Climate Change, Fires, Wildlife
What Can Individuals Do About This?Posted on: September 17th, 2020
Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #23
The last few weeks have been weird and scary. The flurry of wildfires affecting the West Coast states (California, Oregon, and Washington) continues to bring tragic consequences, including loss of human lives, property, and natural habitats. The fires have also created visuals like we haven’t seen before, such as deep orange apocalyptic-looking skies that feel like an all-day sunset, and the silent rain of caustic ash coupled with horrible air quality indices. Add to that the fact that we’re still in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic accompanied by an unending stream of news, opinions, and finger-pointing, both expert and amateur, and you have the makings of an unsettling and depressing time.
I’d like to figuratively clear up the fog a bit with some facts, supported by lots of credible science and real expert opinions. I’d also like to offer some guidelines on what to focus on to weather these emotional and challenging times.
What the Experts Say
“No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear. Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns.”
— Park Williams, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, via The Mercury News
One of the first things that people need to do is pay attention to the sources of information they read and become critical about where they get their news. The need by media companies to produce revenue and compete for our attention and “clicks” is fierce, prompting some media outlets — the so-called “pundits” and less reputable “influencers” — to generate headlines that are, in effect, “clickbait.” These people shock, intrigue, and take you down the rabbit hole of fear-mongering and conspiracy theories, unsupported conclusions, and propaganda. I know it is a huge task, but it can be simplified if you create a habit of checking the source before clicking on the shocking headline.
Here is an excellent introduction to credible sources for science-based, evidence-supported news about the current situations, climate change, wildfires, and their relationships:
Understanding Bias in the News
We can’t help it. There is a lot of politics involved in the mass media, and everyone has an opinion about what is happening. However, when it comes to making personal decisions about our health, our options to adapt to changing conditions, and our understanding of the issues, it is helpful to know which mainstream media sources stay firmly based on reporting facts. Look for those sources that interpret and share the latest scientific and medical information untainted by political leanings. This approach truly helps gauge how objective and unbiased by politics our news sources are.
Here is a quick chart categorizing primary media outlets by their bias. This site calculates media bias based on multi-partisan scientific analysis:
Summary Statements on Climate Change, Fires, and Compounding Factors
There is a broad consensus among climate scientists that the trends we’re seeing are clear and robust. For example, global temperature has been increasing steadily over the last century, more strongly so in the previous decades. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases’ levels have risen exponentially during the last decades as well, and there is a clear and data-supported correlation with the steady increase in global temperatures. We keep breaking temperature records in the US and around the world every year. The melting of glaciers and the steady disappearance of polar ice is undeniable and visible. The intensity and frequency of hurricanes, wildfires, and rising sea levels are also evident.
The consequences of these combined factors have been staggering losses of human life, property, and natural habitats, with dire economic and social results. The impacts on the world’s biodiversity on which our global population depends for food, pollination, medicines, fisheries, forest products, and agricultural health, among others, are also essential to consider. The sooner we accept that this is real and a dire threat to our sustainability and wellbeing, the better prepared we’ll be to push forward concrete and achievable solutions and start to move the needle towards a more stable climate and resources.
What Can a Person Do?
The million-dollar question is, what can I do to help reverse the trends in climate change and associated impacts? The problems seem so huge, so insurmountable, that it is hard to see what an individual, a family, or even a small community can do to reverse the trends.
I like to answer these questions from the following perspective. I can change myself as an individual. I can get informed, make reasoned decisions, and follow a path I’d like others to follow, modeling good behaviors. I can influence my immediate family, spouse, and kids, and they can impact their close circles. I can also be a voice in my neighborhood and circle of friends, providing clarity and science-supported information. Social media has opened up this circle to include people all around the world. I can also become more active and have a voice in my community through my writing, behavior, and example. So, you can see how an individual can change and move a community. And if you are successful at this level, others will notice and repeat the pattern, creating multiple positive loops and circles of influence. “Lather, Rinse, Repeat.” We need to do this all the time, consistently moving the needle towards the solutions that are already articulated and are firmly based on facts, data, and sound science.
When you look at the world’s top environmental and thought leaders, you will see no one starting at the top level. They all started with a personal change, a drive to change, an unfailing passion for the planet and humanity, and influencing their immediate circles. Authentic, genuine voices resonate and expand like ripples in a pond. A teenager, Greta Thunberg, created a global environmental movement from something she started by herself, alone. Others have done this in their communities, and now we all can learn from them.
One of my life-long heroes said it best.
“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall
Resources on what individuals can do to change the world and help fix the climate challenge: