Well, that was interesting. And by “that,” I mean the record-setting stretch of record-breaking heat that turned most of America into a pizza oven last month. Was it caused by climate change? Absolutely, according to many leading scientists. Here’s what we can do about that.
First, let’s move the elephant in the room out of the way. And by “elephant,” I mean the tired drumbeat that says you can’t attribute any one weather event to global climate change because it’s impossible to distinguish normal variations from warming-related extremes. I’m with Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who declared that since all weather now occurs in an atmosphere that scientific consensus agrees is warmer and moister due to human influences, all weather is now related to those changes.
Secondly, let’s acknowledge that the recent heat wave defies present trends. According to the journal Science, the rise in Earth’s surface temperature has actually slowed to a relative crawl in the last 15 years despite rising greenhouse emissions. Experts think the oceans may be absorbing the extra heat and believe today’s warming plateau is just a lull. Nobody credible thinks it means climate change isn’t real.
In fact, estimates suggest that current greenhouse gas concentrations in the air around us trap an extra amount of solar energy equal to 400,000 Hiroshima bombs. Every. Single. Day. Even if the current respite was permanent, we’d still face a challenge. Here are some ways to meet it you may not have considered:
- Buy less stuff. Cars or compact discs, it doesn’t matter what. Everything has to be manufactured, shipped, and sold, and that takes energy, the source of most of the emissions now haunting our atmosphere.
- When you do buy, be a localvore. When we eat, drink, and buy local, the things we consume use far less energy to ship, and store on their way to our homes.
- Run your appliances after dark. If we run them during the day, we’re doing so at peak hours of electricity consumption. When the national electric grid needs extra power to meet this peak demand, it typically fires up carbon-producing, coal-fired power plants to produce it. If we can wait until dark to wash dishes, laundry, etc., we’ll use cleaner off-peak power.
- Conserve water if you use a municipal supply. Purifying and distributing water is energy-intensive. Every gallon we save also saves a watt or two.
- Plant trees. Each one will absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and as much as 1 ton by the time it hits 40.
- Compost organic wastes. When we send them to oxygen-less landfills, the carbon they contain is converted to methane, a greenhouse gas 102 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Wastes high in nitrogen also produce nitrous oxide, which is 300 times worse than CO2. In a composter, these emissions are prevented.
- Finally, take a look at this incredible picture. It shows we really are just a fragile dust speck in the cosmic void. That knowledge won’t prevent climate change, but I think it does provide an additional degree of motivation.
Add these ideas to your usual energy-saving strategies and we just might get somewhere. And by “somewhere,” I mean a planet without summers from Hell.