Declaration of Climate Emergency
“Climate change” is out in 2020, according to the Washington Post, and “climate crisis” is in.
That’s a welcome recognition of the severity and urgency of the threat from global heating. Out with the squishy, unthreatening terminology. In with words that help us grasp our reality and help us do something about it.
Maybe it also means that the Green New Deal will be in too?
And that can’t happen unless Trump is out. So electing a Democrat as president in November should be at the top of anybody’s 2020 climate action agenda.
After that, Americans can get started on the coordinated federal government action needed to address the scale of the climate crisis. Meanwhile, other countries along with NGOs and industry in the US can ramp up their action in key areas from energy to consumer behavior.
It’s about More than Just Carbon
Assuming you already know about the greenhouse effect, there’s one aspect of climate science that most discussions of greenhouse gas pollution skip. It’s not just carbon dioxide and methane that warm the climate. It’s also nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Who knew?
Fortunately, you can keep things simple by focusing on just the top three, which have the most impact:
- Carbon dioxide, the main contributor, released mostly through burning fossil fuels, sticks around in the atmosphere up to 200 years
- Methane, which is at least 30 times worse than CO2, but dissipates more quickly, in as few as 10 years
- Nitrous oxide, released by chemical fertilizers and burning fossil fuels, has a global warming potential 310 times that of carbon dioxide with an atmospheric lifetime of 110 years
Who cares? Well, climate solutions can’t just focus on CO2, which everybody talks about all the time, or even methane, which you hear about once in a while, especially as it escapes from fracking operations. We should worry about NOX too, which means paying more attention to food and farming.
Six Key Action Areas
Overall, solutions to reduce greenhouse gases need to do more than just stop burning fossil fuels. To simplify things, a group of 11,000 scientists from more than 150 countries recently outlined six main solutions to slow and ultimately reverse climate heating, as this video explains.
- Replace fossil fuels with renewables like solar and wind
- Reduce climate pollutants, especially the two worst ones, methane and carbon dioxide
- Protect and restore ecosystems, largely by stopping clearing of land in the Amazon and other major forests and then starting to replant trees
- Cut meat consumption
- Shift economic goals from growing GDP to improving human health and wellbeing
- Slow and stop population growth
Amidst the confusing array of eco-friendly actions we all have heard about, these broad areas of action help us clump and then prioritize climate solutions.
They also help us remember that it’s not just about replacing fracking with solar panels so that we can keep up today’s level of consumption and growth. Instead, it’s about slowing down and cutting back all over the place.
“The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle,” the scientists’ statement, put out in November 2019, said.
The Bad News and the Good News
Fortunately, even while the scientists warned that most countries climate plans were “totally inadequate,” the scientists still found encouraging news.
The bad news is that world population and polluting activities like meat production and air travel are still going up. But good news is that the world fertility rate (births per woman) are down while anti-polluting activities like carbon pricing and divestment from fossil fuel projects are both up.
For my part, reminding myself that lots of good things are happening will help give me hope to promote climate solutions in the six areas the scientists outline.
“The best news is that there’s still time for people, policymakers and the business community to make the necessary changes to ensure that future generations can enjoy living on planet Earth, our only home,” said Dr. Thomas Newsome from the University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences.
Since my interest is energy I’ll continue to focus on replacing fossil fuels with renewables. But I’ll try to think of that in context of ramping down the consumer lifestyle, which, when you think about it, was never that satisfying anyway.
Best wishes for your climate activism in 2020!
— Erik Curren, author of The Solar Patriot