If there were ever an Earth Day where climate change is most pertinent in the minds of the Bay Area community, it may be Earth Day 2023.
In recent months, climate change has affected many of us personally. The recent New Year’s Eve atmospheric river resulted in the second-wettest day on record in San Francisco. Subsequent flooding ensued, affecting residents and businesses alike, who were generally ill-prepared for such a historic event. On February 24th, rare snowfall was seen throughout the Bay Area, leading to various road closures and traffic incidents. Largely unprecedented winter storms continued into March, where we have seen historical snowpack in higher elevation regions of California.
Our houses have been flooded, our streets have been ravaged by potholes, trees have fallen on our properties, and we have been subjected to days on end with no power in our homes. These disasters result from a lesser-known manifestation of climate change – more frequent and intense storms. Greenhouse gas emissions cause our land, ocean, and atmospheric temperatures to rise. Warmer oceans result in more water evaporating into the air, leading to heavier precipitation once storms reach land. Simultaneously, our warmer atmosphere allows for more moisture to be held at any given time, exacerbating the issue. Nonetheless, some may say these recent events are a welcome change to the previous extensive drought and wildfire seasons we have become accustomed to in California. Regardless of what catastrophic weather events are occurring at any given period, they have one thing in common: they are all driven by anthropogenic, or human-induced, climate change.
Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions trapping heat in our atmosphere and, thus, warming our Earth. Greenhouse gas emissions are produced through a variety of human activities including the burning of fossil fuels, transportation, agriculture, and waste generation. To combat this global problem, various international agreements have been set in place including the Kyoto Protocol and the infamous Paris Agreement. The goal of the Paris Agreement was initially to keep global warming below 1.5˚C to avoid catastrophic climate disaster that occurs at and after that threshold. However, we are currently on pace to reach 2.8˚C of warming because of inadequate global climate policies.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report indicated that in order to have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5 ˚C, we would need to make swift, deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels globally. Achieving this reduction would need to include retiring fossil-fueled power plants, implementing carbon removal technologies, and decarbonizing and electrifying various aspects of our society.
Now, you may notice that these changes would require change on a massive scale, far beyond the scope of individual consumers. But individual choices do matter! While our own individual decisions may not tip the scale in the right direction in terms of emissions, our collective decisions can certainly make a difference. The largest greenhouse gas emitters: power generators, industry and the agriculture sector, are all driven by consumer demand. In other words, they only produce at an unsustainable rate because of the demand in them we create.
However, we have the opportunity as individual consumers to modify this demand. For example, if enough of us chose to eliminate meat and dairy from our diets, production of these carbon-intensive commodities would decrease due to decreasing demand, thus greatly reducing emissions within the agriculture sector. Other changes we can make include choosing electric vehicles, supporting a circular economy, electrifying our homes, reducing food waste, and practicing the 4 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot).
While collective consumer efforts are massively important, they are only one part of the solution to the climate crisis. Unprecedented, far-reaching action on behalf of national governments will be necessary to avoid the worst climate risks of global warming. This would need to include clear goals addressed by laws, policies, international cooperation, and technology. Our individual and collective voices can make a huge impact here! We as individuals can help advocate for climate action by contacting our local representatives, writing letters to editors, or even engaging others in conversations about key climate issues.
From record heat waves to unprecedented storms to wildfires that turn our sky orange, the climate crisis has become painfully evident in the Bay Area. As the effects of climate change begin to manifest more prominently in our community, we must ask ourselves how we can become part of the solution. The climate crisis is a wicked problem whose solution will require a great deal of cooperation, cohesion, and sacrifice. Luckily, we can all work together through collective action to fortify our voices and power. This Earth Day, you can begin your journey and join the fight against climate change by wielding the power that you have as an individual. The sky’s the limit!