In early November, my husband and I attended an amazing talk. Mary Christina Wood, an environmental legal scholar, spoke about exciting new ways the law is being used to combat climate change. One is called “atmospheric trust litigation.” Since young people are the ones who have the most to lose, they are the plaintiffs and they have launched legal campaigns in all 50 states and have already had some success. To see more about it, go to Our Children’s Trust. You can click on different states to see where things stand thus far.
In the Pacific Northwest, where I live, a company called SSA Marine wants to build the biggest coal terminal (named GPT) in the world at Cherry Point, which is adjacent to my lovely town. This also happens to be the traditional fishing area of the Lummi Nation. The Lummis secured treaty rights from the U.S. government in 1855 and Article 5 of the Treaty of Point Elliot guarantees that “The right of taking fish from usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory. . .” This area includes Cherry Point, or Xwe’chi’eXen, as the Lummis have always called it. There isn’t much doubt that a coal terminal of this size would have a negative effect on the Lummis’ fishing rights. And SSA Marine’s attempts to convince the Lummis that GPT would benefit them have been unsuccessful.
It is encouraging that Obama has taken the Keystone XL Pipeline off of the table. But that is not sufficient. As Wood pointed out in her talk, the Pacific Northwest is ground zero for halting climate change. There are something like 16 proposed projects along the coast to serve as shipping terminals for either oil or gas. It is so much more than “Not In My BackYard.” It is about keeping those products in the ground and changing how much energy we use and what kind of energy it is.
It is, perhaps, ironic that our best hope at changing the path we are on rests on youth and North American Indians. Both are groups that are largely dis-enfranchised.
By the most recent science, we must decrease our carbon emissions by 7% each year if we start this year. If we wait a couple of years, it will have to be 15% per year! It is like compound interest except that it is not working in our favor. However, Wood encourages us to think of it as a down payment on our children’s future. It may be difficult now, but we will reap the benefits in the future.
So. What can we do? Support the children and native people in their fight. Demand action from our legislators. Tell candidates for office that you will not vote for them unless they promise to actively fight climate change—and then follow through. In fact, pick up your phone right now and call the White House (202) 456-1111 . Demand that the President accomplish something meaningful in Paris at the Climate Talks. Pledge that you, yourself, will reduce your energy use by 7% per year (we actually need it at the global level, but if we reduce demand we send a very clear message). We are trying to do some of the things listed below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. What are some of the things you are doing? I’d be interested in hearing ideas.
Live in a smaller home (the average amount of space per person has doubled in the past 40 years. It takes a lot of energy to maintain that size of a home. And do you really want to spend all your free time cleaning your home?)
Take out your lawn and put in something that does not require fertilizing, watering etc. Install drip irrigation systems for what has to be watered.
Make your home more energy efficient (eg insulate, reduce drafts, replace incandescent lights with CFLs or LEDs, use Energy Star appliances, unplug devices when not in use, use low-flow plumbing fixtures). Install low-flow fixtures. Often, cities have programs that help pay for this so take advantage of it!
Ever heard “If it is yellow, it’s mellow. If it is brown, flush it down.” In other words, only flush the toilet if you’ve gone #2. This may not be particularly pleasant, but have you seen what’s happening in California recently?
Install a programmable thermostat. We do not have one, but we try to remember to turn the heat off at least 30 minutes before we leave the house.
Wash clothes less often. It wears out the clothes and unless they are smelly or stained they don’t need it. Take shorter showers and try showering less often. I’ll admit, I still shower once a day. However, I now only wash my hair and shave every other day so I can take very short showers half the time.
Reduce or eliminate meat from your diet and do not waste food (Americans throw away a deplorable amount of food). Stop buying/eating junk food. Your body doesn’t need it and it takes an enormous amount of energy to produce it.
Reuse or recycle whenever you can. Buy in bulk so you don’t have all that nasty packaging to deal with. Be a detective and find out what can be recycled. I go to the website of my city’s recycling company and look things up.
Buy less stuff! Our closets have gotten bigger, our garages have gotten bigger. We even have storage lockers for all our extra “stuff.” Is any of this making anyone happier? I buy most of my clothes used (did you know it requires 2,900 gallons of water just to make one pair of jeans?!).
Reduce transportation carbon footprint (e.g., drive as little as possible-walk, bike, take the bus, carpool instead; drive an energy efficient vehicle; restrict recreational flights). When I walk or bicycle somewhere I think to myself “free exercise.”
Consolidate driving trips. This saves time too!
If you are taking vacations, try to take ones that are close to home. For instance, this summer we went to a small town that had a water park, amusement park, and lake with a beach that was only 45 miles away. The previous two summers we had driven 230 miles to a different lake with a water park. The water park that was closer was more expensive and didn’t have quite as many slides that were appropriate for our child, but there were enough and it was a helluva lot closer! We have friends who have moved to the south of France whom we would love to visit, but for us to fly there would put out over 1 ton of carbon. Instead we’ve started skyping. Ditto with relatives in London, Vienna, and Mexico City.
Apparently, taking one less flight per year is the equivalent of doing all of the other things above. Justin Gillis outlines some of this here.
Take pride in what you are doing to reduce your family’s carbon footprint and do not be afraid to tell others. Ask them what they are doing so you can get other ideas. This is the biggest “group project” ever. We all have to be in on it.