OK, allow me another few words on the threat of climate change to our backyards, and then I’ll be quiet about it. Maybe. Well, probably I won’t.

Just in the past hundred years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air has increased far beyond what it’s been in more than 800,000 years. This increase is causing the Earth to heat up; July was the hottest month ever recorded. A recent news analysis of temperatures found that many counties in the U.S. are now averaging nearly 2 degrees Celsius or more warmer than the average for the past 124 years, including Kennebec, Franklin, Oxford and Cumberland counties in Maine. Somerset, Knox and Waldo counties are just a tick or two lower. Most of this has happened in the last roughly 40 years because the way we live pumps so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Plastic is filling up roadsides, landfills, lakes, oceans and, it turns out, even the air. Sea level is rising, eroding beaches and affecting buildings and businesses. Extreme weather events associated with climate change are increasing in frequency and severity.

The question here, as David Wallace-Wells says in his book “The Uninhabitable Earth,” is not whether climate change is happening, but how bad its effects are going to be. We can put brakes to the disaster barreling straight at us, or we can spend a couple more decades playing video games and drive our descendants directly into a “century of hell” in the 2100s, in which parts of the Earth become unlivable because of extreme heat, weather, drought, wildfires and famines.

Bill Moyers has pointed out that curbing the effects of climate change requires a mobilization similar to — but larger than — the mobilization to fight World War II. Everybody will have to do their bit. Billions and billions of grains of sand make up a beach. If all the grains stay together, there’s a beach. If many individual grains drop out, the beach drops out.

It’s not just that “every little bit helps.” It’s that every little bit is critical.

So, what are your little bits? Here’s a short list of things you can do to make sure the grains of sand in your backyard count. Some readers will think of more, and scold me for not including them. Every bit is welcome.

 

THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW

• Reuse every plastic container and bag you can, and recycle everything else your town’s recycling system accepts — paper, plastic, metal, glass, batteries, electronic items.

• Get the 5 cents for drink containers. If that seems like too much trouble for too little cash, then put them in your town’s recycling system.

• Bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store. Bring reusable bags to put produce in.

• Share, swap or donate stuff you no longer use instead of tossing it into a landfill. Use used stuff.

• Walk or bike to work if you can, even if it means an extra half-hour.

• Drive high-mileage vehicles.

• Make one drive to do five errands instead of five drives for five errands.

• Use electric lawnmowers and tools.

• Use a canoe instead of a gas-powered outboard motor.

• Stop using pesticides and herbicides unless your house or health are at risk.

• Let more trees and shrubs grow on your property.

• Grow as much of your own food as you can. The less shipped food is bought, the fewer trucks are spewing smoke in the air to ship it.

• Compost your organic garbage instead of throwing it in a plastic bag destined for a landfill.

• Vote for representatives who understand climate change is serious.

• Critical: Teach your children and grandchildren to do these things as routines. Find ways beyond blah-blah-blah explaining to make sure they understand why.

 

THINGS YOU CAN DO IF YOU HAVE ENOUGH MONEY

• Either by choice or by necessity, commerce, transportation and agriculture are going to change on huge scales. Businesses will follow our money wherever we lead them. So all together, we can go in directions like these:

• Get an electric-powered vehicle. Best is all-electric. Second-best is a hybrid (that gets part of its power from a battery and part from a gasoline engine); there are no power issues any more with hybrids, so this won’t damage your manhood.

• Install an electric, solar or geothermal heating system.

• Install an on-demand hot water system.

• Buy as much food as you can from local growers. As farmers market prices stand now, you have to be well-to-do to make this work as a complete buying practice. Do what you can.

• Remove your investments from businesses that destroy land for profit, such as those owned or supported by, for example, the oil industry — which actively encourages the use of plastics and the burning of fossil fuel, which creates carbon dioxide, which is the main cause of global warming — and the large-scale agricultural industry — whose pesticide-, fertilizer- and mono-farming methods devastate ecosystems.

 

THINGS THAT SOUND STUPID BUT AREN’T

• Stop leaving your vehicle idling. Stop it. An idling car in 10 seconds burns more fuel than it takes to start it back up; engineers have found there is no “wear and tear” factor in turning the engine off and on. Sometimes you might need to warm up the car on a cold morning or keep it cool on a hot day for a baby or grandparent. But otherwise, idling your vehicle is costing you money for nothing and is stoking atmospheric heat.

• Eat less meat. Agricultural livestock operations produce more than 14% of all greenhouse gases, about the same amount as the emissions from all the cars, trucks, airplanes and ships. Vast tracts of land are deforested every year to make room for livestock operations, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and eliminating trees that soak it up. While the actual numbers are debated, no one contests that cow and sheep farts and manure throw enormous amounts of methane into the air. Plant-based foods have much smaller carbon footprints than meat foods. The less meat-producing livestock, the less greenhouse gas.

• Fly less. Find vacation destinations that don’t require airplanes. It’s estimated that aircraft account for 11% of CO2 emissions from U.S. transportation sources and that nearly half of worldwide CO2 emissions from aircraft are generated by U.S. planes. The less people fly, the fewer flights are dumping exhaust in the air.

• Stop listening to politicians who say that climate change isn’t happening, or that human activities are not causing it. It’s happening, and we’re making it worse. Some of those politicians just conveniently believe what other politicians, news media shills and businesspeople (such as oil company representatives) tell them. But most of them know damn well that climate change is happening and that we’re making it worse, and they’re telling you bald-faced lies. Their motivation? Money.

 

ONE LAST THING ABOUT YOUR ATTITUDE

Stop thinking we’re going to get out of this for free. We’re not.

Either it’s going to cost you some money and inconvenience now, or it’s going to cost your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren huge amounts of money and trouble later. The trouble is likely to reach a range of widespread outright suffering and in some parts of the world, death, within 50 years. Rising air temperatures and sea levels, droughts, extreme weather events, and probably weird diseases (e.g., tick-borne Lyme disease) are going to drive whole populations from their homes into other parts of the world and cause economic, social and political instabilities. It’s already happening in Syria and affecting Europe, in Central America and affecting the U.S.

Climate change cannot be stopped now. But its effects can be mitigated. If you want your descendants to have a fighting chance at a halfway decent life, you’ve got to start ponying up money and sacrificing conveniences. Now or never.

You can’t personally save the world. But you can make sure your handful of sand is on the beach.

 

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected]. His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods,” available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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