People Making a Climate Difference
Caroly Shumway, Ph.D.
It's people that got us into this climate emergency, and it's people that will get us and the planet out of it. Today, I want to share five stories of people and groups who are making a difference on climate change through very different approaches and perspectives.
1. Ensuring all people can save energy in their homes: Donnell Baird, BLocPower: As reported in the Washington Post's Climate Visionaries series, Mr. Baird figured out a way to scale up green, renewable energy by reaching 'the hard-to-reach': those who can't afford the switch from fossil fuels to renewables. Since 2012, his start-up has provided solar panels and energy-efficient heat pumps to over 1100 low-income buildings in New York City. The energy efficiency gains lower the energy costs to property owners, improve air quality in neighborhoods by replacing ancient boilers, furnaces, and the stoves and ovens used to supplement heat, create local jobs, and provide profit to investors. The effort is soon to expand to dozens more cities in the U.S.
2. Putting carbon back into the soil: Dr. Rattan Lal, Professor at Ohio State University, has spent his life's work figuring out how to put more carbon into the soil, winning the World Food Prize in 2020 for his effort. In 1985, Dr. Lal met my grandfather, Dr. Roger Revelle, in Nigeria. My grandfather had been one of the earliest scientists to discover human impacts on climate change, writing about it in the late 1950's in Scientific American. Dr. Lal had just been hired at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture with the task of improving the quality and quantity of food. However, the soil underneath his cleared plots of land quickly lost its topsoil. Dr. Lal talked to my grandfather about the problem of the carbon in the soil escaping into the air, and my grandfather mused, "Can you put it back?" Meaning, can you put the carbon back into the soil? My grandfather's question inspired Dr. Lal's lifework in regenerative agriculture, a farming approach which focuses on improving and regenerating soil. In the process, the soil becomes a key solution to our climate change problem. Soil is the second largest repository of carbon in the world, after the oceans.
3. Enlisting an army of mothers and grandmothers: A young mom frets about the world she might be leaving to her baby, and wonders what she can do to make it better. Mothers (and fathers) often view the world through the lens of legacy motivation: wanting to leave a legacy to the next generation. Legacy motivation is one of the strongest motivators for pro-environmental behavior. Several groups tap the power of social influence, credible messengers, and legacy motivation to make a difference. Science Moms works to demystify climate change and motivate mothers worried about the future of the planet to action. Created by six female climate scientists, the group provides climate information and ways for mothers to get involved. Mothers Out Front brings together mothers and grandmothers for civic engagement at a state and national level. A similar group, Climate Dads, reaches out to fathers.
4. Offering hope: Washington Post environmental reporter Sarah Kaplan, among others, writes eloquently and passionately about the climate emergency, but also provides frequent stories of climate hope. Her most recent piece, "Humanity's greatest ally against climate change is Earth itself," describes the myriad ways the environment can help to buffer human-caused carbon emissions. From giant kelp to mangroves and other blue-carbon coastal ecosystems to soils to forests, natural climate systems could store almost 2/3 of the carbon that we humans emit, if we only protected it.
5. Making climate change personal: A hunter laments, "When I visit one of our trout streams...and I get in it in the early spring, and the water's warmer than it used to be, and I don't find fish there, I feel such a degree of loss." This and other video stories at ClimateStoriesNC describes real people and real climate problems from North Carolina. The stories cut across all ages and occupations, ranging from outdoorsman Richard Mode to beekeeper Leigh-Kathryn Bonner to a fisherman and seafood market owner, Willy Phillips. Research by Hart and Nisbet, 2012 shows that conservatives are more likely to be touched by climate change messages when the climate stories reflect local people like them.
It's people that got us into this climate emergency, and it's people that will get us out. But it will take all of us. No step is too small to begin making a difference; the key is just to start! Me. You. All of us.
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