Smoke Stacks, 1942 - photo Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress

Opinion

 Like most Americans, I’m concerned about climate change. Sometimes I feel discouraged.  I worry about my children’s future, and I don’t always know what to do to improve things. With Earth Day approaching, I tried to answer that question for myself and found some surprising answers.

Let’s start with a few facts. We’ve known since the 1820s that the earth is wrapped in a blanket of heat-trapping gases. This is the greenhouse effect.

When we burn fossil fuels, we release greenhouse gases into the air. The amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has skyrocketed since the start of the industrial era. It’s like we keep piling more blankets on the bed.

As we trap more heat in the atmosphere, temperatures go up. Higher temperatures make heat waves worse. They also mean less snowpack, reducing the runoff essential to Nevada rivers and reservoirs.

Where do all these greenhouse gases come from? According to the EPA the largest source is transportation (commercial and personal). Generating electricity accounts for 25% of emissions. Industry is a close third (23%). The final 23% comes from agriculture, commercial buildings and homes.

 Even if you and I and everyone else did everything in our power to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions, we’d only be able to control 40% of total emissions. How utility companies generate electricity, the number of gas-powered commercial trucks on the road, industrial processes—these are all outside our control.

 And let’s not forget that renters can’t reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by improving the energy efficiency of their building or installing solar panels on the roof. Many people do not have the means to replace their car with an electric vehicle.

 We should all do what we can to reduce our own impact, but that alone will not solve the problem. The structure of our world needs to change.

Government has an important role to play. The current administration has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030. We must demand action to reach that goal!

 As individuals, our most important tools are our voice and our vote. Climate change is a critical voting issue for me. If a candidate doesn’t have a plan to reduce greenhouse gases, then they aren’t taking the problem seriously. And that puts my children’s future at risk.

 A lot of people who name the environment as a top priority don’t even vote! In the 2016 election, that amounted to 10 million voters. If you don’t vote, you are silencing yourself.

People silence themselves in other ways too. Most Americans rarely or never discuss climate change according to a study by Yale Climate Change Communication. This study also shows that the majority of Americans are either alarmed or concerned about climate change.

 What would happen if we talked about these worries? Chances are we’d find other people who feel the same way. We’d also find that a lot of people are already working on the problem. And once you know that, it’s easier to find the strength to do something. Working with others on a problem we care about is empowering. It’s so much easier to change things when we work together.

I joined Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which is working on climate legislation at the federal level. A strong price on carbon could reduce America’s carbon pollution 50% by 2030. The fee would be paid by companies that produce fossil fuels. The revenue collected must be used to help US households transition away from fossil fuels. A monthly check would be enough to essentially cover increased costs for 85% of households.

 Working with Citizens’ Climate Lobby helps me take my angst and turn it into action. It feels good to work with people who share my concerns. And that motivates me to get involved locally.

 Also, my family is working to improve the energy efficiency of our home. We’re saving up so we can replace our twenty-five year old natural gas furnace with a cold climate heat pump.

 Since it’s an election year, you can bet that I’m looking closely at candidates at all levels of government. If they don’t have a plan, they won’t get my vote.

 I want to leave a livable world for future generations. And I will not be silent about climate change.

 I urge you to speak out. Make climate change a voting issue. Write or call Rep. Amodei, Sen. Cortez Masto and Sen. Rosen to tell them the US needs a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030. Every day should be Earth Day.


Michelle Hamilton is a volunteer with the Reno/Sparks chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.


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