Every few years, interest in climate change spikes, according to internet search frequency reported by Google Trends. When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5º C above pre-industrial levels on Oct. 8, searches spiked again. Searches are already trending downward.
Newspapers in our area ran stories about climate change, about one a day in recent weeks. Is there a new window of opportunity to act on climate? I doubt it. There is no window because the walls of the house we used to live in have been blown out.
It is time to act on climate.
Every environmental activist has a to-do list. Mine has four parts.
Reduce, reuse and recycle personally. I don’t seek to create a livable environment for me only as the late George Carlin derisively asserted about environmentalists. It is better to buy only food the household can use rather than let it go to waste. We live a life of making do with old clothing, old cars, and recycling single use bread and celery bags for our garden crops. It remains important to have a discussion with Waste Management about why they won’t recycle plastic. If enough people do it, maybe they will find a better way than baling and shipping it overseas or discarding it in landfills. This is a starting point for almost everyone.
Band together with like-minded people. We walk a tightrope in life in which the risks are many. On one side, we avoid the insularity of confirmation bias in which like minded people often find themselves. On the other, we are stronger together. A recent Stanford University study of 30 years of data about street protests found “citizen activism, which has been shown to impact state and firm policy decisions, also impacts electoral outcomes.” A single voice can be amplified if it joins a chorus of hundreds or thousands.
Advocate with elected officials to mitigate the effects of climate change. There is an art to political advocacy. Where groups have been successful, we found common ground with people of divergent backgrounds to unify around a single action. This is partly how we stopped two new coal-fired power plants from being built in Iowa. It is also how we changed the minds of legislators regarding new nuclear power plants in the state. Two tactics serve little purpose: contacting a legislator every time we disagree with any action they take, and group think of people who advocate for a carbon tax as their primary method to combat climate change. We must understand the diversity of solutions to the climate crisis, keep our powder dry for when it matters most, then act in unison.
Help educate people on the threat of unaddressed climate change. It goes without saying there is uneven understanding about the impacts of climate change in society. My popular post, Climate Change in 200 Words explains the basic science, about which there is little disagreement from even the most strident climate deniers. Where society gets hit hardest is in the impacts of warmer atmosphere and oceans. The news is full of examples. Few people have missed the fires in California, hurricanes in Florida, Texas and New Jersey, or the severe 2012 drought in Iowa. All of these events were made worse by global warming. Much of the intensification of our weather events is predictable and likely avoidable with societal action. Education is a valid and essential part of creating collective action to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Perhaps the important lesson about climate change derived from Google Trends is there are clear news hooks which can make climate action more likely. The problem hasn’t gone away and we can’t rely upon news events to precipitate our actions.
Whether we will act on climate before it is too late is unknown. What we do know is the human condition includes hope for survival and a better world. It is unrealistic to believe global societies will unite around a single course of action. Part of the brilliance of the 2015 Paris Agreement was it enabled every nation to participate in their own way toward a common goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Whatever deficiencies existed in the agreement, it was a positive sign of what humanity is capable.
The IPCC special report is another scientific explanation we must act on climate before it is too late. This is my to-do list. What is yours?