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Give the Gift of a Better Future

The threat of severe world-wide climate change is not theoretical, but horrifically real, thousands of scientists warned in a recent letter to humanity. Averting global disaster, they assert, will take an historic culture change.

“[A] great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided,” the open letter published November 13 in Bioscience maintained, reiterating a stark warning from scientists issued twenty-five years ago. “Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” the updated evaluation signed by more than 15,000 scientists concluded.

“With a groundswell of organized grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing,” the scientists’ call to action stated. “It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita ¬consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and other resources.”

Civic campaigns can change the course of human events. Grassroots movements in the past century gained women the right to vote, extended civil rights to disenfranchised descendants of slavery, halted atmospheric tests of nuclear explosions, and convinced the governments of the US and USSR to negotiate an end to the Nuclear Age and its suicidal strategy of “Mutual Assured Destruction.”

A good start would be to create an action plan to guide us at home, at work, in schools, in religious and social groups and in government. Here are some suggestions, which hopefully spark additional practical ideas.

Climate Change Action List

1. Reduce eating beef.
About 18% of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide comes from cattle, sheep and goat manure, meat production and shipping, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Meatless Mondays, fish on Fridays, more veggies, chicken, turkey.

2. Reduce vehicle impacts.
Nearly 20 percent of US emissions comes from cars and trucks, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports. Walk more, drive less, drive more efficiently, take a bus, take a train, carpool, ride a bike, get electric or hybrid car.

3. Reduce electricity impacts.
Nearly 30 percent of US emissions comes from electricity generation, the USEPA notes. Turn off lights that are not needed, turn off computers when not in use, choose energy efficient replacements of light bulbs, washers, dryers, refrigerators, air conditioning units, boost use of solar and wind power.

4. Reduce use of plastic bags, bottles and wrapping.
About 6 percent of world oil production is used to make plastic items, according to the World Economic Forum, with a projected increase of more than three times if current trends continue. Switch from plastic shopping bags to reusable bags, reduce use of plastic wrapping, reduce use of, recycle and replace plastic water bottles.

5. Recycle reusable materials.
Recycling and composting programs in Washington, Oregon and California reduce emissions equivalent to taking more than 6 million vehicles off the roads, a study by the West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum found. Key areas are: carpets, cans, bottles, paper, lumber and food scraps.

6. Increase tree cover.
About 12 percent of US emissions in 2015 were offset by carbon accumulation in woodlands, the USEPA reports. Plant trees, stop clear cutting of forests, reduce forest fires.

7. Increase family planning.
Our “global population – projected to rise from around 6.8 billion people today to 9.2 billion by 2050 – will inevitably lead to a significant increase of greenhouse gas emissions,” the World Health Organization reports. This touchy topic needs to be sensibly addressed, the newly formed Alliance of World Scientists argues.

8. Help prevent nuclear war.
Nuclear winter “would produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history,” Dr. Alan Robock of Rutgers University wrote in the journal Nature. Sunlight dimmed by long-lasting layers of smoke from a limited exchange of nuclear explosions, he stated, would drop temperatures below the “‘Little Ice Age’ (1400-1850), during which famine killed millions.” Speaking at a symposium on The Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction at the New York Academy of Medicine in 2015, Dr. Robock said the best solution to such a threat is to greatly reduce the number of nuclear weapons, while working to eliminate them altogether.

--Jan Barry, author of A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns and The Great Challenge: How You Can Help Prevent Nuclear War.