But What Do We Do Next?
A (far from complete) guide to Climate Change in honor of Earth Day.
Jackson Hole High School students protesting for the planet during the International Youth Climate Strike (3/15/19) influenced my two teenaged characters in Rare as Earth, the third in the Jake Goddard and Susan Brand eco-thriller series.
I will be doing two Zoom interviews this week relating to Earth Day. One with my publisher, Wise Ink and the second with high school students from New York State. As an author who writes cli-fi or climate fiction*, I'm often asked what climate change means, what actions our government is taking, and what we can be doing as individuals.
Let me begin by making it very clear that I am not a scientist, just a humble English major who is pretty much self-taught in the natural sciences. And I don't claim to be a climate expert, simply a writer who gets interested in a subject and researches it just enough (See FRW "The Goldilocks Rule of Research," 2/16/20) to be able to incorporate it into his novels.
Below is my attempt to pull together a simple guide to a very complex subject. I have relied heavily on an a recent article in the April issue of Rolling Stone, "Our Last Best Chance" by Jeff Goodell.
What is climate change? For the past 10,000 years humans have enjoyed a pretty much ideal climate. But currently the largest economies of the world are pumping roughly 34 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere yearly, which is approximately 10 times faster than has happened naturally even during past mass extinctions. Global temperatures have risen over 2 degrees Fahrenheit since mankind began burning coal, and the past seven years have been the warmest seven years on record.
Why is that a problem? We are pushing the planet into a climate for which there is no precedent in humans' time on earth. We are literally in uncharted waters (and they are rapidly warming causing great harm to oceans). If you look at the only graph that really matters—percentage of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere—you might wish your retirement fund could show the same steady growth. More CO2 equals more heat. Two related negative impacts are mega-droughts, such as I wrote about in The Straw That Broke,** and much longer fire seasons with more catastrophic fires, such as I wrote about in Some Say Fire.
What is the US government doing about it? For starters, in the 2020 election 70 percent of voters for Joe Biden said climate change was a top issue for them. So, the mandate is there and it would appear Joe, et al are poised to take action. As a lifelong environmentalist, I have always believed in the win-win. What is good for the environment way very well be good for business. That appears to be Biden's approach. His team is tying economic growth to climate justice. For the first time the climate challenge is the central element of economic policy.
How does that work? To quote John Podesta, a special adviser to President Obama who played a key role in negotiating the Paris Agreement. “Biden’s team is different. It is really the core of their economic strategy to make transformation of the energy systems the driver of innovation, growth, and job creation, justice and equity.” For example, a petroleum worker can be retrained to work in the clean energy sector. An entrepreneur can find a lucrative niche in sustainable business.
What does net zero mean? To avoid the worst climate impacts global greenhouse gas will need to drop by half by 2030 and reach net zero by mid-century. Net zero will be reached when human caused greenhouse gas emissions are balanced by removing greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Procedures for capture or removal are very much in the developmental stage right now. But the good news is the need is being taken seriously and the research and development is ongoing. One example, according to a recent AP article (Jackson Hole Daily, 4/20/21), is a contest to develop products from emissions produced by power plants. The prize money was split between two teams that developed concrete that traps carbon dioxide keeping it out of the atmosphere. This is huge because, "Production of cement, concrete's key ingredient, accounts for 7% of global emissions of the greenhouse gas ..."
Is there reason for hope? Yes. Cost of wind and solar has plummeted. Fossil fuel dinosaurs such as coal are on the brink of extinction. Big business and large economies such as China are getting on board. But time is definitely running out.
What can we do as individuals? If an electric car or even a hybrid is not in your immediate future, how about considering heating your home with a heat pump. That is thought to be the second most significant change homeowners can make to reduce their carbon footprint. We can also join initiatives like the Climate Reality Project (www.climaterealityproject.org), a non-profit focused on climate change. CRP has a fundraiser going on right now tied to Earth Day. We can fly less and buy carbon offsets when we do fly. We can eat less red meat. Both of these industries contribute greatly to carbon emissions. You can ask your power company to do an energy assessment of your home. They are usually free. And finally we can conserve, conserve, conserve.
And the best thing we can do. Work to keep Biden in office and majorities which support his agenda in the senate and house. That is at least until the opposition finally wakes up and recognizes the pressing need to take climate action NOW.
*Any work of fiction that focuses on climate change.
**Lake Mead is projected to hit its lowest level ever in June of 2021. That is impacting millions who rely on the reservoir for water and power.