Eco-nomics: What to do for Earth Day? Be a climate hero

Add the good you do as an individual to what others are doing and you will make a difference.

By Paul Roberts / For The Herald

Monday, April 22, is Earth Day, a time to raise awareness of the need to protect the Earth and preserve its natural resources. Earth Day takes on special significance and urgency as human-caused climate change threatens our existence and all life on the planet.

Earth Day 2024 finds global temperatures have increased to 1.4 degrees Celsius, just below the 1.5 degree threshold set in the Paris agreement. Carbon dioxide is at a record level (425 ppm) and rising, along with all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions including methane and nitrous oxide. Human activity related to energy, transportation and agriculture sectors are primary drivers generating increases in GHGs.

The past ten years have been the warmest on record globally. Increasing global warming is destabilizing the atmosphere, oceans and weather contributing to heat, drought, fires, diminishing food supply, economic disruption and civil unrest. In her book “Saving Us” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe points out: “Climate change is supersizing many of our weather events making them stronger, longer and more damaging.”

Until we reduce GHG emissions, the world will keep warming.

Our current business as usual trajectory will exceed the Paris agreement limits of 1.5 to 2 degrees by the end of this decade and will warm the planet to 3 degrees or more by 2100. The negative impacts of such warming are hard to overstate. Some areas of the world will be uninhabitable and the global economy will be severely disrupted.

Hayhoe argues: “our brain is hardwired to move forward toward reward but to freeze in response to fear and anxiety. …” But she also says there are solutions within our reach to build a zero-emission economy and a stable, livable society. We must provide a positive incentive to act, not just an apocalypse to avoid. It is not too late to take action and reverse course, but we have to be willing to act based on love, hope and fighting for a better world for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.

We are not helpless or powerless. The time to take action is now, but transformational change is required and time is running out to avoid irreversible tipping points. This is about what you can do to effect positive change. Everything suggested here is within your power to act.

First, on a big picture scale, recognize that a future based on a zero-emission economy is possible. In fact, it is the only future we have. Actions we can take include talking about climate change to our family, friends and business associates. Share what the science is clearly telling us. When you talk about it, you show a commitment to a different and better future.

Hayhoe says: “Don’t be afraid of sounding like a broken record. We learn things from hearing them, again and again.”

Second, vote as if your kids’ future depends on it. It does. We need leaders at all levels of government — federal, state and local — who are committed to a zero-emission economy and combating climate change. No exceptions. There are many policy choices at all levels of government that can help combat climate change and adapt to its impacts. In fact, energy, transportation and agriculture significantly contribute to GHG emissions and all originate in local communities.

In Washington state’s Nov. 5 general election Initiative 2117 would repeal the state’s Climate Commitment Act. Vote “No” to keep it. Scientists and economists overwhelmingly support pricing carbon to combat climate change. The Climate Commitment Act does that and this year the Legislature improved it, linking the state’s carbon auctions with other carbon markets.

Third, vote with your wallet. As a consumer, your choices can help create markets for sustainable products while reducing pollution and GHG emissions.

Fourth, reduce your carbon footprint and support sustainable activities. Here is a partial list to prompt your thinking:

• Eat less meat and dairy.

• Reduce flying and unnecessary travel.

• Use public transportation systems as an alternative to driving a gas-powered vehicle.

• Reduce your home energy use.

• Protect green spaces, particularly wetlands and trees.

• Invest in businesses that promote sustainability.

• Reduce consumption and waste.

• Plant a garden and/or promote local food production.

• Write your leaders expressing your support for combating climate change and supporting sustainability.

• Engage with others in your community to support local policies such as tree planting, shading, non-motorized and public transportation.

• Finally, educate yourself on the current state of the climate crisis and what you can do. Three great places to start are:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: www.ipcc.ch/;

The University of Washington Climate Impacts Group: cig.uw.edu/; and

The NOAA Climate Change website: science.nasa.gov/climate-change/.

St. Augustine is reported to have said: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” Hope is a verb. It is something we do rather than something we have. It moves us in a direction. Writer Rebecca Solnit said: “Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency.” Well, we are in an emergency. Armed with hope, the time to act is now.

Paul Roberts is retired and lives in Everett. His career spans over five decades in infrastructure, economics and environmental policy including advising Washington cities on climate change and past Chair of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Board of Directors.

Eco-nomics

“Eco-nomics” is a series of articles exploring issues at the intersection of climate change and economics. Climate change (global warming) is caused by greenhouse gas emissions — carbon dioxide and methane chiefly — generated by human activities, primarily burning fossil fuels and agricultural practices. Global warming poses an existential threat to the planet. Successfully responding to this threat requires urgent actions — clear plans and actionable strategies — to rapidly reduce GHG emissions and adapt to climate-influenced events.

The Eco-nomics series, to be published every other week in The Herald, is focusing on mitigation and adaptation strategies viewed through the twin perspectives of science and economics. Find links to the series thus far at tinyurl.com/HeraldEco-nomics.

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