Column: Climate emergency siren is wailing. What should we do now?
When we are jolted awake by a piercing alarm and the smell of smoke, we act without hesitation, gather our loved ones and rush from our homes.
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When we are jolted awake by a piercing alarm and the smell of smoke, we act without hesitation, gather our loved ones and rush from our homes. When red lights flash and a siren wails behind us, we immediately move to the side of the road. In a clear emergency, we know the importance of a rapid response.
A recent report by over 11,000 scientists in the journal Bioscience urgently warns that planet Earth “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency,” and that the response plans of the United States, China, India and many other countries are “totally inadequate.” This climate emergency is a matter of life or death for millions of people right now and an existential threat to humanity (and most other species) in the future. With each passing day, it becomes more outrageous that our federal government ignores the existence of this emergency and effectively blocks traffic for first responders and tampers with the smoke alarms.
But the lack of national leadership does not make us helpless. Our relatively tiny state of Hawaii has already had an outsized positive impact by enacting laws to achieve 100% renewable energy generation and carbon neutrality by 2045, and we are installing solar panels and switching to electric vehicles at a record pace. In the face of increasingly dire scientific models, we are also capable of doing much more. Here are a few examples of emergency action to take.
Plant more trees. We’ve all felt the draining effects of increased humidity and heat, and this problem will only get worse. Trees literally provide outdoor air-conditioning. Shade from trees also cool the inside of buildings, and trees absorb carbon dioxide to combat climate warming. If our neighborhoods and work environments aren’t already lined with trees, we should all become urban forestry activists and seek permission to plant trees ourselves or agitate for local governments to plant faster. We need to plant millions of trees as quickly as possible to make the greatest difference.
Demand better electric vehicle charging infrastructure and faster conversion from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Although our intentions were good, we now know that 2045 is not soon enough for our fossil fuel transition. Fortunately, we have the natural resources to convert our energy infrastructure faster. Kauai, which is not as sunny as the other islands, is already around 50% renewable energy. If the building where you work or live doesn’t have solar, investigate whether it’s feasible to install. It is cheaper and cleaner. And don’t be shy about harassing your local utility and government to install electric vehicle infrastructure faster. It’s embarrassing that so few charging stations exist for those who don’t have a place to reliably plug in at home or work. The City Council is currently considering Bill 25, which would address this challenge.
Eat less meat and/or local meat only. Meat consumption and non-sustainable agriculture has an enormous impact globally on the climate. If we collectively choose to order the vegan loco moco and meatless burger options that are available on menus, then we reduce environmental harm and improve local food resiliency.
Support climate liability litigation. Two counties in Hawaii are already considering litigation against the fossil fuel companies that knew decades ago that their products trigger catastrophic changes in our climate. They did nothing to prevent that from happening, and even worse, deceived others from knowing the truth. These companies made considerable profit as a result of this deception, and we, the people of Hawaii, were harmed as a result. We should hold these companies responsible for these bad acts, just as we would hold a drug company responsible for deceiving the public about the dangers of opioids.
Most importantly, we must change our mindset to accept that we are facing a real emergency. Once we fully understand our peril, we will do what needs to be done.