I was listening to a news program on the NPR the other day. It was a story about the controversy over the United States rejection of the Kyoto treaty and alternatives being proposed in Congress. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Kyoto treaty is an international effort to limit emissions that cause global warming. To clarify, this is not a rant on whether or not the US should sign the treaty, but how this issue affects us ordinary citizens and what we can do about it.
To understand why global warming is a problem, I first had to understand what it is. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency,
Global warming refers to an average increase in the Earth's temperature, which in turn causes changes in climate.
The average temperature has risen 1°F since the 19th century, a change scientists consider significant. Scientists also believe human activity causes global warming. We burn fossil fuels to create energy to power our vehicles, operate our factories and light our homes. When burned, these fuels put gases into the air that trap the suns heat. This is known as the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect, when balanced, makes the Earth a comfortable place to live. When out of balance, it can cause the Earth's climate become unstable.
Why should we care whether or not the earth warms up? The short answer is: because we live here. Coastlines will shrink as the polar ice caps melt. This process has already begun. The EPA projects the sea level in the Gulf and Atlantic coasts will rise by a foot in the next fifty years, two, possibly four feet by century's end. This will affect wildlife habitats, commercial fishing, farming and tourism. We can expect greater rainfall in some areas. This, combined with high sea levels, will increase the risk of flooding. In other areas, drought may threaten our food supply. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists
, higher temperatures will increase heat related illness. Insects and rodents that thrive in warmer climates could spread infectious disease. Global warming is also a matter of national security. These changes may destabilize countries that cannot cope, leading to economic collapse and political conflict.
Now, you may say to yourself: "I'm just one person.What could I possibly do to help?" I believe the key is not some massive effort by government or industry, but the actions we take as individuals.
- Reduce the amount of fuel you consume. For short trips, walk or ride a bike. Share a ride when you travel by car and increase your mileage by keeping your car in good repair. When you buy a new car, choose one that gets high gas mileage.
- Create an action plan to make your home energy efficient. Many utility companies can provide you with tools and advice to get you started. You can also save energy by using energy efficient appliances. In the US, look for ones that have the Energy Star logo on them.
- Shop for cleaner energy. There are companies that specialize in providing electricity from sources such as wind, water, solar and natural gas that produce little or no greenhouse gases.
- Vote with your dollar. Hold industry accountable by purchasing products from companies that are environmentally friendly. Boycott those that pollute.
Global warming is happening now and we are beginning to feel its effects. It impacts our health, our economy and our security. Politicians can debate it. Diplomats can make treaties. As citizens of the Earth, we can do something about it now. Lets take action.