Climate Corner: Time to get off the bench
Jan 6, 2024
The final 2023 column of the Climate Corner, written by George Banziger, “Some Good News for the Climate in 2023,” spoke about the progress we have made toward addressing the climate crisis. Some of that good news is that the FORM Iron Air battery plant in Weirton, W.Va., is hiring over 750 people for full-time employment. They will be making batteries to back up renewable energy.
Each week, Climate Corner writers like George try to educate their audience about the environmental issues affecting our lives as well as the lives of the other species that inhabit this blue planet. Education is certainly key to understanding some of the complex problems that we face today, but all the education in the world will not be helpful if we fail to put that education into action.
One of the hardest attitudes to confront when dealing with climate change is apathy. I can explain scientific studies and teach the basics about chemistry and hazardous materials but I cannot stop someone from being indifferent to the crisis that is all around us.
Some researchers believe that the human mind has been programmed to think only of the present. For thousands of years, humanity had three main concerns: food, shelter, and reproduction. Today, because of technology, many of us in this country have stable, secure lives. Convincing these people that the climate crisis is in fact happening right now is difficult. They still believe it is twenty or fifty years away; far in the future.
Cognitive dissonance is another reason people are unwilling to recognize the climate crisis. They admit there is a problem, but hesitate to take action. Instead, they try to justify life choices that contribute significantly to their carbon footprint. We might see hundreds of news stories about the warming planet and lives lost due to climate disasters, but unless it’s happening in our backyard, we tend to dismiss them. Some people have become numb to the crisis and feel no urgency to act.
In the U.S., unfettered capitalism plays a major role in our willingness to ignore climate change. Regulations have become a dirty word in the financial world. People see them as an assault on freedoms. Consider the backlash when incandescent light bulbs were phased out in favor of LEDs. People do not like change or sacrifice. It is hard to get people to sacrifice a short-term gain for a long-term gain, even if viable eco alternatives exist.
Misinformation certainly plays a role in apathy and inaction. Recently, certain PR groups associated with the fossil fuel industry have gone to great lengths to falsely label solar panels and wind turbines as being dangerous or toxic. This has stalled renewable energy in several areas, including Ohio. Sadly, several counties and townships have voted to ban large solar arrays and wind farms.
But what about people who do believe in anthropogenic climate change and yet fail to act? Is it because they feel one person cannot make a difference? Every time we spend money, we either vote for or against the planet. It might cost a bit more to buy the planet-friendly product, but in the long run you save money. My Patagonia backpack purchased in 2002 for $75 dollars looks like new after twenty years of use. Buying that backpack rather than a cheaper one was a money saver for me as well as being better for the environment.
If we all stopped using plastic water bottles, think of how much waste and carbon emissions we could stop. Replacing four plastic water bottles a day with a reusable aluminum bottle or a glass bottle keeps close to 1,500 plastic bottles a year out of the waste stream. Multiply that by thousands of people!
Single-use plastic bags made from fracked gas can be seen blowing along rural fence lines or clogging storm drains. Some stores now charge money or raise prices to account for plastic bags. Taxpayers pay to clean the litter up. Plastic wastes break up into tiny micro and nano plastics and enter the food web. A reusable, cloth bag is stronger, lasts a long time, and is ecofriendly.
Another simple, cheap way to cut down on greenhouse gases is to waste less food and make sure the food wastes that you do create end up in a compost pile. The compost you make will be a great source of nutrients for vegetables and flowers. Keeping food waste out of the landfill cuts down on anaerobic decay in a landfill. This type of decay produces the dangerous greenhouse gas methane.
These are easy to do actions that do not cost much. Some of us can do even more by using the Inflation Reduction Act tax incentives to update appliances or heat pumps. We recently replaced our twenty-year old heat pump with a geothermal system. At age 68 and 65, my husband and I may never see a return on our investment, but just knowing we are using Mother Earth as our source of hot or cold air makes us very happy.
Isn’t it time to “get off the bench” and act on climate change?
Randi Pokladnik, Ph.D., of Uhrichsville, is a retired research chemist who volunteers with Mid Ohio Valley Climate Action. She has a doctorate degree in environmental studies and is certified in hazardous materials regulations.