The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared a “code red for humanity” in a report released Monday, giving a glimpse of the world’s future. And the report’s statement on climate change being human-caused may be the most damaging part.
With every part of the globe affected by the actions of humans, seeing the outlook could have us asking ourselves: What can I do about climate change?
The answer? Well, it isn’t just recycling.
“The most powerful thing that individuals can do is understand the scale of the problem. Don’t buy into easy, comforting solutions,” Edward Parson, faculty co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA, told USA TODAY.
Parson said that while climate change is a result of human actions, steps like turning down thermostats would need the collective effort of the more than 7 billion people on Earth. What he believes needs to be done is to understand that government policy has a lot to do with what happens to the planet’s future.
“It doesn’t matter whether there’s a ton of carbon emitted in California, or Canada or India, each is contributing the same to climate change. So we need to get the whole world involved, and that’s what makes this such a challenging problem,” said Dave Rapson, an associate professor in the department of economics and co-director of the Davis Energy Economics Program at UC Davis.
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To put it in sports terms, Rapson said, today’s climate change debate should be treated like a marathon, and it’s still early in the race. He said it’s not too late to try to fix Earth’s problems as long as the amount of human emissions drops over the next several decades.
One matter Rapson believes would make a huge difference is carbon pricing, which includes taxing greenhouse gas emissions or carbon content of fossil fuels and making corporations decide whether they’d want to pay for how much carbon they emit, according to World Bank. That would require action at the federal and international levels.
But that doesn’t mean individuals alone can’t take action.
“There’s only so much you can do, but I would say that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do,” said Frances Moore, an assistant professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis.
Moore suggested investing in public transportation, as well as engaging in talks within a person’s community that could lead to the election of leaders who are conscious of the environment.
“Motivated individuals can still make a difference,” she said.
As much optimism can still be felt that Earth can heal, humans have changed the planet so much that it be nearly impossible to go back, she said. Disasters similar to the Dixie Fire, the largest single blaze in California’s history, will occur.
“We don’t have the option now of going back to a world with no climate change impacts. The report makes that clear that you changes that already happened are kind of essentially irreversible,” Moore said. “No matter what happens to emissions in the next few decades, there’s going to be more warming.”
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Even though some companies and nations are trying to lower their emission rates, Parson said it shouldn’t seem as if things are getting fixed. People still need to closely look at what is being done.
“The thing of the current enthusiasm for negative emissions most reminds me of is people who spend beyond their means and go deeply into debt, confident that in the future they’re going to have great opportunities that really increase their income and allow them to pay it off reliably,” Parson said. “There’s always temptation to overhype.”
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jord_mendoza.