This year has been remarkable for the steady outpouring of statements on climate change – from national science academies, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), leading scientists from many disciplines, the National Science Panel, President Obama, and concerned citizens including prominent Republican officials from previous administrations.
One after another they all drive home the message that climate change is real, that it is caused by humans burning fossil fuels, and that its impacts pose a threat to us and future generations. They all make the point that climate change is already here and that we need to take urgent action if we want to limit the damage.
In May a research team reported that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is melting and that the melting is irreversible. This is truly ominous news because it will result in a sea level rise of four feet by 2100, perhaps sooner. Ice sheet melting in Greenland could add another 30 feet to sea levels. But 4 feet will be enough to cause hundreds of millions of people to abandon their coastal homes and move inland. The economic loss and the toll in human suffering will be truly immense.
So, why am I optimistic about the future? For two reasons.
First, we’re facing an existential crisis, but both the problem and the solution are clear. We’re emitting vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and that causes warming and all its attendant problems. The solution is simple. We need to stop burning fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy as quickly as possible. It’s a big project but it is do-able. Some of us have demonstrated how easily it can be accomplished on an individual level.
As individuals we simply have to decide to stop burning fossil fuels. We don’t even have to give up much in our personal lives. Solar panels and wind can provide our electricity and charge our vehicles. We can lower demand by being more efficient. We simply have to make the right decision, make the right choices.
It’s not really all that costly compared to other expenditures. We all buy cars and gas from the pump and electricity from coal fired generating plants. Replace the coal plants with solar panels and wind generators. Replace the gasoline engines with electric cars and renewable energy. We simply stop making choices that destroy our future.
Second, I am optimistic because people are increasingly willing to take on the problem. Coupled with better electric vehicles and cheaper renewable energy, that willingness is creating a momentum. Mother Nature keeps reminding us that we have to take on this problem, and as we band together to solve it, more and more people and companies and governments are joining us.
Some point to all those who deny climate change is occurring and who seem unwilling to make any changes in their life style to combat it. That really isn’t a good reason to not make changes in our own lives. We need more and more people to step up and take the relatively small steps that will overcome the problem. More people step up, others will follow, and eventually we’ll drag the deniers along behind us.
My experience is that when large problems arise people come together to solve them. That spirit of concern and willingness to act is what we need to appeal to, and that will keep building the momentum until we can really make a difference. For now we need more people to take the small steps by putting solar panels on their homes, buying community solar, being more efficient and using less energy, and buying electric cars and charging their batteries with solar energy.
We can spur the government to take appropriate actions and enact the right policies as we build momentum. And, we can provide an example for other countries to follow our lead just as others are showing the way now.
We do need to continue to research climate change, but now is the time for action on the solution. We can make a difference and Taos can be a leader for rural America.