Some wonderful readers of the Cup of Jo have asked for a climate change series, and we’d love to kick off the conversation and hear your thoughts. (We’ll have a lot of posts coming up as well.) First off, this is the most important thing you can do …
Climate change is one of the largest threats to the global economy, national security, and, you know, the existence of humankind. It’s such a daunting topic that many of us (most of us?) often feel too overwhelmed by information or frozen with fear to talk about it — or perhaps we just don’t know what to say, so we say nothing at all.
Turns out, that’s a big part of the problem, according to climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, who directs the Texas Tech University Climate Science Center. “The most important thing any single one of us can do to fight climate change is talk about it,” she told me on the phone. Because, right now, the most urgent threat to our climate is the lack of understanding around it and our role in its future.
So, what is happening and what do we do? And does any of it help or are we just doomed? On that last one at least, the answer is simple: No. While the situation is dire, hope is certainly not lost.
With Hayhoe’s help, we’ve put together a list of helpful — and doable — things we can take on to make a difference.
What can we do? A lot!
Faced with this huge, complex problem, it’s so easy to throw up our hands. Do any of our personal changes matter at this point? YES. They’re necessary. Think of this as a three-tier process: Individual action, community action, and policy change.
- First, Individual Action
Start by figuring out the biggest piece of your carbon footprint. Hayhoe suggests using a detailed carbon calculator. “Each of us has a different lifestyle, so the biggest bang for our buck in reducing our carbon emissions could be very different from someone else’s.” It might be your daily commute, your heating system, your food choices, or where you shop. Hayhoe also recommends checking out Project Drawdown which ranks 100 different solutions to climate change — from composting to choosing LED lighting — based on how much carbon they would reduce. Once you find out what makes up your footprint, then consider the solutions that might help you reduce it.
- Second, Community Action
Many of our changes can then be implemented at the community level. Take the goal of reducing food waste — a huge factor, especially in this country. We throw out a third of the food we produce, according to Hayhoe. “If global food waste were a country,” she says, “it would be the heat-trapping gasses, after China and the U.S.
You can start by addressing your household food waste, and at the same time, look into your local groceries to see what their policy is on misshapen apples and other “unsellable” produce. “There are many nonprofits that collect these items and distribute them to low-income households which may not be able to afford fresh produce.” Is your supermarket working with one? If not, perhaps start researching organizations yourself. Email your local officials and put it on their radar, too. You don’t have to be an expert or a full-time activist. Just get the ball rolling.
To find organizations in your area, you might start by searching for nonprofits in your region on Charity Navigator or GreatNonprofits. You can also look at your local government website to see what initiatives your community is working on, and how you might get involved. And check out detailed on Project Drawdown, which offers great (and doable!) ideas for both individuals and communities.
Doing the work in your own home and your neighborhood, no matter how big or small does have a meaningful impact. “It’s a win-win,” says Hayhoe. “You’re reducing your carbon footprint and modeling that behavior to your larger community,” which then sets an example for the next town over, then the county, then the state. This is how an individual can come up to change policy
- Lastly, Policy
Individual and community action are necessary, but as Hayhoe points out, our personal choices can only control 30 to 40 percent of national emissions. We need major policy changes to address the large-scale damage done by corporations, industries, and government regulations (or lack thereof). “What we have to do is convince our elected leaders that this is important.” And, frankly, a lot of us don’t realize it is. Current data indicates 70 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening. Only 61 percent are worried about it. Only 41 percent think it will have any impact on them.
And right now, discuss climate change at all! As long as the public — especially the voting public — remains divided and under-informed, we won’t be able to put that necessary pressure on our leaders. If we want this to be the kind of issue that politicians pay attention to, it’s up to us to make it one
That’s why, Hayhoe affirms again, “the most important thing that any one individual can do,” says Hayhoe, “is about this. And I don’t mean talking about all the science-y details. I mean, talk about what we’ve done in our own lives, the way climate change affects us where we live, and how there are positive solutions.” Did you start composting? Tell your mom! Are you going meat-free during the week? Spread the word! These conversations, she says, should be had with everyone in our lives: friends, colleagues, neighbors, kids, parents. If we never talk about this issue, it will never be addressed. “And until we all understand and believe that there are solutions that can fix this, we’re not going to do them.”
Policy change has never taken place naturally, from the kindness of the heart of the government. Vocal, united people have driven civil rights, marriage equality, women’s reproductive rights, massive social and political reform. Once we make it personal, political change starts.