Earth Matters: Let science drive climate action – not politics

The Island Now

By Patti Wood

I spoke recently with a friend who lives in Salem, Ore., the city that was in the news last week for recording the highest temperature in the country, topping out at 117 degrees. He moved to the Northwest several years ago to be near his daughter, but also because of the temperate climate, conducive to gardening and bike riding.

But with last year’s forest fires licking at the edge of nearby vegetation that filled his home with smoke and then this once-in-a-millennium, dangerously hot weather event keeping him trapped in an air-conditioned car or house, he like millions of our fellow Americans is feeling the effects of climate change in a very personal way.

If you follow the science, we are now in a critical place when it comes to climate change. NASA publishes periodic reports on what is happening around the globe. Here are some of their latest and compelling findings:

• Temperature – The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit, with most of the warming occurring in the past 40 years. The past seven years have been the warmest on record. Our oceans absorb much of this increased heat, with the top 328 feet warming to unprecedented levels.

• Melting Ice Sheets and Glaciers, Snow Cover – The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are shrinking by billions of tons per year, while glaciers everywhere around the world are retreating, from the Alps to the Andes. Recent satellite images of Arctic sea ice show its cover and thickness to be the lowest on record and snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased significantly over the past five decades and begins to melt earlier each year.

• Sea Level Rise – In the last century, seas have risen about 8 inches, but the rate in the last two decades is nearly double that of the last century and accelerating every year.

• Ocean Acidification – As the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, pH levels are dropping and seawater is becoming more acidic. Roughly 30 percent of man-made CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, creating a chemical imbalance in the water that both marine animals and plants cannot easily adapt to.

• Extreme Weather Events – We are witnessing more frequent and intense storms, flooding, heat waves, droughts and wildfires, all exacerbated by changes in predictable weather patterns.

Like so many people, I am frustrated that we are not taking more aggressive actions to curb this runaway train. I think that most Americans would be willing to make inconvenient personal sacrifices and adapt to news ways of living if it would ensure their children and grandchildren would not have their lives impacted over and over by destructive weather patterns, dangerous heat, food shortages, forced migration and the resulting political upheaval.

Maybe it’s the cost of climate change that will finally get to our elected officials. In 2020 alone, it cost the United States almost $100 billion to respond to heat waves, wildfires, droughts, flooding, superstorms and catastrophic infrastructure collapse tied to climate change.

But we don’t have to spend billions for real climate change correction. I like to think first about the obvious conservation. Why does it take a heat wave and the grim prospect of power outages to move our elected officials to ask people to turn their air conditioners up a few degrees, their heat down a few degrees or turn off the lights that stay on all night in unoccupied office buildings?

There are lots of other examples of simple things we can do to reduce our energy use. One of the best ideas I have heard is a “kill switch” located right by the door where you exit your house most frequently. It would be wired to all non-essential appliances and outlets and turn them off while you are away. When you come back home, you can just flip it back on. It just makes sense. But without officials promoting these simple energy-saving actions, it will be mostly the people who have already installed solar panels on their houses or drive electric cars who will even consider it.

The New York Times reported we have really upped our energy use with the plethora of digital devices we have acquired. There used to be a difference between “on” and “off.” But now, our devices and electronic appliances (the average family has 50) are always drawing power, even when they appear to be off. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that a quarter of all residential energy consumption is used for these devices, and that’s when they are in idle power mode! Can you imagine the amount of energy just one household could save? Multiply this by millions and you can see why a kill switch is a good idea.

While there are some individuals, organizations, local municipalities and even countries working overtime to come up with smart ideas to curb the more harmful effects of climate change, we can help make their efforts successful. So, choose an electric or hybrid vehicle and use a bike or walk for local errands, plant trees on your own property or get involved with tree planting initiatives, cut your home energy use, eat locally and organically and choose meatless meals more often, compost if you can, buy less “stuff,” especially items that have excessive packaging, divest from fossil fuels, invest in renewable energy sources, and avoid flying by choosing vacation destinations closer to home.

As the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide, America should be one of those countries working overtime on solutions. While we wait for our leaders to let science and not politics drive action on climate change, we all have the option to do something everyday to ensure a more sustainable future for this planet.

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