Nonfiction in response to Climate Action
By Georgia Bernbaum
Earth, on average, is one degree Celsius warmer today than it was in 1880. In 2015, representatives from 195 countries and the European Union attended the 21st annual United Nations’ Climate Change Conference where established a framework to limit temperature rise to just another one-half degree Celsius before 2030, hoping to stem the negative impacts of global climate change. At current rates, the planet is expected to breach that threshold before 2030, and scientists and policy makers are urging countries take more aggressive action to prevent this breach.
Emboldened by weather reports that the United States may experience its coldest Thanksgiving ever, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to challenge the scientific evidence of rising global temperatures. On November 21, 2018, Trump tweeted “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?”
Just two days later, 300 experts answered Trump’s question with the release of the 1,515-page Fourth National Climate Assessment. Global warming, or climate change as it is more accurately termed, “is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us.” The experts making this assessment were representatives from federal, state and local government agencies, members of indigenous tribes, university scientists, and private sector researchers who examined a century of environmental data and measurements in the course of their work.
Less than a week after Trump’s tweet and the release of the national climate report, the United Nations released its own gloomy report. Climate change dominated the news cycles, and the dire warnings made hope even more difficult to find. “Difficult to find” is not the same as “impossible to find”, so let’s focus on where hope can be found and what we each can do to help our planet. I had the opportunity to interview Kalee Kreider, an alumna of my high school and a well-respected environmental advocate, and she told me where we find reassurance and inspiration.
Ms. Kreider spent the better part of the nineties working for environmental NGOs, Ozone Action, Greenpeace, USA, and the National Environmental Trust. With these organizations, she witnessed firsthand the impacts of climate change in the arctic and later negotiated policies to combat that change in Kyoto, Japan. In the mid-2000s, she joined former Vice President Al Gore as his Communications Director and Environmental Advisor. There, she promoted his award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and advised on his environmental policy initiatives. Today, she serves as a Special Advisor to the United Nations Foundation on Climate Change and has her own public affairs firm.
She acknowledged that the recent reports were grim, “climate change is real,” but is confident that we can stem its impact if we take action now. Of course, with the president denying climate change and politically withdrawing from the Paris Accord, one questions who will take that action. Kreider explained that “a lot of action takes place just below the federal level. States are the laboratories for federal action.” California is one example. Its economy alone could be considered the sixth largest in the world if it were an independent country; the state has adopted ambitious renewable energy targets and put in place a system to reduce greenhouse gasses, and its economy is not suffering from these additional regulations. While the federal commitment to combating climate change wanes, we can urge our state and even local governments to adopt more environmentally-friendly policies.
Second, Ms. Kreider explained, “the technological solutions are coming in now,” enabling consumers to make more environmentally conscious choices. From the vehicles we drive to the energy we use in our homes, we can choose green products. Often, the green products are even superior to the older models. Beyond the products we purchase, we can make lifestyle changes that lessen our impact on the planet. We can plant gardens, recycle, and carpool. With more than seven and a half billion people on the planet, individual small efforts will have a big impact.
Third, Ms. Kreider reminds us that electoral politics will change. “Our current president is not science-driven,” but he will be in office just one or two terms. If Trump formally withdraws the United States from the Paris Accord, the US can reenter the agreement under a future administration.
At sixteen, Kalee Kreider was a high school student just like me. Literally, she sat in the same classrooms as I do now. She first became interested in the environment when she volunteered to help endangered sea turtles and to improve the laws for their protection. Decades later, she is helping shape global environmental policy. We all start somewhere. It is just important that we start, and the time to start is now.