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Cher Gilmore: Let’s see our climate as half full on Earth Day

Posted: April 22, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 22, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

It’s true that we received pretty bad news last month from the latest report of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

It gave the sternest warning yet from the world’s most prominent climate scientists.

They say if we don’t drastically reduce the greenhouse gases we’re putting into the atmosphere, the already-disastrous effects of global warming we’re seeing will get much worse by mid-century — including more hunger, poverty, illness, drought, flooding, wildfires, extinction of species, mass migrations, and war.

And the more emissions and temperatures rise, the greater the odds of irreversible consequences.

On the positive side, the report finds that a scenario in which we cut carbon pollution as soon as possible has far lower impacts than our current course of business as usual.

Overall, we’re on a do-little path, flirting with runaway climate change. But what could stimulate American genius and creativity more than a challenge of this magnitude?

Despite the gridlock in Washington, there are signs that people are waking up to the danger and taking action.

A recent study by Anthony Leiserowitz, of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, found that most Americans (83 percent) say the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs.

A majority of Americans (71 percent) say global warming should be a “very high,” “high” or “medium” priority for the president and Congress.

And both Democrats and Republicans support climate and energy policies such as regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (85 percent and 55 percent) and eliminating all subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry (67 percent and 52 percent).

Members of Congress would do well to take heed if they want to be re-elected.

Regardless of congressional stagnation, there is a little action from Washington, thanks to the president.

In addition to charging the Environmental Protection Agency with regulating carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, he has postponed the decision on approval of the Keystone XL pipeline again.

Every day we delay a decision is a day when 830,000 barrels of dirty oil stay safely in the ground, according to 350.org’s Bill McKibben.

Other countries, fortunately, are establishing domestic climate legislation at a rapid clip. Legislation to reduce carbon dioxide is now law in 61 countries out of the 66 responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, more than 500 laws worldwide address climate change, compared to less than 40 when the Kyoto Protocol went into effect nearly 20 years ago.

Locally, the Los Angeles City Council has banned fracking within the city limits, a practice which accelerates the release of greenhouse gases, undercuts sustainable technologies, causes significant health issues for people living near the sites, and has been shown to trigger earthquakes.

And the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has directed the Department of Public Works to expedite the construction of projects to capture storm water to help address water shortages due to the ongoing drought.

Corporations are responding to the crisis, as well. In February, more than 140 California companies signed the Climate Declaration, calling climate change one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.

They are urging federal and state policymakers to seize the opportunity and act. The declaration has more than 750 signatories nationwide, including such big names as General Motors, Gap Inc, Unilever and eBay Inc.

On the practical level, clean energy breakthroughs are rapidly proliferating — especially in improved technology.

Here are a few examples:

  •  A “salt battery” that will allow solar plants to keep generating electricity even when the sun isn’t shining;
  •  A desalination plant near Perth, Australia, that will use underwater buoy technology to harness ocean wave power, becoming the first carbon-free desalination system;
  •  A new lithium-ion battery that is safer, lighter, and stores more power — an important development for electric cars;
  •  Offshore wind turbines that float, requiring less construction and allowing placement in water up to 700 meters.

Even the entertainment industry is getting in the act with its new nine-part TV series on climate change, “Years of Living Dangerously,” an engaging action-adventure documentary now airing on Showtime.

So on Earth Day 2014, good things are happening, but even more need to happen to keep the planet safe.

Rather than despair, let’s see our climate cup not as half empty but as half full. And let’s rise to the challenge of filling it to the top by taking every action we can to preserve our beautiful Earth and all the living things upon it.

Cher Gilmore is a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and lives in Santa Clarita.

 

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