SHORT ANSWERS TO HARD QUESTIONS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
One of the casualties of the decision by Americans to short-change our children's education is an understanding and appreciation of science. As a society we have gone from support and veneration of of this important discipline to a wide-spread rejection of science itself and of the knowledge it generates. One of the most compelling proofs of this phenomenon is the reduction in the percentage of college degrees in the "STEM" (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines over the past few decades. The sad fact is that the US can, most likely, no longer claim leadership in these important fields. We are, as a nation, scientifically illiterate.
As a result we are now institutionally unable to understand, appreciate and support science education and practice. Our media do a generally miserable job in making science understandable and accessible. They present headlines and precious little else. Almost never are we presented with information on the implications of scientific studies or how to make changes in our personal and professional practices in response to what scientists are telling us.
The most notable example of this is the incredible lack of informed debate and exploration of the decades of scientific work that makeup our library of global warming data. This topic, vital to every living human being, is marginalized and misrepresented for reasons that have nothing to do with the facts. The ulitimate expression of this phenomenon is the fact that we now have a person who is the nominee of the Republican Party for president of the United States who has said, many times, that global warming is a plot by the Chinese to destroy our manufacturing industries. The scary thing is that he could win.
WHAT WE CAN DO
The good news is that one of the world's premier scientific associations, the Union of Concerned Scientists, has tackled this problem head-on. The thousands of members of this group, are almost all actively studying the changes now occurring in our global climate, have created a clear, concise and scientifically irrefutable way for us all to understand what is actually happening. For example, here are a few examples of what they say about a simple but profound question:
"How much is the planet heating up?|
1.7 degrees is actually a significant amount.
As of October 2015, the Earth had warmed by about 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, when records begin at a global scale. That figure includes the surface of the ocean. The warming is greater over land, and greater still in the Arctic and parts of Antarctica.
The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the world's land ice is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. The heat accumulating in the Earth because of human emissions is roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day.
Scientists believe most and probably all of the warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. If emissions continue unchecked, they say the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population."
"Is there anything I can do?
Fly less, drive less, waste less.
You can reduce your own carbon footprint in lots of simple ways, and most of them will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off the lights in any room where you are not using them, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food, and eat less meat.
Perhaps the biggest single thing individuals can do on their own is to take fewer airplane trips; just one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car, putting solar panels on your roof, or both.
If you want to offset your emissions, you can buy certificates, with the money going to projects that protect forests, capture greenhouse gases and so forth. Some airlines sell these to offset emissions from their flights, and after some scandals in the early days, they started to scrutinize the projects closely, so the offsets can now be bought in good conscience. You can also buy offset certificates in a private marketplace, from companies such as TerraPass in San Francisco that follow strict rules set up by the state of California; some people even give these as holiday gifts. Yet another way: In states that allow you to choose your own electricity supplier, you can often elect to buy green electricity; you pay slightly more, with the money going into a fund that helps finance projects like wind farms. In the end, though, experts do not believe the needed transformation in the energy system can happen without strong state and national policies. So speaking up and exercising your rights as a citizen matters as much as anything else you can do."