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Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions

Slowing and then reversing climate change is a key challenge of our times. And time is a'wasting. So let's get to it. 

Intro 

To get started, here are the main causes of climate change by sector (transportation, energy production, etc.).

Getting personal, this report notes that on average any item we purchase has over six times its weight in carbon emissions behind it.

What are the nations of the world up to? Here’s a summary of the COP 28 meetings in Dubai from Project Drawdown.

 

Trendlines – wrong way on a one-way street

While the world is making some progress in the use of finding alternative sources of energy, the consumption/emissions side of the equation continues in the wrong direction.

  • It's official - 2023 was the warmest on record for our planet and for the first time since the industrial revolution began, Earth reached the 1.5 degrees C mark (2.7 degrees F) - which had been set as the boundary for global temperature. As a whole, the world emitted 1.1 percent more carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2023 than 2022, setting a new “world record” for emissions. The Paris Agreement goal is to reduce CO2 emissions by 45 percent by 2030, getting to zero by 2050. 50 percent of global electricity may come from renewable sources by 2050 - up from 30 percent today - but it needs to be much higher than this to keep warming under the goal of 1.5 C.  

  • Global energy use and related CO2 emissions is predicted to continue to increase over the coming decades, outpacing efficiencies and renewables.

  • The atmosphere is now just over 419 ppm of CO2 (parts per million), up 50 percent from 280 ppm – the pre-industrial baseline. Keep in mind that the last Ice Age happened at 180 ppm – and now we are far beyond that on the other side of the equation.

  • The USA is currently producing more oil than any country in history – 13.3 million bpd (barrels per day,) up from 7 million bpd a decade ago, while consuming 20 million bpd, half of which powers motor vehicles (we drive over 3 trillion miles annually).

  • The world is losing about 10 million hectares (24.7 m acres) of forests yearly, which contributes one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Food production is responsible for around 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and this will only rise as more of the world’s growing population adopts a meat-rich diet.

 

Impacts – a sampling

  • Diseases such as dengue (called "break bone disease" for the pain it causes) are on the rise globally as mosquitoes carrying them are expanding their range, and soon will be reaching US shores. 

  • In the past 50 years, there has been a 172 percent increase in forest areas burned in California: heat + drought + bark beetles = fire.

  • Proximity to forest fire smoke is the same as smoking seven cigarettes a day.

  • Climate change-charged weather = rise in insurance rates.

  • One-fifth of freshwater fish species are threatened by global warming.

  • Fish and shellfish such as lobster and sea bass have migrated northward over 100 miles in the past 60 years as the oceans warm (here are impacts of climate change on food production in general).

  • We’ve seen fire and we’ve seen rain, but not nearly as much snow.

  • The Amazon rainforest is lurching toward a tipping point due to climate impacts.

  • This year, Antarctic sea ice was the lowest on record, with the continent now losing some 150 billion tons of meltwater annually.

  • Worst case scenario: runaway warming.

 

Lamentation

A scientist deals with climate grief.

 

Solutions

We need to change the way we do things, such as:

  • consumption (the stuff we buy is responsible for 60-70 percent of all greenhouse gases)

  • travel (move away from personal transport and toward public transit, biking and working from home) (NCP has created Greenways and pushed for bike lanes in our communities – and bicycles are our main around town transport)

  • the foods we eat, by shifting from meat and dairy to plant-based (going vegan reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent)

  • reducing food waste (30-40 percent of US food ends up in landfills, creating 170 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually) (NCP is reclaiming food  in Vermont)

  • support girls’ education around the world = smaller families (less eco impact)  and more political involvement (more social impact) (NCP is doing this)

  • restore and protect forests (NCP is doing this too)

  • growing food via agroforestry and other innovative, climate-friendly methods (NCP is doing this too)

  • social impact - how are you affecting/influencing others/institutions via your "carbon shadow"?

  • shift our spiritual reorientation away from a culture of consumption and conformity, toward a way of living seeking justice for those unfairly affected by climate change – both people and other living things – and including those who come after us, the innocent descendants who deserve a habitable, climate-friendly world

  • push for societal / governmental changes to reduce harmful emissions from fracking and other processes, while promoting wind and sun as sources of energy (this women-led group has a pretty good list of the actions we need to take)

 

In short, we need a bottom-up movement – changing ourselves inwardly and outwardly, and then working to educate, inspire and promote change in those around us, including the ones at the top.

 

Unlike other climate crises in earth’s history, this one is of our own making – and thus can be of our own fixing. Let’s get to it!

More

 

And, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we need to act sooner and more drastically than previously thought —or face much more severe consequences. 

What’s at stake? Only food supplies around the globe, everyday life in the USA, our efforts to combat global poverty, lower production of coffee farms in Tanzania and  cherry orchards in California, the survival of plants and animals, fish relocating to cooler waters in the North Atlantic,  moose mortality in the Lower 48, sea levels as glaciers melt, the future of the earth’s  polar regions—and did we mention war, famine and pestilence.

 

Beginning with YOU

 

Our main global warming-causing activities are cars, consumption, housing and diet. So let's get started!

Quick and (relatively) easy immediate impacts:

  • For starters, calculate your CO2 footprint—adult and youth/young adult worksheets

  • Personal vehicle use accounts for about 5-7 tons of CO2 per year per person: see car driving as a last resort (beware of simple things like trips to the grocery store-70 percent of the carbon footprint of a food item can accrue as you drive the car to purchase it, rather than in its production or shipping). Buying an electric car that can be powered by green energy produces 85 percent less CO2 than a gas-powered car.

  • Food choices have a super-sized climate impact: Move away from a meat-based diet and save a ton of CO2 per year; eat seasonal & local & organic foods-better yet, grow at least some of your own; waste not, warm not—food waste is a leading cause of climate change. "Green" beef? Green-washing, according to this article.

  • Get comfortable with hotter and cooler temps in the home, caulk windows, unplug unused appliances, shorten the shower, hang up clothes to dry-all this helps reduce the 7.4 tons of CO2 per household per year in the USA just for electricity (EPA). Here's an interesting piece on preparing for climate change as a homeowner. 

  • Air-conditioned cars and homes create half a billion tons of CO2 in the US every year from fossil fuels and refrigerants, or about one-eighth of our total emissions. And it won't save us. Of course, these emissions will only serve to make it warmer...necessitating more AC...so what can you do to naturally be cool? Options: close off unused rooms and the AC vents in them; explore the cooling potential of earth tubes; draw cooler nighttime air into the house; and be sure sunny windows and your lawn and home are shaded in summer.

  • Use the sign in front of your building to promote climate friendly actions; here are some ideas.

  • Planting 20 square meters (10 trees) in the tropics through NCP partners can offset your driving-related carbon emissions for a year—help NCP save  rainforest and plant trees  in Burma, the DR Congo, the Ecuadorian Amazon and South Sudan. 

  • Reduce consumption: for instance-one t-shirt made of non-organic cotton can be responsible for 8-12 pounds of CO2 (check out Skunkfunk for a better option); US'ers purchase about $15 billion worth of bottled water every year-that's about 30 gallons or 300 12 oz. bottles per person (GAO)-making, shipping, storing, and disposing of them (40 million a day are thrown in the trash!) requires 50 million barrels of oil per year (Pacific Institute), creating 21 million tons of CO2 (2000 times as much as a similar amount of water from your faucet)

  • Visit climate-impacted or -vulnerable areas of the world like the Arctic or Amazon or East Africa on an NCP Learning Tour -come back with stories that will inspire and challenge others

  • Radical recycling-every pound recycled saves about a pound of CO2

 

Loads of facts and figures on climate change—and a lesson plan for educating others—on our Time's a'wastin' page

Need inspiration and information? Check out these books on NCP's Reading List: Climate Wars, The Flooded Earth and Diet for a Hot Planet; take a look at this weather-and-climate change blog and a website that focuses on the science of climate change.

Going Public

Just changing ourselves is not going to put the brakes on climate change-we have to get the message to others.

Engage others by being visible and vocal:

  • Tell your friends why you're not having meat at dinner; get a bike and ride it to "regular" appointments like meetings or work or church-or ( gasp ) walk if it's under a mile or two; invite the neighbors to visit your backyard garden to let them see what can be done!

  • Push your employer or church or school to set goals for lowering their carbon output; in the short term, encourage less paper consumption (3 pounds CO2 for every pound of paper used),changing light bulbs (one compact florescent bulb saves 500 pounds CO2), encouraging car-pooling, cutting out bottled water and junk-food machines

  • Plan an Un-doing Global Warming workshop for your community

  • Organize climate change awareness events by contacting 350.org or inviting in a speaker from NCP

  • Challenge your group to buy and protect rainforest. Tropical forests can store up to seven tons of carbon per acre—and you protect biodiversity at the same time!

  • Alert your community to the fact that the world's poorest people in South Asia, Africa, Latin America and the island nations-who are not causing climate change-will feel the impacts of a warming world first and worst, making this a matter of justice as well as environmentalism.

The bar is set so low-so few people doing anything significant-that even small deeds of noncarbonity will stand out!

 

Change the System

 

We can't do both—have an ever-growing economy AND have a livable planet. If our first priority is passing on a livable planet to future generations, we have to begin living within our ecological limits as a society, even if it means downsizing our appetites for more and newer and bigger. Therefore...

...we need deep and far-reaching changes in the way our society and economy are arranged. Most enviro groups choose to not to address this. NCP thinks we must—and that corralling climate change won't happen unless we do. Here are some starting points:

  • If the Emperor has no clothes—shout it out! For instance: Despite billions in government subsidies, and promises of being "green fuels",  biofuels do nothing to stem climate change while increasing air pollution, taking food away from people, reducing our gas mileage, and supporting already-wealthy large farmers.

  • Agriculture has passed deforestation as a leading contributor to climate change. Moving away from a meat-centered diet and reining in food waste are two key components of a climate-friendly diet. Sooo, challenge the carnivore culture and our wanton wastefulness wherever you can!

  • Disempower the ones ravaging the planet. Invest your money in companies or accounts that don't further climate change. (A recent report on Socially Responsible Investments showed that the vast majority had money invested in Big Oil!) Natural Investments is one of the companies that offers earth-friendly investment portfolios.

  • Work locally to change the way things are done to make doing the right thing easier—for instance, advocating for bike lanes on nearby roads, changing zoning to allow for small livestock or clotheslines, reinstating bottle bills to bolster recycling rates—or better, pushing for returnable/reusable bottles.

  • Food and cosmetic producers have turned to palm oil as a cheap and plentiful ingredient in a wide array of products; this has led to cutting down millions of acres of tropical forests to grow the trees that produce it. This in turn not only drastically impacts habitat for orangutans, Asiatic elephants and other species, but puts millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere as those forests are cut and burned. Yet, there is an argument that other oils are more impactful than palm, as they require more land to produce the same amount. Two objections: these other oils don't have to be grown in the tropics, sparing these vital ecosystems, and cutting down on processed foods would drastically cut down on our consumption of palm oil, as that's where oils like this are found (and of course would be healthier for us anyway).

  • Another huge issue is that in signing Free Trade agreements, the US government gave up its right to limit the importation of products (like palm oil) that contribute to climate change and other eco-damage.

  • Join or organize a local group like those in Warrensburg and Denver

  • Read This Changes Everything: Capitalism and the ClimateOverheated: The Human Cost of Climate ChangeProsperity Without Growth, or State of the World: Transforming Cultures to learn about the disconnect between the capitalistic economic system and a sustainable and civilized future.

  •  This study says we need a combination of deep cuts in emissions, much-improved energy efficiency and removing carbon from the atmosphere (by reforestation, for instance) if we want to have only a 1.5 C rise in global temperatures by 2100

More background on climate change

 

Moose populations in the Lower 48 States are declining by 8-10-12 percent per year, as hoards of parasitic ticks (over-populating during warmer winters) suck the life out of these behemoths   D. Radcliff photo

See for yourself what's at stake—take an NCP Learning Tour to the Amazon and Arctic

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Exit Glacier in Seward, AK is in retreat, as are glaciers around the world. Here's where it ended in 1926, today it's directly above the people in white ponchos. 

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People in rural Malawi are often down to one meal a day as climate-induced floods and droughts have laid waste to their farms. NCP's Tom Benevento has been collaborating with them to implement agro-forestry to produce more food and to sequester greenhouse gases at the same time.

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NCP supports three nurseries in South Sudan. The 75,000 trees they will produce and distribute this year makes NCP the leading reforestation agency in this region.

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Cars (transportation), cows (diet), consumption (making and shipping al our stuff), corruption (money in politics), convenience (our unwillingness to change our ways) - all part of the changes we need to make to change climate change. 

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Educating girls is a key not only for their own future, but also for their environment, as the more schooling a girl has, the fewer children she will have, and the more active she will be in things like environmental advocacy. NCP's Give a Girl a Chance program keeps girls in school!

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