Our Climate, Their Future
With all the recent news about the National Climate Assessment report and recent news of how carbon emissions have continued to rise in 2018, you may be wondering what this means to you and more importantly, the future of our children and grandchildren.
Dodd Galbreath, assistant professor and founding director of the Institute of Sustainable Practice at Lipscomb University, provided some insights and ideas as steps toward a more sustainable future.
“The most important thing for today’s students to know is that all modern energy solutions have been largely resolved through collective effort,” said Galbreath. “Even though there are many decisions that we can make as individuals, we have to hope, pray, and work together for new, societal level energy solutions.
Galbreath points to recent reports that carbon emissions rose in 2018 in spite of increasing closures of coal energy plants. This data is clear evidence that we can’t rely on just one solution. Heat trapping emissions also come from fossil fuels that run cars, trucks, buildings, and industries.
He encourages us to ask ourselves first “what is the practical implication of burning so much petroleum and coal? Do we want to leave our children and grandchildren with more or fewer energy choices and affordable or really expensive energy bills.”
“There are practical reasons to consider even if you don’t believe that climate change is being caused by human carbon emissions,” said Galbreath. “For example, most of our food is grown, shipped, processed, packaged, and delivered to us by fossil fuel.” Today, ample fuel means cheap fuel and cheap food. If we burn up all fossil fuel in casual transportation, in heating and cooling buildings, and in industries who have more efficient options, can food grown by the rising cost of energy stay plentiful and cheap in the future?”
Lastly, we should ask ourselves, “How have successful, collective societal level responses begun in the past? History shows us they begin with small, individual actions, distributed across society by doers and leaders to most of us who don’t act early. Leading in this challenge can lead many others to a lifestyle that makes a real difference.
Some simple tips include:
The first thing you should do, according to Galbreath, is to ask retailers to give you more options without plastic. Then, begin to eliminate plastic from your purchases entirely. Consumer choice is the primary measure of retailer offerings. Since plastic is largely petroleum, its use and value declines since it cannot be infinitely recycled. Recent research shows that 80-90% of plastic ends up in landfills, uses up valuable energy and space, and litters our lakes and oceans ending up in the stomachs of wildlife. It also breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, lasts for decades, and releases harmful chemicals into our water and land. The Chattanooga Times Free Press recently reported that the Tennessee River has 80 times more microplastics than the Rhine River in Germany.
Buy durable products that last. Think of the last time that you tried to save money on something cheap that ultimately broke in 1-2 years. How many of those purchases could have been made once with a durable product? Reusable, durable, insulated, metal drink containers for example need much less ice and replace dozens of throw away plastic or paper cups. Consider supporting and purchasing from companies like Patagonia make things that will last 20+ years.
Energy not used is energy saved. For example, it is very easy and impactful to switch to energy efficient LED light bulbs. These bulbs may cost more upfront, but because they utilize 90 percent less energy and last longer, they reduce our total energy budget. They also pay for themselves in less than two years. Better yet, you won’t replace them for 10-20 years, ultimately saving money and time. Repeat this practice with energy star appliances, fuel efficient cars, and car sharing.
Buy products from companies that are doing their part. Try to reward the companies that use truly compostable products and that are meeting renewable energy quotas that eventually will reach 100 percent.
Ask politicians and the university to invest in things that will keep us healthy and that honor our Creator’s designs and handiwork. Help the university by not wasting food (a huge source of energy waste and climate warming methane.) Invest in solar panels, and ask others to invest, too. Volunteer to increase tree canopy and plant spongy landscaping to soak up more carbon and flood waters.
Ask others to be accountable. You are the leader who will diffuse these changes to the societal level, because, like Galbreath mentioned, we cannot change the world unless we have a societal level response. And, as you move from college to professional life, seek out daily purchases, transportation, living, and lifestyle opportunities that include lifecycle costs and benefits into the product’s design and cost. Sustainable choices and expectations leverage more change than recycling unsustainable ones.
Galbreath explains what life will be like if society does not make a change:
The National Climate Assessment was 1,000 pages built from the work of over 300 authors breaking down the climate change and its impact across the country.
The earth is already one degree hotter than it was before the Industrial Revolution, and if that kind of change continues, the climate could become catastrophic, says the report.
Galbreath said there is less than one half of one percent of carbon in our atmosphere currently. Many Americans may wonder how the atmosphere of the planet can change so dramatically when is has only minute quantities of carbon. Galbreath compared the earth’s temperature to a person’s body temperature.
“When we get sick our temperature changes one or two degrees,” said Galbreath. “Those tiny increments of temperature change can still give us a fever. The planet functions in a similar way.
As the average temperature of our planet rises, areas that already have more extreme climate conditions will be the first to be hard hit. Drier and hotter places will get much drier and hotter. Rainy places will get more rainfall. Places with milder climate conditions, like the continental United States for example, will see little change for a while.
Although it is difficult to see the effects of carbon in our atmosphere, Galbreath explained that in the next 81 years, we will continue to see the extreme parts of the planet become more unlivable and the temperate areas will become more erratic.
“Where most of the people live and who emit most of the carbon, unfortunately have the least incentive to change,” said Galbreath. “It is people who live on islands, on coasts, in deserts and rainy areas that will receive most of the consequences. They also often have the least ability to contribute. However, eventually, even the temperate zones like Tennessee will start fluctuating more dramatically as we saw in Nashville’s unique 2010 flood.
"Tennessee’s climate is expected to become more like northern Alabama, reducing our maple trees and increasing drier climate species like pine trees. The circumstances of life simply will become less predictable, food and farming practices will have to evolve, and over centuries, the climate will start to behave more as it did in the past, swinging more wildly and more frequently from ice ages to tropical ages until equilibrium is reached again.”
Galbreath mentioned that much of the changing climate is invisible. Because these changes cannot be seen, there is a lot of apathy in society behind changing carbon footprints. Even though we cannot see a lot of these changes, students can create vision by their votes, purchases, and requests of others to spur society into a new mindset and lifestyle and by adopting some of these tips into their own lives.