. If you’re only going to one place that day, think about whether you can do it on the way to or on the way home from work. Take alternate transportation – bike, bus, or walk if it’s under 3 miles. Obesity rates are rising in this country, so, statistically speaking, you could stand to walk 3 miles. Slow the Hell down. If you’re driving faster than 55mph in most cars, you’re losing fuel efficiency. You’re well within your rights to drive that fast/slow in the right (slow) lane of a highway – bring music, enjoy it, and practice your singing voice. If you’re in a city, obey the speed limit and don’t accelerate/decelerate too quickly. And if you have a flex fuel car (check your fuel door to see if it says you can use ethanol), fill up with E85 if you’ve a local pump, or talk to your service station about installing one (many states have programs for this).
- Offset your emissions. If you’re flying, you’re using a lot of fuel. That needn’t be a problem, as Expedia has partnered with TerraPass to create a tiered package (based on miles traveled) that will offset the emissions for your flight. If you buy your plane tickets elsewhere, look into such programs – there are many carbon calculators on the internet.
- Preserve that aforementioned needed rainforest – the most effective example I’ve seen of this is the Nature Conservancy’s Adopt-an-Acre program. For $50, you adopt 1 acre of the Rift Valley Rainforest in east Africa. Other sites will cost you more. If you’re looking into funding efforts to restore rainforests, give to the Green Belt Movement. Wangari Maathai received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to give women in Kenya jobs planting trees – the first environmentalist to win that prize. This will do two things – give women in Africa jobs and replenish forests.
- Eat local food. Frequent food co-ops and farmers’ markets that sell local (and often organic) produce and meats. Eating locally cuts down on food miles – the average meal travels 1300 miles from farm to plate. Your food will be fresher, and you’ll find out about more vegetables than you could even imagine – anybody know what a kohlrabi is? Kale?
- Lastly, get politically involved. Sign up for a mailing list or two that will send you email updates on action alerts you can send out. They’re as simple as filling out your name and address, and have been effective in bringing about political change and are non-intrusive to daily life. If you want to get really involved, start a community group to press local officials to respond to global warming through the use of energy efficient technologies and alternative fuels. Diesel is a leading cause of asthma in children, according to a California study.
I don’t think we can wait 2 years for a new US president who might actually do something. Government is wholly slow to respond to most anything because of red tape – look at the response to Hurricane Katrina. It’s going to take concerned citizens getting involved, getting more people involved, and making the changes in their (our) lives to respond to the urgency of this issue.