Earth Day 2007: time for personal action

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In the depths of World War II Americans looked over the precipice of defeat. Nazi Germany swept through Europe and the heart of Russia in a swath of death and destruction. Fascist Japan plundered its way through China, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Amidst the pillaging, America was attacked at Pearl Harbor.

Facing a looming catastrophe, Americans were asked to personally respond. And respond they did. Not with hand wringing and cries of doom, but with personal action. They bought war bonds, rationed gasoline, scrimped and saved every penny and went door to door collecting the necessary materials needed to fight this war.

Fast forward 65 years: the earth and all its creatures face another potential catastrophe. Not one as obvious as World War II, but a much longer-term crisis, one that will slowly build, increasing its plunder as decades go by. That catastrophe is global warming. Without decisive action now, the whole world, and all its human, animal and plant inhabitants, could face significant, irreversible damage.

The scientific basis for this pessimistic outlook is the second installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) report, which came out in early April. The IPCC study is considered the most authoritative scientific analysis of the cause and effects of global climate change. The report noted that the expected rise in temperatures because of increased CO 2 emissions will put 20-30 percent of the world’s plant and animal species at risk of extinction. There will be increased drought in dry regions and increased flooding in wet regions. Water supplies from snow cover will decline and with it crop production will decrease. People in poor countries will suffer the most, unable to bear the cost of disease and disaster.

There are the hand wringers who argue nothing can be done. But there are also those willing to personally respond. For, according to the scientists, this crisis is not inevitable: it can be changed by your and my actions. It might require sacrifice, a change in lifestyle and inevitably a change of attitude. But it is possible to take steps now to help the earth and the lives of future generations. What can we do today to reduce our contribution to global climate change?

  • Get an energy audit of your house to determine how best to reduce energy use. Common ways improving insulation, installing new windows and reducing duct work leakage.
  • If you or your place of work builds a new place or adds on, build energy efficiency into the blueprints. Use passive solar, natural ventilation and recycled building materials.
  • Ditch the SUV or gas-guzzling car and drive a more fuel-efficient vehicle. A hybrid or clean-diesel car can easily double your gas mileage and lessen the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Write your Congressperson in support of a carbon tax or a carbon “cap and trade” system, both of which encourage energy efficiency for the large emitters of carbon dioxide.
  • Take public transport, carpool or bike to work
  • Buy locally produced organic produce. This cuts down the emissions related to production, transportation and storage of crops grown in distant places.
  • Produce your own solar electricity. With state and federal rebates a 4 kilowatt DC solar system can more than pay for itself and produce half your electricity needs.
  • Reduce your meat and dairy consumption. The methane produced from cows is 23 times more damaging to the environment than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from cars or factories. It also takes enormous amounts of energy to raise cattle and deliver that meat and milk to your table.
  • Bring your own bags to the grocery store. The billions of un-recycled bags given away by grocery stores not only pollute our landscape, but also take large amounts of energy to produce.
  • Reduce, reuse, conserve, that’s the bottom line. And, for a more complete listing of what you can do, see the April 9 issue of Time magazine.

The same message millions heard and responded to during World War II applies today. The common denominator? Personal commitment to change and a can-do attitude. Like Americans during World War II, Americans today are capable of great things. With the right outlook and a desire to leave our planet a better place for future Earth Days, we can make a difference.

Ken Martens Friesen, Ph. D., teaches political science and history at Fresno Pacific University. This summer he is driving a Volkswagen Jetta that runs on used vegetable oil on a 6,000 mile journey around America to demonstrate and talk about practical things we can do to reduce our ‘footprint’ on the earth.

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