What citizens can do on their own to help the environment





Kate Neiswender.

stop.warmingThe Obama administration has announced a carbon cap program to try to roll back greenhouse gases, and potentially save the human race.  It is a small drop in the carbon bucket, but we have to start somewhere.  Even the Fox Network is in the game now: the re-boot of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” spent the final episode in the series showing both the impacts of greenhouse gases and how much we have contributed to those gases since the Industrial Revolution.

We have spent years, nationally and globally, arguing about climate change and trying to place blame.  Volcanoes, say some, add massive carbon dioxide emissions.  However, volcanic emissions are chemically different than those created by the internal combustion engine, so we know it’s not volcanoes.  The United States should not make changes, others say, because the developing nations will go on to create tons more carbon dioxide even as the U.S. is lowering its emissions.  Basically, this argument is why should we act appropriately and ethically if others may not.

But does it really matter who is to blame?  Whether man-made or not, we have to do something to protect ourselves.  The melting of the Antarctic ice shelves will cause sea levels to rise by 200 feet, and that wipes out coastal communities that are home to three billion people.  Billion…. with a “b.”  Where will those folks go to live?  You can bet that the chaos and wars that will inevitably follow such a mass relocation will be more harmful that cutting back on carbon emissions.

The U.S. military has already deemed the extreme weather events and re-locations a threat to national security.  Perhaps the most cautious of our institutions, the insurance industry, has been adjusting risk due to climate change for decades.  So for no other reason than our insurance rates will be rising, we need to deal with carbon dioxide emissions.

bears.on.iceRight now, the big environmental apocalyptic scenario involves hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” from oil operations.  I consider this a “Chicken Little” issue: fracking in California has been safely done for 80 years.  If other states have issues with their regulatory processes, that is outside my knowledge bubble.   But fracking is not going to kill us all.  No, the most likely end to the human race will be from global warming that will make the world too hot to sustain life, and certainly too hot to sustain the billions of people that currently over-populate its surface.

We Americans often look to government to resolve such issues.  Clearly, the one thing that those on the right and the left can agree on is that government is broken, perhaps irretrievably broken.  So we can’t wait, and we can’t expect the government to fix what’s ailing us.  I would suggest there are five things you can do today to impact on carbon emissions:

(1)    Put solar on your house.  Seriously, the studies have shown that if every residential homeowner put solar on his or her roof, the need for new power plants solar.roof(or upgrades for old plants) would be completely obviated.  Some fool is trying to put a coal-fired plant in the San Joaquin Valley, an area already choking on pollution and with the highest rates of respiratory disease in the state;  we wouldn’t need that plant. There has been talk about the San Onofre nuclear plant, and how to replace that energy source.  We would not have to replace it if we took the exact same amount of money and provided free solar to everyone in Southern California.  But don’t get me started on how foolishly we spend money in this country; instead, take it upon yourself to start fixing the problem.  Put solar on your roof.  It will pay for itself in ten years, and the tax breaks will expire in 2016.  Now is a good time.

(2)    Buy a hybrid.  The next time you go out looking for a car, buy a hybrid, or even better, an all-electric vehicle.  I myself have hesitated, because I like nice cars and the Prius just wasn’t doing it for me. The selection now is good, and getting better every year.  Take this small step and you will save money and reduce your emissions to a fraction of what they are now.

(3)    Eat locally-grown food.   We talk about protecting our local farmers, but they won’t be able to compete against imported produce and other foods unless we make it a point to buy locally.  It will be fresher, taste better, and you will have the pleasure of knowing that the Somis lemon orchards and the Oxnard berry farms will still be there in ten years because you are supporting them.  This seems like a small thing, but if you buy locally then the tons of emissions from importing goods will no longer be needed.

(4)    Talk to others about this.  We can no longer rely on our government or anyone else’s government to do the right thing, and do it quickly enough to make a difference.  If half of all Californian homeowners put solar on their homes, think of the impact in terms of tons of carbon emissions removed from the air.  Ditto on hybrids and electric vehicles: if one of every two vehicles purchased in the next ten years was lower emission, think of how much better the air would taste.  We can make a difference.

(5)    Support a scientist.  Our young people need to be told, repeatedly (like “brush your teeth” and “eat your vegetables”) that smart is good and science got us into this situation, and science will get us out.  Instill hope in them.  If the internal combustion engine were never invented, then the battery and solar technologies that were in the works would have brought us here in a cleaner and more sustainable way.  Get those young brains working on fixes.  Pull them away from the video games and set them on tracks to make the world a better place.  We need the next “Greatest Generation.”  Certainly, we can be the impetus to push our children in that direction.

What I hear all too often is “What can we do?” a mantra of hopelessness that gives up all our power to forces outside our control.  We have the ability to take action, we have the right to take action.  These things may seem small, but you have two choices: wait for our broken government to take action, or take action yourself.  It seems like a simple choice to me.


Kate Neiswender is a local attorney who is an expert in CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act as well practicing in land use law.  She is  a freelance writer and has served as a legislative aide to State Senator Tom Hayden

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