On June 27, 2018, the Spring Fire in southern Colorado was started by a man grilling meat in an outdoor pit. Within two weeks, it had become the state’s second largest fire in history, burning more than 108,000 acres.
The fire was both a natural and an unnatural disaster. Wildfires have always been a fixture of the Colorado mountain landscape and, in many cases, have been important in cleaning and pruning a forest and improving its health.
But this is not a normal pattern. In the 25 years from 1950 to 1985, the United States had only nine historically significant wildfires—those that have destroyed large swaths of land or property. By contrast, we have had nine in just the past seven years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. We’ve gone from one every three years to an average of 1.2 a year—more than triple the incidence.
In 2017 alone, wildfires burned more than 9 million acres of America’s forests, and scientists are unequivocal about the connection between this unprecedented level of burning and climate change. “Human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984,” wrote John Abatzoglou of the University of Idaho and Park Williams of Columbia University in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)in 2016. Note that word: caused. He is not saying this is just a connection. Climate change causedby humans has doubled the area that has burned since 1984. Humans > climate change > forest fires.
In the face of all this, it’s human to feel powerless. But if we care about our planet, we’ll use what power we have—often. Here’s how.
- Make your elected officials accountable. The biggest decision on land-use policies, adoption of alternative energies, and dependence on fossil fuels are made by city councils, state legislators, and the U.S. Congress and Senate. Contact your local, regional, and national representatives and let them know you see climate change as an essential issue that affects your family and community’s health and livelihood. Contact them regularly. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter and engage them in conversation on this issue. Share related articles with them. Get this on their agenda.
One fact to keep in mind: 97 percent of climate scientists have concluded that climate change is happening, and it is caused by humans.
If you don’t know how to find your representative, Common Cause has a site where you can just put it your zip code and get contact information for your state and local officials at https://www.commoncause.org/find-your-representative/
- Educate yourself. Check reputable organizations to learn the essential facts on how humans are affecting the climate. My favorites: The Yale Program on Climate Change(http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/), the Climate Reality Project (https://www.climaterealityproject.org), and the Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org).
I also belong to the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy, the National Parks Foundation, and I support the Natural Resources Defense Council. There are hundreds of local and national nature and environmental organizations that will keep you connected and informed. Just Google it and find what fits.
- Talk about it to friends.Climate change is a fact, not a theory, and we need not be hesitant to bring it up socially. According to a report by the Yale Program on Climate Change, 69 percent of respondents in the United States believe global warming is real, and 56 percent are worried about it. Butfewer than a third of those ever talk about it to family or friends. Why not? Often because nobody else is talking about it and we’re too polite to bring up the subject.
Here’s a troubling statistic that proves this point: climate change was virtually ignored in the presidential debates of 2016, with only five minutes and 27 seconds, or 2 percent of the total time, given to the topic, according to Media Matters. Not one climate-related question was asked by the moderators.
I offer advice on how to talk about climate change on my Psychology Todayblog: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/all-is-well/201803/can-we-break-the-spiral-silence-climate-change?amp
- Change your consumption habits. Much of the stress on the planet comes from fossil fuels burned while producing and delivering foods and consumer goods.
- Buy local, especially food. It will be fresher, healthier, and will taste better, plus it won’t have to take a train, airplane, semi, and delivery truck to get to you. And you’ll be supporting small producers who generally are more energy-conscious than larger conglomerates.
- Challenge your need for every purchase.
- Buy gently used. I have a fabulous resale shop in town where a woman my size sends her “old” clothes. I get to wear fabulous name brands I would not buy otherwise and they are in great shape.
- Avoid disposables. Basically, stay away from any single-use product, especially water bottles.
- Shop with reusable bags, use refillable drink cups, eliminate straws unless you are disabled or otherwise need them, avoid paper plates and, if you must have plastic for a picnic or camping, buy washable products. I bought a stainless-steel thermal drink cup with a stainless-steel straw and I have been using it for more than a year. It makes drinks taste better and keeps them cool forever, plus I get discounts when I refill it at the local convenience store.
- Buy the largest container you can handle for shampoo, juice, milk, or other packaged products. If possible, find a store that offers refills.
- Use soap rather than packaged bath gel. Consider soap shampoo—it’s actually pretty effective. Use a vinegar rinse in a reusable spray bottle for a conditioner. I do this, and I get many compliments on my hair.
- Eat a plant-based diet. Plants use significantly less fossil fuels than meats. Especially try to cut down on beef, which not only requires as much as ten times the fuel as plant foods, but also comes from cows that give off methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to man-made climate change.
Beans, seeds, nuts, and cheese are excellent sources of protein. And, according to Washington Post food columnist Tamar Haspel, who did the math, “Giving up beef once a week in favor of beans, over the course of a year, is the equivalent of not burning 38 gallons of gas, or of trading in 12 incandescent bulbs for LED.”
- Walk, bike, or use public transportation when you can. Limit your air travel. Buy fuel efficient cars, ideally hybrids. I admit to failing at this. I live in Iowa, have a cabin in Colorado, a daughter in Vermont and a son in Turkey, so I spend more time on the road and in airplanes than is environmentally healthy. I try to make up the difference elsewhere.
- Support alternative energy.
- Buy into an alternative energy plan with your utility company, if available.
- If you’re replacing your stove, electric models are generally more environmentally sound than gas, especially if your local utility uses alternative energy.
- Install solar panels for at least some of your energy needs; they are decreasing in price and becoming more easily available.
- Recycle. If your community offers a regular pick-up service, as mine in Des Moines does, this is easy. If not, search out a recycling center. We have to do our own makeshift recycling at our remote Colorado cabin, which requires some serious organization because different nearby towns take different products and have different requirement.
- Buy products that can be recycled or are made from recycled materials.
- Compost. This is a natural way to recycle food products. You can buy handy bins online that do the work for you. My son Josh has one on his terrace in Istanbul.
- Vote. Support candidates whose policies promote a healthy environment.