The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

How to Save the World

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This week, President Obama announced new carbon regulations that should significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Whether the reduction is enough, or whether the policy will survive long enough to have much of an effect, are debatable points, but at least he is doing something. In honor of this brave attempt to get the nation even slightly off its rear, I offer ten things the rest of us can do to save the world.

Now, there are other lists around, notably 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save The Earth, a book that came out when I was a kid. It’s suggestions are indeed good ones, and the world would be a better place if more people did these simple things, such as choosing more efficient light-bulbs and not using as much hot water. But these simple things won’t save the Earth, not by themselves. The exhortation that “Going green doesn’t have to be a daunting task that means sweeping life changes. Simple things can make a difference” (taken from a website offering its list of suggestions) is wrong. We DO need to make sweeping life changes, but change need not be bad. In any case, most of us are going to have to make sweeping life changes anyway, and I’d rather get off fossil fuel than have to adapt to my house being flooded by the next monster hurricane.

But I’m all in favor of people not feeling daunted, and not knowing what to do about a serious problem is daunting. So, here is my list–these items are not easy, but they are doable, and they could really save the Earth.

1. Get off fossil fuel.

This one is basic. Fossil fuel use is the single biggest cause of global warming and it is a key factor in an economic system that causes a lot of other ills besides. Reducing fossil fuel use is good, but the problem won’t be solved until fossil fuel use stops entirely. Of course, as soon as you try this you’ll find you need fossil fuel for something, just because that’s the way society is. Fine; that’s where you start changing society. I’m serious. If you can’t get to the grocery store without a car, then build a renewable-fuel alternative or a bike path, or a more local grocery store, or something else. The place where you get stuck is the place you start working to get everybody around you un-stuck.

2. Vote for candidates who take global warming seriously. Do not vote for those who don’t.

Politicians do things that get them elected and that get them campaign funding so they can get elected. Politicians who do otherwise lose elections and we never hear from them again. We absolutely need government leadership on this issue and the only way we are going to get it is by demanding it. Loudly.

3. Do not eat factory farmed meat.

Factory farming, which is how the vast majority of meat gets to tables in the United States and many other countries, is incredibly carbon intensive for a whole host of reasons. How much better other forms of meat might be is not clear–the answer might depend on how you ask the question–but if you really want meat, locally grown, free-range is the way to go. If your restaurants and grocery stores do not carry any, ask for it. More producers will come through if there is a market.

4. Eat mostly local food.

There is a lot of oil involved in food transportation. If you can’t find enough local food, ask for it–and it the meantime, practice lifestyle changes by choosing foods that do grow in your area. Bananas and oranges shouldn’t be staple foods for people living in New England, for example. Instead, you get apples, peaches, plums, cherries, blueberries, and raspberries. Yum.

5. Stop using plastic.

Plastic is petroleum. Also it NEVER degrades, it just gets smaller and smaller until you can’t avoid it anymore. Recycled plastic is less bad provided it is closed-loop recycling, where the thing is recycled into the same thing it was before. Again, where you get stuck is where you can get busy.

6. Educate yourself and others about global warming.

When a climate skeptic asks you a basic question, it is REALLY nice to have an answer.

7. Make friends with other people who are also committed to making changes.

It is SO much easier to keep fighting for something if the people around you believe it is worth fighting for. Support each other.

8. If you drink coffee, choose shade-grown and fair trade ONLY.

Coffee grows in rainforested areas. Shade-grown means the coffee is planted under the trees instead of cutting the trees down. Fair trade means the people get paid well enough that they don’t need to moonlight as loggers or poachers in order to feed their kids. Rainforests are MAJOR carbon-storage areas. We need to keep them.

9. When you meet people who object to environmentalism, ask “why” with an open mind.

Some people have challenges you know nothing about which might lead them to make anti-environmental choices or to distrust what environmentalists tell them. If you find out what these challenges are, maybe you can help.

10. Enjoy your life.

If you spend all your time and energy fighting you will burn out and quit. Don’t do that: we need you.

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Author: Caroline Ailanthus

I am a creative science writer. That is, most of my writing is creative rather than technical, but my topic is usually science. I enjoy explaining things and exploring ideas. I have one published novel and another on the way. I have a master's degree in Conservation Biology and I work full-time as a writer.

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