Climate change is not a hoax or a distant possibility. 2016 was the hottest year in 137 years of record-keeping and the third year in a row to take the number one slot.
2017 is likely to be one of the Earth’s three warmest years once all the data are in. Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, evaluates the thousands of scientific papers published each year to inform policymakers about known and anticipated impacts. In their 5th Assessment, completed in 2014, they advise policymakers:
Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems (including atmospheric and ocean warming, sea level rise, and diminishing amounts of snow and ice).
The report goes on to provide much more detail about observed and anticipated changes for each continent. To bring this home to where we live, we provide examples of local or regional impacts associated with a warming climate:
—Larger, more severe wildfires and extended fire seasons are occurring on many landscapes.
—Shrinking glaciers, reduced snowpack, higher snowlines (more precipitation coming as rain).
—Earlier snowmelt and impacts on timing and levels of streamflow.
—Elevated tree mortality. Tree mortality has been increasing the past few decades, but was particularly pronounced during the recent 2012-2015 “hot drought”: dry conditions combined with higher temperatures.
—Disruptive changes in ranges or migration patterns of some animal species such as monarch butterflies, alpine chipmunks, and Belding’s ground squirrels, and numerous species of birds.
—There is increasing pressure on groundwater supplies when less water is available from rain, snowmelt, and reservoir storage; more groundwater is pumped than is being replenished in many areas.
While our national government has backed away from the Paris Climate Accord that aims to strengthen the ability of countries to confront the impacts of climate change, various state governments and cities have maintained or increased their commitment to reducing the production of greenhouse gases and conserving energy. California is a leader in this regard. Individuals can also take action by voicing their concerns to elected officials and policymakers.
Government policies may be needed to make large-scale change happen, but we can all make a difference in our own lives. The Union of Concerned Scientists has developed Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Lower Carbon Living (www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/what_you_can_do/practical-steps-for-low-carbon-living.html#.WiRBGlWnHDd), offering proven strategies to cut carbon. Some examples from their top 10 strategies are:
❶Switch to a car with better fuel economy. Upgrading from a 20 mpg car to a 40 mpg car can save you 4,500 gallons of gasoline over the car’s life span. At today’s gas prices, that’s a total savings of more than $18,000.
❷Make your house more air tight. Even in reasonably tight homes, air leaks may account for 15 to 25 percent of the heat our furnaces generate in winter or that our homes gain in summer. If you pay $1,100 a year to heat and cool your home, you might be wasting as much as $275 annually.
❸Buy and use a programmable thermostat for a 15 percent reduction in your heating and cooling emissions and save $180 a year.
❹Eat less meat, especially beef. An average family of four that cuts its meat intake in half will avoid roughly three tons of emissions annually.
❺Use power strips in your home office and home entertainment center to curb “phantom loads” and save a surprising amount on your electric bill. Keeping your laser printer turned on when not in use could be costing you as much as $130 annually.
❻Upgrade your refrigerator, especially if it is more than five years old. New ones are twice as efficient or more. An upgrade can pay for itself in as little as three years in energy savings alone.
❼Get an electricity monitor from your local hardware store or even borrow one from many local libraries to see where the energy hogs are in your home. This can help you save hundreds of dollars annually.
❽Change those light bulbs. New LED light bulbs can give the same light for 15 percent the electricity. That adds up to more than $100 in savings for most families each year.
❾Wash clothes in cold water. They get just as clean with today’s detergents. But hot water washes use five times the energy — and create five times the emissions. This could save you nearly $100 a year.
❿Buy less stuff. Reduce, reuse, and recycle — it’s not just about pollution, but the strategy will lower your emissions too and help combat global warming.
* * *
Climate change may seem like an overwhelming or sometimes distant problem, but it has arrived on our doorstep, and we each can make choices that make a difference, and can share our ideas and concerns with neighbors, friends, family members, and elected officials. Future generations, and the planet, are counting on us.