No time left for denial...here's how you can help save the planet
A couple of weeks ago, in my regular “Just a Theory” column, I went over the basic nuts and bolts of climate change. The purpose of this article is to, briefly, discuss the implications of that article and then talk about what each of us can do to help prevent the worst effects of climate change from actually happening.
First, a clarification: Some alarmists, when discussing the effects of climate change, will say that “The World” is in danger. This is 100 percent untrue. Phew!
No, it’s only our civilization that’s in danger. If humanity becomes extinct due to climate change, “The World” won’t even notice. The only real danger to “The World” is a passing black hole or if the sun unexpectedly goes nova. Otherwise, “The World” is in good shape for a couple billion more years. (And I’m sure that whatever comes after us will be very pleased that we built all these roads and sports bars for them to use.)
So, what sorts of things could climate change do to destroy our civilization? Well, stronger storms are the thing most folks think of, but those can’t really cause extinction-level events. However, climate change doesn’t just affect us, it also affects the creatures and environments that we’ve built our civilization on top of. This means damaged fisheries, desiccated farmlands and a seemingly endless supply of mosquitos and other disease-bearing creatures that love these warmer/wetter environments. Oh, and then there’s the matter of the projected 10-foot rise in sea levels that we can expect in the next hundred years or so.
Now, none of these things alone is all that bad. Well…except for the sea-level rise. And the collapse of our food supplies. And the critters that could start a pandemic…But, given that they are all happening at the same time—well, things are getting a little hairy.
What can we do? Actually, there’s a bunch of stuff we can do. Pretty much all of it revolves around reducing your “carbon footprint” in one way or another. (Your “carbon footprint” is how much carbon dioxide [CO2], you generate as you go about your life. Remember, CO2 is the main bad guy greenhouse gas that traps sunlight and makes things hotter.)
Change your environment
And by “environment” I mean “yard.” This is the one bit of nature that most of us have some small amount of control over, so, start there with these simple things:
Plant trees. Trees eat CO2, mix it with sunlight and excrete oxygen. There is nothing better you can do than plant a bunch of trees. (And, don’t cut down trees without a good reason.) If you want to plant trees native to the area, contact a local, professional horticulturist. They can help you reforest your lawn and turn it into a beautiful greenspace.
Mow your yard less often. Gas mowers are CO2-belching monsters, and the typical weekly lawn mowing ritual is pure Victorian-era vanity. So, switch to an every two- or three-week schedule. Heck, if you plant a bunch of trees in your yard, the shade should keep the grass under control for you. (Note that in Chattanooga, there is an ordinance that limits lawn vegetation to 10-inches high. That needs to change.)
Teach your kids to be good stewards of the environment. No matter what we do, if our kids haven’t been taught to take care of the planet, they’ll just make the same mistakes we have, with the same results down the road. Make planting trees a family event, something to pass along to the grandkids.
Reduce your energy usage
You’ve surely heard most of these before, but I’ve got a few new ones too:
Switch to LED bulbs. Fluorescents are passé and contain mercury and other dangerous gasses. LEDs are safer, more efficient, offer better light, and last longer. You’ll notice a difference in your electric bill almost immediately.
Unplug stuff you aren’t using. OK. Yes. This is a pain in the butt. But, you can now buy power strips that will stop giving power to any device that isn’t actually turned on. Get some.
Wash clothes in cold water exclusively. Try it for a month and see if you can tell a difference in your clothes. Use a clothesline for drying clothes. (If it was good enough for grandma...)
Get a smart thermostat. These are awesome. They learn your schedule and adjust your home’s temperature automatically. Plus you can control them from your smartphone while you’re out.
Telecommute. Hey, it never hurts to ask. Even if the boss says “No,” use it as an opportunity to discuss how to make your office more energy efficient.
Go solar. Solar panels are getting cheaper every day, and they pay for themselves in a few years.
Get an EPB energy audit for your home. Call them at (423) 648-1372 and set one up. It’s free, and the changes they recommend could save you thousands of dollars over the life of your home, and increase its value.
Pimp yo’ ride
Of course, by “pimp,” I mean, “properly maintain your car for maximum fuel efficiency.” That includes checking your tire pressure often and have regular maintenance performed on schedule.
When it’s time to get a new car, if you purchase a gas-powered vehicle, get the most fuel-efficient model you can. Buy American if you can. Pay more if you have to.
Better yet, purchase a hybrid or an all-electric car. There are already several Nissan Leafs and Teslas tooling around town. So, even though there aren’t many public charging stations here (yet), it’s obviously possible to get around the #CHA without running out of juice.
Of course, if you live downtown, or on the Northshore, you’ve got even better options:
Walk! Seriously. We could all use the exercise, y’know?
Ride a bike. BikeChattanooga.com has almost three dozen bike stands all over the city. Let’s use them.
USE CARTA. Yes, I’m yelling at you. The CARTA Electric Shuttle was one of the first in the nation. We should be proud of it. We should use it.
Given the current anti-science stance of an inexplicably large number of our politicians, it’s unlikely that we, the people, will get all that much help from the government in combating climate change. So, like it or not, we all have to take a political stand on this issue.
Speak up. First, learn who your local representatives are, and who your congressperson is. Then, go to county commission, city council and town hall meetings. These meetings almost always have a question/comments period at the end. Stand up and ask, “What are you doing to combat climate change here in Chattanooga?” If a local politician is on the radio, call in and put them on the spot.
Vote. Register to vote if you aren’t, then turn out to vote for candidates that pledge to act on climate change.
Run for office. That’s right. Run for office. You.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Most people in office now are part of the problem. The science has been settled on this, and the danger known, for decades. For the most part, they’ve chosen to ignore it. They’ve already decided what’s important to them—and it isn’t this.
Now, everyone loves a good protest, but the most effective way to make real change here in America is to actually get elected. Consider the results obtained by the Tea Party versus the Occupy Movement: Both started at about the same time, both staged massive protests, but only the Tea Party put candidates on the ballot. You might not agree with their goals, but you have to admit that they’ve made a difference in the direction of the country.
Heck, you don’t even have to win! Just by running you can influence the debate. Witness Bernie Sanders pulling Hillary Clinton to the “left,” while Donald Trump pulls the Republican Party…somewhere. Just the simple act of running for office and making climate change a part of the conversation will force whoever wins to take it more seriously.
Even if you can’t afford to run for county commission, city council or Congress, you can still step up and get involved at a lower level. Join the PTA and work to make your kid’s school more energy efficient. Start attending those neighborhood association meetings and get those lawn-mowing restrictions loosened up. Get that stupid “no clotheslines” rule changed. Better yet, convince them to use that “common area maintenance fund” to pay for some shade trees rather than pointlessly mowing the common area every week.
This isn’t going to be easy. But the stakes are pretty high (“end of human civilization” sort of thing, remember?), so it’s got to be done. And, at this point, there’s nobody left to do it but us.