The world is watching

It is time to take steps to combat climate change. The world is watching.

Pope Francis’s global call for action on climate change took a big step forward on Dec. 12, 2015 as an historic agreement was reached in Paris among 195 nations to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases in an attempt to limit the average warming of the earth by 200 C (3.600 F), or less, by the end of the century. When looked at as a whole, it may appear to be an impossible task due to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by billions of tons by 2050, and the fact that we have a current addiction to fossil fuels.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb which states that, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We should look at the reduction of greenhouse gases in this light. In 2004, Steven Pacala and Robert Socolow of Princeton University’s Climate Mitigation Initiative introduced the concept of “Wedge Analysis” in a paper presented in the prestigious journal Science. This approach breaks down the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions into bite-size pieces, or wedges, that, when combined, show that we can achieve this goal, and we can do it by using currently available technologies. 

So, what does this mean for each of us? Our individual contributions to greenhouse gas reductions will be different, but we must all contribute. 

At home, replacing incandescent light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent bulbs or Light Emitting Diode bulbs can reduce energy use by 80 percent or more. Keeping our homes slightly cooler in the winter or warmer in the summer, if it is medically feasible to do so, saves energy and is actually better for upping our metabolism and burning more calories. Programmable thermostats allow us to control temperatures at desired levels during the day or week. The purchase of “Energy Star” labelled appliances increases energy efficiency. Maintaining our heating and cooling systems, as well as our other appliances, ensures they are running at peak efficiency. We should have our homes properly insulated to conserve the heat we do generate. Conserving water plays a part in energy efficiency in many ways, including the need to treat less water at the municipal plant, pump less water into the community system, and heat less water when using more efficient shower heads, or taking shorter showers. If you can, clothes can be dried on clothes lines rather than using dryers. This was the only way to do it in the past. We should all try to control “phantom power,” which is the power used by many of our appliances when they are not in use. A typical microwave uses more power in standby mode over the course of the year than it does in actually cooking food. Phantom power accounts for 22 percent of the energy used to power appliances, and 10 percent of the total energy used in the home. It all adds up. 

We also now have the ability to purchase power from the generator that we choose, so we can purchase energy from wind or solar power generators.  We can use the power of the sun to heat our hot water and produce our electricity right on our own roofs. There are new creative ways to finance these systems, and there are tax incentives as well which makes these systems feasible for many. It is very important to try to reduce the waste that we produce, reuse materials, and recycle materials, where possible, rather than throwing them in the trash. For example, making an aluminum can from recycled aluminum requires 1/20 the energy of making an aluminum can from raw materials. Composting at home is another energy saver because it reduces the weight of trash to be hauled away, and the fertilizer produced reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers, which use natural gas in their production.

We can learn to drive smarter. Purchasing a fuel efficient or electric vehicle is one way, but we can conserve fuel by coordinating our trips better to avoid needless travel. We should reduce the hard acceleration and hard braking, which uses more fuel. We can increase gas mileage by removing unnecessary things from the trunk that just add weight. Removal, if possible, of the roof rack from the car will make your vehicle more aerodynamic. We must maintain our vehicles, including proper tire inflation and regular oil and filter changes. If possible, we should try to carpool or take public transportation. Walking or riding a bicycle, where possible, is better for your health, as well as your wallet. 

In the office, we should power down computers and monitors when they are not in use. Many power adapters use energy when plugged in and not in use. We can turn off the power to equipment by attaching things to power strips that can be turned off, or by purchasing smart outlets that you can set timers on. Lights can also be on motion sensors so that they turn off when no one is in the room.

We who live in developed countries are in a good position to deal with climate change issues and to adapt to climate changes. Many living in poorer countries are not. The Paris accord took this into account and states that, “acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.” As part of the agreement the developed countries agreed to put together a fund of approximately $100 billion per year to help developing countries with implementing new technologies and adaptation to climate changes. 

Dealing with climate change issues now becomes a bit easier if we remember that the goal of these actions is a better, healthier, world for ourselves, for our children and grandchildren, and for all the peoples of the world. A noble goal indeed.

Anchor columnist Professor Rak is a Fall River native and a parishioner of St. Mary’s Parish in Fall River. He has been a professor of Environmental Technology and coordinator of the Environmental Science and Technology Program at Bristol Community College in Fall River for 18 years. He earned a degree in biology from Holy Cross College in Worcester, and a master’s in marine biology from UMass Dartmouth.

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