The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report to the United Nations last week confirming what we at the National Aquarium and so many others in our field already know: Our planet is changing in ways that will soon be irreversible and we must take significant, immediate steps to combat the harmful effects of climate change.
The findings in A Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate are not a worst-case-scenario warning of what might happen if we must someday contend with humankind’s untenable reliance on fossil fuels; they are a detailed compilation of the sweeping, intense effects climate change has had on our ocean planet. The IPCC’s report was compiled from 6,981 independent studies and verified by a consortium of 100 leading climate scientists from countries around the world, including our own. It cites perceptible sea level rise, flooding, dangerously erratic weather, habitat loss and species extinction as current effects of climate change sure to intensify without intervention. The science supporting the scope and severity of the problem is clear, and we have been handed a global consensus on how to best intervene on behalf of our own future.
And yet, with our nation’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, we are less engaged in finding solutions than we were a few years ago. A 2018 Associated Press poll found that 71% of Americans accept that climate change is a reality, yet, for some others, a misunderstanding of the difference between weather and climate — which takes into consideration the 30-year averages in a region’s weather patterns — still creates confusion. Every moment spent discussing the veracity of prevailing climate science is a moment better spent acting to combat its rapidly intensifying effects. The IPCC report plainly states that humankind’s window to minimize the most severe impacts of climate change is now. We will have passed the global point of no return in fewer than 30 years. As concerned citizens, we do not have the luxury of time to hope that the reluctant few who control so much will come around.
Here at the National Aquarium, we are committed to empowering more than 1.3 million guests annually with the common sense tools necessary to join in the fight to preserve our future. Small actions embraced by many people have the potential to create real change.
The place to begin is wherever you are and the time to start is today.
Change can be simple and immediate. Become an Earth-friendly eater by choosing locally grown or produced fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy. Patronize designers, artisans and craftsmen producing high-quality, local goods from food to clothing, furniture and more in your community. Selecting local products eliminates freight required to import these goods from other regions and strengthens your local economy by keeping your money close to home.
Next, conduct a self-audit of your transportation habits. Public mass transportation is always a greener option, as is walking, biking or scootering for short trips. If you do need to drive, consider carpooling or ridesharing. Plan trips and errands carefully and be efficient, taking care of as many chores as possible in one trip to avoid hopping in your car for just one or two things.
Then, think a little bigger and look into renewable energy sources including wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower energies for heating and cooling your home. While the transition to cleaner, renewable sources is discouraged by some, development of these alternative energies continues to progress. Consumer demand is a powerful force for change. Rejecting traditional fossil fuels and insisting on cleaner alternatives when making decisions for our households is the most effective way to hasten progress.
Finally, exercise your power at the polls. Familiarize yourself with the conservation actions espoused by candidates at local, regional and national levels and vote for those who share your views. Attend town hall meetings and examine the environmental voting records of incumbent candidates. Align yourself with candidates that make environmental conservation their priority.
Whatever action you take, please begin today. The future will not wait, and we only have one planet.
Laura Bankey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president of conservation programs at the National Aquarium.