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Elder Climate LegacY

Last month the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report. It is the strongest statement ever that largely because of human-induced actions, the world is on the brink of catastrophic warming. Here, ECL member, Chuck Francis details this report in his Local View run in the March 29th Lincoln Journal Star. He lays out actions for us to take now to divert the worst of the future consequences. The title itself poses the most critical of questions: We know how; will we?

While the state Legislature discusses voter ID and allowing concealed weapons, an elephant in the room is mostly ignored. Global warming due primarily to burning fossil fuels and other human activities is reaching a tipping point beyond which there is no recovery.

Described in a recent United Nations climate report, if we do not achieve a reduction of global warming to about 3 degrees F above pre-industrial levels by the 2030s, we face a potential existential catastrophe for our human species.

This is not a prediction by chicken little about the sky falling, but a result of multiple scientific models that take into account current trends. It reports lack of concern to cut back on burning fossil fuels by the world’s largest polluting countries, including U.S. and China.

According to a March 20 Washington Post article, “climate disasters will become so extreme that people will not be able to adapt.” We already know the effects of rising sea levels on coastal populations in much of south and southeast Asia. In the U.S. our modal response is confined to short-term solutions such as building sea walls in coastal cities.

Ignoring the best available science on warming, we forge ahead to rebuild damaged houses in the same locations. These are welcome but inexcusable investments in structures that are likely to fall again in future storms.

To solve problems caused by our human desires for short-term gratification and putting band-aids on large systemic, expensive and potentially avoidable challenges, we need to look at root causes and how to address them.

The same Post article describes potential solutions to help mitigate current effects of global warming and frequent disastrous storms, two characteristics of climate change.

With many coastal areas in the Third World already suffering from unintended effects of warming, large consumers of fossil fuels elsewhere have responsibility to seek immediate solutions to help reduce the problem.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlines achievable goals if enough people and governments have willingness to change consumer habits and take global warming seriously. We have “all the knowledge, tools, and financial resources to achieve climate goals, but after decades of ignoring scientific warnings and delaying climate efforts, the window for action is rapidly closing."

At home we can help reach carbon emission goals. Turning down thermostats and wearing sweaters at home. Car pooling and planning trips minimize fuel use and emissions. Following guidelines to reduce-reuse-recycle raises consciousness and makes us think about our daily habits. Deciding between our needs and our wants could help us consider the environment with every purchase we make.

Larger individual choices like installing heat pumps, switching to electric appliances and adding insulation to houses contribute to a better future. Supporting private and government initiatives for green energy sources such as wind power, photovoltaic arrays and geothermal power provide large-scale solutions to help reduce emissions.

Learning how to distinguish true progress from greenwashing corporate or political images is every citizen’s duty. Yard signs to “Vote with Climate in Mind” are reminders about our fate in the long-term future. We are obligated to find out which candidates share concerns about the environment and many other species who share this space and contribute to balanced ecology.

There is growing awareness about the environment and fates for us and other species, and we have the information needed to make meaningful changes. Do we have the willingness to modify behavior? The future is up to all of us.


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