Guest column: Climate change goes beyond politics

Climate change won’t respect party, philosophies

Despite the recent politicizing of climate change by the media, the health of our planet is not a left/right or a liberal vs. conservative issue. Climate change is a large and daunting moral challenge that will impact Republicans, Democrats and independents without prejudice. And our changing climate will be color blind to red and blue states.

Even though we may feel insulated from some of the distant impacts of climate change, such as melting glaciers and sea-level rise, scientists tell us our area of the country will still feel the impact. Arkansas' forecast includes longer, hotter and dryer summers -- imagine summertime weather more like San Antonio, Texas. Warmer winters without measurable snowfall will also be more frequent and will allow summertime insect-borne illnesses like Lyme Disease and the Zika Virus to flourish. Additionally, warmer atmospheric temperatures will lead to more intense storm events and greater frequency of tornadoes.

Many of these changes are already beginning. Without significant reductions of carbon emissions, they will continue to exacerbate.

In light of changing federal priorities on climate and energy, what can be done to minimize the impacts of climate change in our communities and what can we do as individuals to reduce our impact on the planet?

Communities must begin to invest in plans, policies and actions that advance resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, misfortune or change. Water supplies need to be hardened to withstand both floods and droughts. Transportation systems must be designed to accommodate and promote alternative transportation modes such as public transit, bicycling and walking. The percentage of waste diverted from our landfills and recycled must continue to increase. Electric utility companies need to be pressured to generate a growing percentage of their electric power from renewable sources such as wind and solar. The health of our urban and rural forests, which provide both beneficial carbon uptake and summertime cooling, must be protected from fire, drought and new diseases. Protecting forest health may include planting new species of trees that are better adapted to withstand changes in our climate. Urban heat islands (summertime heat generated from large numbers of buildings and paved surfaces in cities) need to be mitigated by additional street trees, light-colored roofs and green space preservation. And we must re-build our soils so they have greater ability to store moisture both to mitigate flooding and to protect forest and food crops from drought.

As individuals we can plant trees that will provide summertime cooling, slow storm water runoff and reduce carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere -- contact the Beaver Watershed Alliance or the Illinois River Watershed Partnership to get involved in their next tree-planting event. We can invest in energy efficiency by weatherizing our homes and businesses and by installing more efficient lighting -- contact your utility company to see if incentives or low-interest loans are available. We can also invest in renewable energy such as solar panels for our homes and ask our utility companies to provide more energy from low-carbon sources. Consider fuel efficiency when making your next vehicle purchase and commit to making one short trip (less than 3 miles) per week by bicycle or by walking. If lack of sidewalks or bicycle lane/paths in your neighborhood are a barrier then ask your local elected officials to make those infrastructure investments a priority.

And as consumers we can also support companies and products that are committed to protecting our planet. A list of over 1,000 companies that support a low-carbon economy is available here: http://www.lowcarbonusa.org. Note who is on the list and more importantly who is missing!

I will not be around to see the year 2100, but my son, who is almost 6 years old, has a pretty good chance of seeing the next century. If we can reduce carbon emissions and limit global temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius, then we can hand him and the other 11 billion people on the planet a world with a safe and stable climate much like what we enjoyed during the last century.

As Americans we have a civic and moral responsibility to set aside political ideologies and work together to make our communities more resilient, to reduce carbon emissions and to protect the health of our planet for future generations.

Commentary on 04/17/2017

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