There’s still time to act on climate change

A young woman wears an air-filtering mask and holds a sign while participating in the Global Climate Strike in New York City in September 2019. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
A young woman wears an air-filtering mask and holds a sign while participating in the Global Climate Strike in New York City in September 2019. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Is it too late to change the course the world is on?

That’s a question that comes up more and more frequently. This week, I’ve heard reasons for hope, but also messages of urgency. That is, there’s still time, but we need to act now. And although the problem may look overwhelming, it can be broken down — like all the tasks on our to-do lists — into manageable chunks.

First, though, it’s important to understand where most of the greenhouse gases we humans produce come from and how we can set priorities for tackling them, with policies and our own actions. For an overview, check out this webinar by environmental scientist Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown.

“Drawdown” refers to the point at which humans’ greenhouse gas emissions stop increasing and begin to fall. That is the point at which we step back from the edge, and Foley says it’s within our grasp.

Which human activities cause the greatest greenhouse gas emissions? As it turns out, electricity and food account for nearly half.

Generating electricity produces 25% of total human-created emissions, while agriculture, food and land-use change (for instance, destroying forest for ranching or to grow crops like oil palm or soybeans) account for 24%. So doing those things more efficiently and less wastefully would go a long way toward reducing emissions, Foley reasons.

For energy, that means not only moving away from fossil fuels — something to which Illinois Catholic bishops lent their support late last month — and increasing our use of renewable sources like the sun, wind and waves, but also retrofitting the world’s buildings, so they use less energy.

For food, it means wasting less, at home and in supply lines, as well as decreasing consumption of beef and dairy products. That’s partly because cattle belch methane and partly because ranching drives tropical deforestation.

While climate solutions require policy changes, there are many things we can do, as individuals and communities, by making lifestyle changes, encouraging others — and, of course, voting.

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