The true scope of the changes we expect to see in the coming years as we adjust to a warming planet has become plainly apparent to so many people we’ve spoken with here this summer.
We’ve been closely watching the rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and the glacial pace of government, industry and the general public’s reaction to these changes, for decades now.
When we encountered our neighbors trying to take walks through streets hazy with smoke and bits of ash from Canadian wildfires in June, we shared brief not-so-pleasantries and jokes about how we’re glad we still have plenty of N95 masks at home, left over from the pandemic, to protect us from the smog. Some people said they felt like they were out camping. It felt like a crazy anomaly.
Then several of the hottest days in recorded history hit the world in early July. While the heat wasn’t quite earth-shattering here, the crushing humidity sent us indoors to binge on news about the heat domes spreading around the world. It didn’t help the general gloom.
And then we were hit by just the the edge of the torrential rain that washed away so much of upstate New York and Vermont and nobody was joking anymore. The neighborhood walkers, resigned to continuing their laps around the block, were filled with bleak commentary on the state of the world.
Of course this was all real, after decades of debate. Therapists who a decade ago may have asked their patients what it was about climate change that drew them to despair are now well-versed in talking them through climate anxiety. This is a situation in which, as individuals, we feel we have very little agency. There is good reason to be anxious, and it’s surrounding us, in our own environs, each and every day. But widespread anxiety is only the first step on the path toward engagement and action.
Collectively, we are building the tools to reverse the damage to our atmosphere done by 20th Century industrialization. Much of the technology needed to stop burning fossil fuels has already been built. Yes, it still needs fine-tuning and to be brought to scale. It needs to prove that it meets safeguards against shoddy labor practices and causing damage to the local environment where materials are sourced and where energy facilities are built.
The cry to ‘electrify everything’ is one that all homeowners can build into their budgets in the years ahead, particularly with new rebates and tax credits available for moving home utilities away from dependence on fossil fuels. We’ll be seeing a massive influx of affordable electric vehicles and charging networks in the next couple years. Locally, large-scale wind farms are slated to come online in very short order, ensuring that much of the electricity used to power Long Island’s grid comes from renewable sources.
Adapting to renewable energy is just one piece of this equation. There is a great deal of waste in our consumer economy that is also feeding this beast. Households in East Hampton Town alone are believed to throw out more than $20 million worth of food each year, most of which is trucked out of town, to be incinerated or placed in a landfill somewhere where it will rot and release methane into the atmosphere. When three trucks used to haul garbage for Southampton Town’s waste management department were all out of service for a week in mid-July, the green bags filled with garbage began to pile up quickly and the town needed to resort to renting trucks and contracting with private carters to move the waste out of town. And this is in a town where only 15 to 20 percent of residents rely on the town garbage services. We all can do more to make sure the food we bring into our houses doesn’t rot. Each of us makes hundreds of little decisions every day that impact our carbon footprint.
Beacon Climate Local Now columnist Brianne Briggmann has a few suggestions for apps that can help us change our personal impact on this crisis.
Those of us who were alive in the 1980s remember well the hole in the earth’s ozone layer, which if it had continued to widen would have subjected the world to intense and damaging ultraviolet radiation. Through an effort on the part of governments worldwide to ban the chemicals that caused the hole, the ozone layer is now on track to be restored to 1980 levels by 2040 over most of the world (it will take somewhat longer at the poles).
We were able to reverse that crisis. We have the tools to reverse this crisis, too. But engaged and proactive government is essential to seeing our commitments through. And for that, we need ‘climate voters.’ This is something all of us can do.