The week leading up to Earth Day, now in its 52nd year, is always a great time for reflection for conservationists like me and you. At Xerces, we’re working day in and day out to make the environment safer for invertebrates. Some of the levers of change feel like they’re in easy reach, like planting a new pollinator garden. But there are other challenges that at first look so complicated, so “out there”, it can feel hard to believe we’ve got a shot at budging the status quo. You know the one I’m talking about: climate change.
I have had more than my fair share of sleepless nights worrying about climate change. It’s easy to feel frustration and even despair about this issue. Recently, I’ve been feeling like I needed some good news, so I picked up two new books on climate change: “The New Climate War” by Michael Mann and “Saving Us” by Katherine Hayhoe. Both Dr. Mann and Dr. Hayhoe are prominent climate scientists who have dedicated their careers to learning about climate change and educating the public about this important issue.
First, Have Hope
“The New Climate War” talks about the strategies being used by the people dedicated to preventing action on climate change. In the past, these groups focused on trying to discredit the science behind climate change. Now, they have shifted tactics towards trying to sow despair among people who care about this issue. If they can convince us that the situation is hopeless, that it’s too late, or that there is nothing we can do except brace for the worst, then they succeed in preventing action.
When we feel hopeless, we are less likely to act. I’m sure we can all think of examples of this in our own lives. I remember talking myself out of calling my senator to talk about a particular issue by telling myself that it wouldn’t make a difference. Well, my call certainly didn’t make a difference, because I didn’t make it! This is the thinking behind efforts to sow despair among us, and this is why we can’t give in to despair, but must keep fighting.
The good news is that we can still hold off the most severe effects of climate change by acting now. We still have time to keep warming to 1.5°C or 2°C if we act quickly—and achieving this goal is possible! We already have the technology we need to reduce carbon emissions and keep warming to 1.5°C or 2°C. According to Dr. Mann, by using a combination of increased energy efficiency (through technology like smart grids and better batteries) and clean energy, we already have the technology needed to meet 80% of the world’s energy needs by 2030, and 100% by 2050. Apart from helping us to avoid the most severe consequences of climate change, this switch to clean energy comes with many benefits, including cleaner air, cleaner water, more jobs, and cheaper energy. We have so much to gain by tackling the climate crisis head-on.
Then, Speak Up
We need to implement these technologies and practices quickly and broadly, and for that we need to build political will. This is an “all hands on deck” situation, and this is where Dr. Katherine Hayhoe’s book comes in. In her book, Dr. Hayhoe argues that one of the most important things we can all do to address climate change is to talk about it more. Most of us don’t talk about climate change very often, even if we’re concerned about it, which makes us feel like we’re alone in our concern. Talking about it helps us feel less isolated, and also builds momentum for political action.
Talking about climate change can also help to change minds of people who aren’t sure how they feel about climate change or for people who have a general concern for climate change, but maybe don’t think the problem is urgent. Dr. Hayhoe suggests talking to people that you have a connection with. The connection could be something simple, such as living in the same place or having children in the same school. The connection could also be something you’re both passionate about, such as advocating for environmental justice or children’s health, or maybe you both really enjoy fishing or winter sports. Find a connection and talk about why climate change matters to you and how it affects this thing that you both care about. Finally, she says to talk about how much we have to gain by addressing climate change. I talk to people about climate change as part of my job, but I could probably do a better job of talking about climate change to people in my community, outside of my work.
Young Nebraska Ecologists group climbs a hill in Gjerloff Prairie for Bumble Bee Atlas Surveys (c. Britton Bailey)
Nature is Here to Help Us
At Xerces, our efforts to contribute to mitigating climate change often take the form of nature-based climate solutions. Nature-based climate solutions are actions that help to mitigate climate change by protecting and restoring healthy ecosystems, which increases carbon sequestration in those ecosystems. By working with a variety of partners, including farmers, land managers, gardeners, educators, and others, we work to protect and restore habitat in many different landscapes. These actions help to mitigate climate change while also supporting biodiversity. You can contribute to nature-based climate solutions by creating pollinator habitat or by planting native trees and shrubs in your community.
We’re Here to Help Each Other
There are other ways to take action on climate change as well. In her book, Dr. Hayhoe says that every year she makes two new changes to reduce her carbon footprint. This Earth Day, perhaps we can all follow her example and make one or two changes to our own lifestyles to help address climate change. Here are just a few ideas:
- Reduce food waste or carpool more;
- Talk about climate change more often with the people in your community;
- Join a local organization dedicated to action on climate change;
- Create pollinator habitat in your community that includes flowering shrubs and native trees. Not only will this support pollinators and other wildlife, it will contribute to carbon sequestration;
- Commit to contacting a different decision-maker each month, such as a representative to talk about why you want action on climate change, or the manufacturer of a product that you use to ask what they’re doing to address climate change. Tell them you want to support companies that are taking aggressive actions to reduce their carbon emissions.
For more ideas, check out Xerces’ recent webinar on the connection between climate change and biodiversity loss, and how we can all help.
Taking action will help us to feel less hopeless and more empowered, and as we talk with others about what we’re doing and why, we can inspire them to join us. This is important for building the political momentum we need to force our leaders to finally take meaningful action on climate change that is equal to the scale of the problems we face. It won’t be easy, but we can’t give up. There is hope that we can prevail if we act now.
- The New Climate War by Michael Mann
- Saving Us by Katharine Hayhoe
- Pollinators and Climate Change: Climate-Smart Natural Habitat
By Angela Laws, Sarina Jepsen, Aimée Code, and Scott Hoffman Black