Taking Climate Change Personally

Written by mike

Following is an article I submitted to the Sierra Club Great Waters Group newsletter:

The Sierra Club has been fighting to preserve natural spaces and systems for a long time.  At first it was about creating and expanding parks and wilderness.  As we became aware of the toxic byproducts of our society, the Club fought water pollution and helped pass the Clean Air Act.  Energy efficiency was promoted both to reduce pollution and to preserve what it was becoming clear were limited fossil fuel resources.

Global climate change is a new kind of problem.  It is a pollution problem, but the main pollutant, carbon dioxide, is natural and non-toxic.  It is a wilderness and species protection problem, but the ecosystems affected span the globe from the poles the tropics, from oceans to mountain tops.  It is a resource depletion problem, but the resource in question is a livable global climate.

Unfortunately the scale and speed of changes needed to mitigate climate change are also new.  Over 80% of electricity generated in the US comes from burning fossil fuel.  Transportation is 95% fossil dependent.  Yet atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are already at 390 parts per million.  In the past 450ppm was considered a safe threshold, now many scientists believe 350ppm should be the goal.  To actually reach these goals would require us in this country to reduce our fossil fuel use by 80% in the next 20 to 40 years.

Right now, our government is not leading us down that path.  The recession slightly reduced US emissions in 2008 and 2009.  The Obama administration has taken many positive steps.  But we do not have a climate bill.  The best hope for government action in the next few years appears to be the EPA, which of course is under attack.

Where the government will not lead, the people must.

The beauty of this new kind of pollution is that we don’t have to chain ourselves to some factory to stop it.  No need to live in a tree to save this resource – it’s in our every breath.  More to the point, it’s in our every mile driven, therm burned, coal-powered kilowatt hour.  If you are a typical American and believe in personal responsibility, this is the issue for you.

I plan to reduce my direct carbon emissions 80% by 2020.  What might your goal be?  “Direct” emissions are easiest to think about.  These are the ones under our immediate control, basically just 4 things:

  • Home heating (mostly natural gas in Wisconsin).
  • Electricity, including air conditioning.
  • Car travel.
  • Air travel.

What does an 80% reduction in fossil fuel use look like in these items?

  • Heating: Start thinking about wood heat and geothermal.  This may be a hard one – that’s why we’re looking out 10, 20, or 40 years.
  • Electricity: This is the easy one.  If you have not already, sign up for 100% renewable power.  If you are a We Energies customer, the program is Energy for Tomorrow.  At the website greenneighbor.org you will find a coupon code that gets you a $5 Alterra gift card when you sign up for Energy for Tomorrow.  For an average consumer, the added cost to buy renewable power is about $5 per month.  Do it, forget it, feel the love from the future people of the world.
  • Car travel: In case you’re not in a position to get around on foot, bike, and bus, start to save for an electric car or plug-in hybrid.
  • Air travel: Another hard one, but it has to be said – air travel has to become a luxury and an exceptional event again.  The carbon cost of plane flights is very high.

It is harder to make big changes like these without leadership from the top and without a big popular movement.  But that does not mean we have to go it alone.  Community support can make change a lot easier and more fun.

“Green Neighbor – Wauwatosa” is the new name of a group that has emerged from the Great Waters Group, the Wauwatosa Energy Committee, and the Wauwatosa neighborhood associations.  We want to help people live green, including reducing their carbon footprint.  We are available to help form local study/ action groups.  These give neighbors a chance to get to know each other over a fixed number of sessions as they grapple with the lifestyle changes the earth is calling for us to make.

Climate change has become such a political football, and the debate can be draining.  (If you find yourself mired in it, a good resource is www.skepticalscience.com).  Once you get past that though, and realize that this is a very different, huge problem, to which the majority of Americans are major contributors, you might, possibly, feel a sense of … hope.  This is our problem.  And just as Sierra Club members have been doing since 1892, we can come together, supporting each others’ leadership in taking it on.

If you are interested in the work of “Green Neighbor – Wauwatosa”, send me an email or sign up at our new (work in progress!) web site, http://greenneighbor.org.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 February 2011 08:40