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Three local environmental advocates on climate change: what it is and what you can do to help

  • Written by Kirsten Abel, Features Writer

“When your temperature rises even just a half a degree, you’re not feeling well,” said George Thomas, a Redmond-based business sustainability consultant. “Same thing goes for the earth.”

We all know that the planet is getting warmer. About .7 degrees Celsius warmer in the last century, according to NASA. What many of us don’t know, however, is just how devastating that seemingly tiny rise in temperature could be, and what it will mean for the future. 

photoFrom left: Barbara Lau, George Thomas, and Maris Abelson. All three attended Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps training in Bellevue this past June (Photo by Kirsten Abel)Thomas, along with local environmental advocates Barbara Lau and Maris Abelson, attended the Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps conference in Bellevue last month headed by former Vice President Al Gore.

The conference preceded the release of Gore’s second movie about climate change called “The Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” The film, which is the follow up to “An Inconvenient Truth,” is playing on August 4, 5, and 6 at the AMC Loews in Woodinville.

“[Al Gore] had this quote, ‘Every day the news is like taking a nature walk through the Book of Revelation,’” said Barbara Lau, who has worked as a scientist and as an environmental specialist and is also the mother of a Woodinville High School senior. 

Many  of  the  extreme   Book-of-Revelation-type weather events seen lately—massive floods, widespread fires, and long-lasting droughts—can be attributed to climate change.
The climate in a particular area can be thought of as the average weather over a long period of time. Weather is an unpredictable force, but climate, Thomas said, is supposed to be predictable.

As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the air (from cars, planes, trains, power plants, and other sources), those gases trap the sun’s rays inside the atmosphere, heating up the earth and changing our climate at a much faster rate than ever before.

NASA predicts that the earth’s temperature will continue to increase at least 20 times faster than during any prior global warming period. Their data goes back 800,000 years. 
“We’re like a dog sitting in a hot car,” Lau said. “We don’t have a fireman to take us out. We have to fix it.”

So what can we do? A good starting point is to calculate your carbon footprint. There are many free online calculators. Two good ones can be found at the Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org) or at Conservation International (www.conservation.org). A great kid-friendly calculator can be found at Meet the Greens (www.meetthegreens.org).
“Until you actually know what your carbon footprint is, it’s hard to walk the talk,” Thomas said.

Once you figure out your baseline, it helps to think about how you impact the environment in smaller, more manageable sections.

First, examine the ways in which you directly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. This means the water and energy you use, including gasoline, electricity, and even propane for the barbecue.

“Use less,” Thomas said. “Figure out ways to be more efficient.” 

Dry your clothes on a clothesline during the summer months. Ride your bicycle to work one day a week. You can even purchase a green power energy credit from Puget Sound Energy to help offset your carbon emissions.

Second, think about the ways in which you indirectly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. This means the products you buy, the food you eat, and the vacations you take. Many of these things can be damaging to the environment either due to the processes by which they are made or by the way in which they are transported.

Consider buying some    food  items in bulk to elimi-nate unnecessary packaging. Look into joining a CSA like the Root Connection or another local farm that implements organic, sustainable practices.

Assess your meat-eating habits, especially with regards to beef. A study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that cattle raised for beef and dairy account for more greenhouse gas emissions than all other livestock species combined.

Lau and her family participate in “Meatless Mondays.” “We always do bean and cheese burritos, or I love grilled Portobello mushrooms,” she said.

Think about your vacations in terms of your carbon footprint. Taking a cruise or a commercial airplane is obviously much worse for the environment than say, bicycling or backpacking or driving a fuel-efficient car to your destination of choice.

“Going up to see the Arctic on a cruise ship is not a sustainable vacation,” said Maris Abelson, a former teacher who’s been an environmental organizer for over two decades.

Next, think about your waste. Are you recycling and composting? Are you spraying harmful weed killer on your lawn? Are you cutting down trees in your yard that are helping to take carbon dioxide out of the air?

And lastly, engage with the community. Attend a meeting. Join a club. Include your children in the conversation about climate change.

Abelson said her six-year-old son already cares deeply for the environment. “He’s concerned that the Amazon may dry up,” she said. “I’m doing it for him.”

Abelson’s son is even a member of a group called Plant for the Planet, which raises climate change awareness among children and adults and, so far, has planted over 14 billion trees.
Community engagement can also help bring about bigger changes, changes that are even more important than those you can make within your own household. 

For example, Thomas, Lau, and Abelson all emphasized the need to call for the closing of the  Colstrip Power Plant in Colstrip, Montana (of which Puget Sound Energy is a part-owner).

According to the EPA, in 2015 the Colstrip plant had the third highest carbon dioxide emissions (just under 16 million metric tons per year) of all power plants in the United States. 
“We have to be engaged with our representatives,” Abelson said.

Despite all the ominous talk about global warming, there is some good news.

“We have the ability to have clean energy,” Lau said. Climate science and renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are developing rapidly.

Three questions were asked of the attendees at the Climate Reality Project training: “Must we change?” “Can we change?” And, “Will we change?” 

The answer to each of the first two questions is a definite “yes.” The answer to the third question, however, is still to be determined.

 “It might be too late for some species, but it’s not too late for the earth,” Lau said. 

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