At the end of this, I’m going to tell you how your family can help stop the climate crisis. There are important things we all can do right now! But first, I need you to listen.
One morning a few weeks ago, my family woke up to a dark house. It was so confusing—had we somehow all woken up before sunrise? We opened the curtains and looked outside to find a Martian sky, the world bathed in a dark, reddish-orange hue. Street lights were still on. It was completely surreal. Over the next several hours the sky became darker and darker. When my husband stepped outside to take the trash to the bins, he texted me pictures of our cars—which had just been through a car wash the night before—caked in ash.
Smoke from wildfires a hundred miles away was being held off by a marine layer, turning our world orange. Even the National Weather Service was mystified. The next day, the marine layer dissolved, and we spent a week enveloped in toxic smoke.
Although this was the first day we can ever remember the sky being such a color, it wasn’t the first day dealing with smoke. In fact, we had been shut inside for weeks as smoke poured in from wildfires all around us.
LEARN: Save the Planet »
The Western United States is on fire. In mid-August, California was hit by what has been called a “lightning siege” that barraged the state with more than 12,000 lightning strikes, setting off what would become the worst wildfires in state history. Smoke has inundated several states. It is so abundant it can be seen from space, and has traveled to the East Coast and Europe. Sheltering in place from toxic wildfire smoke for months every year has become the new normal, and it’s getting worse.
And yet, we are the lucky ones. Our home is safe from the fires—for now—and we are fortunate to have air purifiers to keep our indoor air clean. Not everyone can escape the smoke, though. Homelessness remains an epidemic in the United States. Unhoused people often have nowhere to turn, and an ongoing global shortage of N95 masks due to the pandemic means very little protection against wildfire smoke for those who have no choice but to be exposed 24/7.
But most affected by these fires are those who have been directly affected. Many have lost everything—including my relatives. And worst of all, these megafires are claiming an increasing number of lives, including children. As I am writing this, more than four million acres have burned in California alone, and seven million acres have burned and thousands of homes have been lost across the West Coast, along with more than 40 lives.
While we battle fires here in the West, the rest of the country, including Puerto Rico, has battled deadly hurricane and tornado seasons, along with catastrophic flooding. In August we learned the horrifying news that Antarctica is in danger of losing a major portion of its massive ice sheet, which once lost contains enough water to irreversibly raise global ocean levels by a staggering ten feet. This would put nearly 29,000 square miles of US soil under water, permanently displacing over 12 million people.
These are all connected.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has recently reached a grim milestone, claiming well over 200,000 lives here in America alone. COVID-19 has also made it more difficult for people to find shelter, as gathering together puts people more at risk, and it’s not as easy to go and stay with friends.
In the midst of all this, I look at my young son’s sweet face and wonder what kind of world he is going to inherit. I am daily stricken with grief. I’m worried about what is coming.
And I am angry.
I’m angry that so many people are still arguing about whether climate change even exists. (It does.) And I’m angry that we keep electing politicians who profit from this denial, at the expense of our planet and our children’s future, and that, as Greta Thunberg so effectively reminds us, it is our children who are forced to take them to task.
The climate crisis is not a partisan issue, it is a fact. Leaders of many countries get this, and work together across partisan divides, whether conservative, moderate, or progressive, to face the issue head on and negotiate solutions. They know this is happening whether or not we believe it exists.
As bad as things are now, this is just the beginning. We are facing certain global catastrophe if we don’t change our ways as a country and as a planet. And as passionate as I am about so many issues (it’s a big part of why I work for PGK), I also know that climate change affects every other issue we care about—homelessness, hunger, human rights, animals, health care, racial and gender inequality, and more. It has even made COVID-19 worse. And indeed, one of our best defenses against a future global pandemic is dealing with the climate emergency.
Sometimes, it seems like it’s all too much. I did not sign up for this!
It hardly seems as if there can be any good news in all of this, but there is. I promise there is. And that is this: we still have time to change this before it accelerates so quickly that it cannot be stopped. But we don’t have much time, and the clock is ticking.
I’m going to share some things your family can do to help in your own way, but first I very urgently need you to understand that even if we all do our individual part, it isn’t enough—we actually need systemic change, led by bold federal, state, and local environmental policies and protections to curb emissions and reduce carbon. We already know what is required (more on that below)! There are certain aspects of climate change that are now irreversible, but if we act immediately, we can stop things from getting worse and help the planet start to recover. It will take time, but we can make this better for our kids and grandkids, and their kids, too. And this means we need to vote for people who will do something about it.
We know what we need to do, and it’s straightforward. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a helpful summary:
1. Cut emissions, reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
Net zero emissions means that we don’t dump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than we are taking out. This is possible! But everyone has to do their part. Making carbon expensive for gross polluters will motivate innovation and movement toward green technology and energy sources.
2. Remove carbon from the atmosphere.
The easiest way to do this is to plant trees! But we have to do it on a massive global scale. And did you know that deep-rooted prairie grasses are even more efficient at removing carbon from the atmosphere? Restoring native prairie land along with forests will make a huge difference. You can even plant native grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees in your own yard! It’s beautiful, supports your local native pollinators and other wildlife, and usually requires no watering and minimal upkeep. There are lots of ways to help. Some farmers are starting to do their part, too, with restorative, no-till farming practices that help make their farms carbon neutral.
3. Fight disinformation.
We know from over 60 years of climate science that climate change is real, and rapidly accelerating. Don’t give deniers the time of day. Instead, work to make people aware of the climate crisis and what we all must do about it.
4. Prepare and adapt.
Climate change is here, and while we must continue to work to stop the current climate emergency, unfortunately major shifts are coming whether we like it or not. Aside from personal changes, we can support policies that minimize danger to life and property, conserve water, and build more resilient cities.
5. Take action!
We need everyone to help! Activate your community, and vote for leaders that will listen to the global scientific community and enact policy to get us all where we need to be.
I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, because that’s not what we’re about. But I will say that we must vote for leaders, regardless of political party, who will do something NOW, and who understand the urgency. Until the 1980s, environmentalism used to be bipartisan in America, and should be again. And we must hold all of our leaders accountable for this at the ballot box.
So what are some things your family can do, starting today? Here are a few ideas to start thinking about:
Learn about climate change together.
You don’t have to have all the answers, just start the conversation. With younger kids, use art projects to NASA has free online games to teach kids about it. For older kids, one great activity is to play games that help you think more deeply and creatively about climate solutions, like Climate Crisis.
Have more meatless meals.
Did you know that 7% of all greenhouse gases are basically cow farts? By reducing the amount of meat we eat, we can reduce the amount of methane gas being produced by the meat industry. Some families do this every week with Meatless Mondays, which is a good place to start!
Take action together.
Have a family action night! Write letters to your local, state, and federal leaders, including your members of Congress. Let them know you demand action to stop the climate crisis, and that it’s important to your family. Drawings and hand-written letters from young constituents can be very effective at getting a message across to your legislators.
Make a plan to vote! And then VOTE!
This is one the kids can’t do, but you can still include them! Make a plan to vote, and talk about why it’s so important to vote for people who will do something NOW about climate change. If you’re mailing your ballot, make your trip to the post box or ballot collection box a fun family outing! Teach them by example that their voice and their vote are important and necessary. Voting for and finding ways to support candidates dedicated to stopping the climate crisis is truly one of the most important things you can do. Know your voting rights, and if you notice or have any problems with voting—if anyone tries to intimidate or harass you, or tries to stop you from voting—call the Election Protection hotline.
And please, if you do nothing else, vote. Vote for ending climate change. Vote as if your life and your children’s lives depend on it. Because they do.
What is climate change, anyway?
A lot of people are still confused about what climate change means. Some people have called it “global warming” because it causes an overall warming effect, but climate change is about more than warming, and we’re now facing a climate crisis.
Climate change is caused by human activity that produces massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases while destroying forests and prairie land that remove carbon from the air. This creates a “greenhouse effect,” which holds more heat in that would normally escape through the atmosphere. This creates an overall warming effect. But this doesn’t mean that everything just gets hotter. It means a more severe climate across the board – colder winters with more extreme temperatures, more intense and destructive storms, more wildfires, more drought-stricken areas, more flooding, and hotter summers with longer and more intense heat waves.