Take Action Against Climate Change

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Tompkins Weekly 3-11-20

By Guillermo Metz

Note: The organizations and programs featured in this article have cancelled or suspended their in-person public events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow their websites as they move to exclusively online activism during the pandemic.

People are responding to the climate crisis in many different ways. A few weeks ago, a group of local activists was arrested for staging a sit-in at a downtown Ithaca Chase bank office. That action was part of a larger effort that began earlier in the day to protest a major gas pipeline being built across traditional Wet’suwet’en land in British Columbia and, specifically, JP Morgan Chase’s financial support of the project—part of a series of protests targeting JP Morgan Chase banks and offices across the U.S. and Canada.

The charges against all eight defendants were later dropped, and the protesters were heartened by news that JP Morgan Chase, the largest funder of fossil fuel projects in the world, was going to cut its investments in new fossil fuel extraction projects, particularly in the Arctic, as well as other related commitments.

This follows on Goldman Sachs issuing a similar statement a few months earlier, and just last week, Wells Fargo made a similar commitment. There are many reasons not to expand extraction of resources from the Arctic region, but for a major international company, clearly one of them is public opinion—if enough people are sufficiently angered by it to risk being arrested, that’s something they pay attention to.

While this type of protest isn’t for everyone (indeed, many motorists were angered by the event), many believe it to be a necessary act of despair – risking one’s liberty to fight an injustice that doesn’t seem to be listening to anything else.

As I wrote in the last installment of Signs of Sustainability, getting involved, especially belonging to a community with a shared focus, is a great way to relieve anxiety and stress many of us feel due to the climate crisis. And there are other, less-confrontational ways, too, of disrupting the normal, as I’ll talk about later in this column.

The Ithaca protest was led by local indigenous leaders and members of the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion (XR) Ithaca, both of which are actively recruiting new members (Sunrise is primarily youth-led).

These and other groups are planning major climate-related actions around Earth Day to coincide with the next Global Climate Strike. Other effective groups in our area include Mothers Out Front, Concerned Citizens of Lansing, Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition, and Fossil Free Tompkins.

And don’t forget the group mentioned in the last Signs of Sustainability article that is hosting community conversations throughout Ithaca focused on the Ithaca Green New Deal, currently calling itself the Building Bridges/Ithaca New Green Deal Outreach and Engagement Work Group (email ithacagreennewdeal@gmail.com for more information or to host a conversation).

But even if you are involved in these bigger efforts, it’s also important to take stock of your individual impacts. We can disrupt some of our own normal habits in order to reduce our personal impact on the climate.

For starters, have you calculated your own carbon footprint? There are many simple on-line carbon calculators, including one from the EPA; the Nature Conservancy, which has some handy calculations for taking various actions to reduce one’s footprint; and the Cool Climate Network out of UC Berkeley, which does a nice job of showing carbon impacts by sector (i.e., travel, home, food, goods and services) and allows users to propose making changes, much like the Nature Conservancy’s, in 38 high-impact categories (e.g., more efficient vehicle, telecommuting, switching lights).

Using carbon calculators to identify where your personal emissions are coming from is a great place to start understanding and figuring out ways to take steps to reduce your carbon impact on the planet. And whether it’s transportation, your home or business, your diet or material purchases, there are many local resources available to help you figure out how to have the greatest impact with the least pain to your pocketbook.

At Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, the Energy Team, Way2Go and Get Your GreenBack can help answer your questions, connect you to local resources and help you access rebates and incentives that will help reduce your personal footprint in an affordable manner. And keep an eye out for the next HeatSmart Tompkins campaign to learn how heat pumps can greatly reduce your use of fossil fuels while in many cases saving you money.

Once you’ve done as much as you can—or even while you’re chipping away at your carbon footprint—consider off-setting the rest. Many online carbon calculators have an option to “reduce” your footprint by buying carbon off-sets. Some promise to plant trees to sequester carbon or to purchase some other form of recognized carbon off-set, possibly on an international carbon market. Other options allow you to make a difference locally.

The Finger Lakes Climate Fund, created and managed by Sustainable Tompkins, funnels money through offsets and other donations into providing grants to lower-income homeowners and renters, as well as businesses and nonprofits to pursue actions that will ultimately reduce carbon emissions.

In addition to providing a way for individuals and businesses to purchase offsets, the Climate Fund also hosts “carbon races” for employees in local businesses to work together to reduce their carbon footprint, with the chance to win prizes along the way.

There are even simpler ways to disrupt normal that can help mitigate climate change. For example, why aren’t we talking about fossil fuels? Ask your friends what fuel source they use to heat their home. Don’t shame them; just present the options, like heating with renewable heat (wood or heat pumps).

Ask your colleagues whether they have signed up for community solar. Make climate change and its solutions a normal topic of conversation. It’s a small disruption but a good people-to-people way to get everyone thinking about what can be done.

If you’re inspired to dive into things more deeply and help your friends and neighbors reduce their carbon footprint, consider becoming an Energy Navigator—the deadline has been extended to March 16. For more information and to apply, visit getyourgreenbacktompkins.org/navigators, or contact Karim Beers at kwb6@cornell.edu or 272-2292.

Take direct action to address climate change. How we act in the next 10 years will likely determine the state of the planet for the next 100 or more, and determine what kind of world our children’s children will be living in. Every bit counts.

Guillermo Metz is the energy and climate change team leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. 

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