Can’t Take the Heat? What One Human Can Do to Fight Climate Change

Can’t Take the Heat? What One Human Can Do to Fight Climate Change
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Can’t Take the Heat? What One Human Can Do to Fight Climate Change

“The Earth is angry,” my five-year-old prophesized. It was a week that began with signs. On Monday, I exited the highway to find a car ablaze on the side of the road. Something is coming, I mused. That something seemed to come the next day, when a major April storm brought heavy snow, rain and high winds to the Northeast, leaving 700,000 homes and businesses in the region without power. Houses flooded and electrical fires erupted, gifting property owners with damage and dread for weather events to come. Days later, when a 4.8 magnitude earthquake shook the New York Tri State Area, the reverberating message from my Westchester community was: climate change is real. 

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While climate change deniers exist at the fringe of our polarized political system, the data does not lie. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, over the past five years, the United States alone experienced an “average of 18 billion-dollar climate disasters per year.” In 2022, the 18 climate disasters resulted in $175.2 billion in damages and 474 fatalities. While scientists agree that the Earth’s climate changed throughout its history, scientists across the globe unequivocally conclude that the planet’s average surface temperature has increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century and attribute the rise to human activities that drive carbon dioxide emissions that trap more of the sun’s energy into the Earth’s atmosphere. This might seem minimal or even positive to lay people who hate winter, but to the global science community, the “current warming is happening at a rate not seen in the past 10,000 years.” As a result, the global temperature is rising; the ice sheets are shrinking; glaciers are retreating; the sea level is rising; ecosystems are disappearing – and ordinary families are losing land, livelihood and life from weather events that occur more frequently and with greater intensity. That we have a problem no longer up for dispute. 

For parents grappling with existential anxiety about the Earth our children will inherit, solutions feel far and outside of any one person’s control. While 196 countries pledged to hit ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions by 2050, nearly a decade since signing the Paris Climate Agreement, the pace of global systemic change is not where it needs to be. As my generation invests in sump pumps and banishes more flood-soaked basement toys to landfills, I wonder: what can one mom do to help? 

The little things we do at home matter. There is so much one household can do to reduce its carbon footprint.
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In my desperation to find hope and solutions to a problem so big and complicated, I sought expert advice. After digging through Linkedin for second degree connections to environmental changemakers, I am introduced to Michelle Tulac. California-born nature enthusiast turned Brooklyn mom and systems designer for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Tulac helps business, government and academia combat climate change with a paradigm shift that prioritizes sustainability and regeneration of nature. Asked whether she feels one person can make a difference in climate change, Tulac explains that to meet the necessary goals of the Paris Climate Accord to reduce gas emissions and temperature, renewable energy only accounts for 55% of the goal to meet the target. The other 45% is about changing the way we make and use and dispose of the everyday products and materials in our lives. “The food we eat, the clothes  we wear, the products we buy and the packaging they come in” says Tulac, “that is where the role of the individual becomes important.” While consumers cannot control the production, as Tulac puts it, “the individual can make an impact on climate change with our votes, our voice and our choices.” 

At the mention of choices, I consider my own contribution to the Earth’s current situation. Impulse purchasing fast fashion, bulk buying produce that doesn’t get eaten, and emanating emissions from my three row SUV, I could do better. I enlist the advice of Molly Gurny–educational strategist, mother of two and my neighborhood’s environmental evangelist. In our hometown in Westchester, NY, Gurny is spearheading the compost movement, helping to expand the reach of the newly developed composting initiative, which she says reduced her weekly 5-6 bags of garbage to 1-2. Inspired by her sister’s environmental work, Gurny resolves to “live in a way that reduces her carbon footprint, recognizing that it is hard.” “We cannot solve the problems facing the climate based on individual actions, but the answer can’t be to wait for policy.” As Gurny says, “it has to be both.” 

The little things we do at home matter. There is so much one household can do to reduce its carbon footprint. Some ideas from the experts are: 

Reduce your gas emissions

Get educated. Tulac suggests focusing on education and awareness first. Families need to understand the types of solutions available in their own neighborhood because municipalities differ. Socioeconomics impact infrastructure and access to information. For example, not every town supports a composting program. When adapted, it helps, but it is not always an option. Groups like Moms Who Are Battling Climate Change and Science Moms offer information and tactics for change. Figure out what options are available to you in your town and do what you can do. 

Reduce your gas emissions. This can take the form of driving less and taking public transportation more. Gurny recently converted her home to solar energy. The rooftop panels create enough energy from the sun to power her house for a month. While this sounds daunting and expensive, she actually took advantage of New York State’s Project Green Energy initiative that installs free solar panels to cut down on emissions and the high cost of utilities. 

Buy things used and use things more than once. When Gurny needs clothes, she tries to shop on consignment sites like The RealReal. Tulac suggests “mend and repair versus throw things out.” Both Tulac and Gurny avoid single use plastic, like ziploc bags. It might be inconvenient, but, as Gurny says, “we can try.” 

Decrease food waste. Cut down on processed foods and packaging. If possible, Tulac recommends more frequent trips to the grocery store to avoid the food waste that comes from buying in bulk for the week. She advocates for education on proper food storage, preparation and disposal back into the earth.  

Engage in activism. Stamping cards, calling congressmen and voting for like-minded candidates, Gurny and her family do what they can to influence the bigger, more systemic change that must happen too. While we may not see immediate results from stakeholder outreach, Tulac says to keep showing up. She assures, “when hundreds of people address the same issue, people pay attention.”

As Gurny and I discuss our transitions from perfect grass to meadow lawns, we marvel at the collective impact on water conservation and chemical emissions that could be realized just by letting suburbia’s favorite ground cover grow pesticide free in all of its clover-filled glory. It is then that I realize the true value in individual action–the butterfly effect. While the output of my individual action (or in this case, inaction) might be small, the ripple effect of encouraging your community to learn about climate change and make good choices can have drastic, far reaching results. Talk to your kids. Tell your neighbors. Get them to understand our duty to help save the planet. Inspire the next generation of scientists and problem solvers by exposing them to the power of activism and individual action. Take comfort in the good news that we have the tools and solutions that work. We just have to pick up the pace. The future is hopeful. All we have to do is try. And I am here for that. 

 

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