Climate change is the most critical issue of our times. I live in the Southwest United States where I’ve noticed an increase in extreme weather events, such as drought and forest fires, over the last 30 years. I’m sure you’ve observed changing weather patterns and increased seasonal allergies in your own area as well.
In March of this year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report detailing the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks.
In May, the US Global Change Research Program released a national assessment, “Climate Change Impacts in the United States.”
In June, the Environmental Protection Agency set limits for the first time on greenhouse gases from existing power plants, which produce 40% of domestic carbon dioxide emissions.
And in September, the Audubon Society issued the Climate Change Report, which found that half of all North American birds—314 species—are severely threatened by global warming.
A RENEWED URGENCY
There’s a new urgency in the climate change conversation in the US. According to a July Media Matters analysis, major newscasts in the US have featured more coverage of climate change in the first six months of this year than they did in the four previous years combined.
We all want to do something about climate change, but may feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the issue and the gridlock in Washington. The good news is that the tide is turning and there’s plenty you can do to help.
It’s on the local level that things are happening. If you’d like to become involved, here are some suggestions for actions on the city and county level.
- Pass local ordinances that ban plastic grocery bags and/or plastic water bottles.
- Create a GMO free county like Josephine County in Oregon.
- Pass ordinances to limit gas and oil drilling, and/or outlaw hydraulic fracturing.
- Rather than support an investor owned public utility, create a city-owned public utility that generates power in town rather than importing it and that maximizes renewable energy. Twenty-nine towns in Colorado have city-run utilities. A Boulder report shows that by switching to a locally owned utility the city could nearly triple renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions in half while at the same time offering lower rates.
- Divest from fossil fuel. In June the Oakland City Council unanimously voted to become the fifth California city to divest city funds from all investments in fossil fuel companies.
- Strengthen local food security by creating farmer’s markets, farm to school and farm to table programs, regional warehouses, services for the hungry, and by encouraging and supporting local farmers.
- Run for office and/or help elect public officials who are visionary about renewable energy solutions.
- Install a solar hot water heater in your home.
- Install solar electric and/or solar thermal energy in your home.
- Harvest the rain. Add a cistern, rain barrels or a water catchment system to your house.
- Get involved in co-ops. Cooperative ownership is the way of the future. I’m part of a local wireless cooperative, a permaculture credit union and a local food co-op. Some communities are starting cooperative banks.
THE PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH
If you have the inclination to get involved in national and global efforts to affect public policy regarding climate change, this is the time and you’ll be in good company.
The UN Climate Summit on September 23rd in New York City is expected to be a “major turning point” for negotiations on an international pact to address global warming. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked world leaders to bring “bold announcements and actions…that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015.”
With this in mind, Ban Ki-moon has also asked citizens to support the UN Climate Summit. The People’s Climate March will begin at 11 AM, September 21st in New York City and is expected to draw 250,000 people. Hundreds of coordinated actions are happening around the world. Major events are planned in London, Berlin, Bogota, Istanbul, Paris, Rio, Delhi, Melbourne, Johannesburg, and Lagos. If you’re not near New York, there are actions all over the US that you can join.
GOOD NEWS ABOUT RENEWABLES
Addressing and overcoming the climate change crisis is all about transitioning to 100% renewable energy and there’s a lot of good news about renewables. Similar to the shift the world has been making to digital technology, we are making a shift to renewable energy, which according to Danny Kennedy of Sungevity, will be the largest economic opportunity of all time and build trillions of dollars of value in the next two decades.
Energy from fossil fuels has gone up 80% in the last decade, while the costs of solar energy have decreased 30% in just the last three years. In 2013 solar installation was up 41% and in the first quarter of 2014 it was up 79%. In the last year 25% of all new power added was generated by solar, which is growing exponentially.
Solar is cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels plus it creates jobs. More people are employed in the solar industry than in the coal industry or the auto industry and the industry is growing at a rate of 20%.
Eight hundred US businesses, including BMW, Stables, and IKEA, have committed to going 100% renewable. While the US as a whole is only 13% renewable, Mark Jacobson of Stanford has a 50-state roadmap for transitioning the US from dependence on fossil fuel to 100% renewable energy by 2050. Go to Go100%RenewableEnergy to monitor renewable progress here in the US and around the world.
Several communities in the US are now or have committed to be 100% renewable. Greensburg, Kansas was devastated by a tornado in 2007 and rebuilt their city to be 100% renewable. All of the electricity used in the City of Greensburg is generated by wind energy. Greenburg is the first city in the US to use all LED streetlights and has the most LEED certified buildings per capita in the world.
California cities such as Palo Alto, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara, and counties like Marin County are committed to becoming 100% renewable.
Under the visionary leadership of Mayor R. Rex Paris, Lancaster, California—an ultra-conservative, Republican, poor city—has achieved net zero. This means that they produce as much energy as they consume. A new ordinance requires all new houses in Lancaster to be net zero.
If you’re in NYC for the march, watch for the premiere of The Future of Energy, a wildly inspiring film that features many of the the visionaries and communities I’ve mentioned above, communities that are committed to becoming 100% renewable in all sectors: power, hearting and cooling, and transportation.
NATIONAL AND GLOBAL ACTIVISM
To learn more about climate change, here are some sites run by moms and dads who are on the front lines of climate change activism. Join them.
The Students Guide to Global Climate Change is a basic resource for students as well as for adults. The site explains climate change in simple terms and offers ideas for being part of the solution.
Harriet Shugarman at Climate Mama wants mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunts and teachers to get the “straight scoop” on Climate Change so that we can understand our own impact and what we can do to make our lives more sustainable.
The mission of Dominique Browning and Moms clean air Force is to connect the dots between air pollution, climate change and disease.
Mothers OutFront is building a movement of mothers, grandmothers and caregivers who use their collective energy and voice to convince elected officials and business leaders to push for a swift and complete transition away from fossil fuels, to clean energy. They reach mothers through house parties and develop volunteer leaders through ongoing training and coaching.
THE TIME IS NOW
When I started writing this piece, I was discouraged because I thought that we were losing the climate change struggle. Now, I see that we are already transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy. There’s plenty you can do in your own home and community to facilitate this transition. As always, the revolution starts with you and me.
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011 and founded Mothering.com in 1995. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of two.