Dear Eartha, I am concerned about climate change and want to see more action at all levels – from local to federal. How do you advocate for greater change and greater impact?
I’m worried too. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC for short – it’s a mouthful, right?) is the United Nations group of corny and important experts responsible for publishing collaborative research on the global climate. And in late February, it released a report detailing the updated risks and impacts of climate change. The results were damn discouraging. It turns out that the global community is not acting fast enough to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
It’s always bad, and it’s always us
Since the last major IPCC report published in 2014, the frequency and severity of extreme events have only increased. These impacts include the regular distribution of climate change traits: heat waves, supercharged storms, drought, fire and sea level rise. The incidence of diseases caused by ticks and mosquitoes also increases as temperatures warmer. hot weather allows these creatures to expand their range. Scientists find that “the extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are greater than those estimated in previous assessments”. In a nutshell, it’s worse than expected, and it’s already affecting the lives of billions of people around the world.
Indeed, nearly half of the world’s population lives in an area highly vulnerable to climate change. While low-income countries and communities are more vulnerable (because they lack the resources to adapt), we are all facing the same climate crisis. Let’s not forget the catastrophic fires that destroyed nearly 1,000 buildings in Boulder County – in December. And just this week, Lake Powell water levels hit an all-time high, threatening both water supplies and power generation.
Last year, due to growing concerns about climate change, many countries around the world pledged to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this, we – meaning all of humanity – must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reaching net zero by 2050. But despite this commitment, most countries are still not doing enough. The lack of meaningful progress towards this collective goal of reducing emissions is, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “a damning condemnation of failed climate leadership”.
Try the challenge
Believe me, it’s easy to get bogged down in existential fear envisioning a future with more wildfires, heatwaves, and far less water…and that’s exactly what we, the people of the American West, are facing. But we can’t drag on forever in the abyss of despair – not if we want to change the current trajectory of carbon emissions.
In 2018, the community of Summit County adopted a climate action plan that sets targets to reduce local emissions by 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Developed over a year-long process with stakeholders, this plan outlines a number of strategies designed to achieve these goals. But even these strategies aren’t enough to get us there – we need to accomplish all of this and more to stay on track.
As the IPCC report indicates, we will need transformational change to really have an impact. It means rethinking the way we design our communities, construct buildings, and transport ourselves and the goods we buy. Fortunately, these are all matters that can be influenced by local councils, and there just happens to be an election next month.
So be a good global citizen by paying attention to what candidates are saying about the climate and the environment – and consider that information when filling out your ballot. Wondering where your local candidates stand on environmental issues? Check out the Q&A compiled by the High Country Conservation Center. And after the election is over, show up at meetings to urge your council to keep moving toward its goals. Because one of the simplest and most effective ways to fight climate change is to hold those in power accountable, again and again.
You know that saying, “Nero played the violin while Rome burned”? Well, we have to stop pretending that the world isn’t burning. The good side of the IPCC report is that we still have time to act, even if the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. We have to be bold, we have to dream big, and if we want to be effective, we can’t look away.
“Ask Eartha Steward” is written by the staff of the High Country Conservation Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit your questions to Eartha at [email protected].