Published 9:33 PM EDT Oct 10, 2018
Just two days after a United Nations report demanded urgency in the fight against climate change, a powerful Category 4 hurricane slammed into the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.
Did global warming "cause" Hurricane Michael? No. Is the storm's rapid intensification over unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico entirely consistent with predictions of stronger, soggier storms? Absolutely.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that a window of opportunity to sharply reduce the harshest consequences of global warming — extreme weather, food shortages, water scarcity and sea level rise — is closing fast.
But is the situation hopeless? Certainly nations that spew the most heat-trapping greenhouse gases — particularly China and the United States, the two leading emitters — must act more aggressively to switch away from fossil fuels, and do it soon.
That includes the Trump administration, which greets the crisis with indifference or outright hostility.
OPPOSING VIEW: Don't panic over U.N. climate change report
In the meantime, there are plenty of things individuals can do:
►Start with how you get to work. Walking or biking burns only body fat. Public transportation and car pooling save energy. If those aren't viable choices, upgrading to a new car is beneficial, given vastly improved engine efficiencies and the availability of hybrid and electric alternatives.
►Conduct an energy audit of your home, which can cut fuel costs. The federal government offers suggestions through its Energy Star program, and a local utility might even provide free auditing services. Every light switch, ceiling fan or air conditioner turned off reduces carbon in the atmosphere.
►Cut back on red meat. As tree-hugging as that sounds, it can truly make a difference. It takes 16 pounds of grain to make 1 pound of beef, a real inefficiency. And a leading source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is — yes — bovine emissions.
Beyond lifestyle, there's activism. Nonprofit organizations sprinkled across the country can use volunteers and donations in the crusade to save the planet. Retirement investments can be tailored for climate-sensitive industries.
"It's really important that people understand that we have choices, and our choices matter," says John Rogers, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
One choice is promoting the best solutions. The Editorial Board has long endorsed an idea embraced by the U.N. report — placing a price on carbon, the heat-trapping gas relentlessly accumulating in the atmosphere. Taxing fossil fuels where they emit carbon dioxide, at the refinery or mining operation or port, is a powerful economic incentive to reduce greenhouse gases. To mitigate the impact, proceeds from the carbon tax can be rebated to consumers.
The greatest leverage Americans have for promoting this and other responses to the dire consequences outlined in the U.N. report is at the ballot box. The midterm elections are less than four weeks away. The League of Conservation Voters provides an excellent guide for how incumbents vote on environmental issues, and the GiveGreen PAC offers targets for campaign contributions.
This week's double whammy of the U.N. report and the Gulf Coast hurricane needn't be a recipe for despair and paralysis. Average citizens have more power than they think to alter Earth's fate.
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