I am writing from Montreal, Canada. Today, we will reach an unusually hot 28-degree high in temperature (that’s Celsius—for friends south of the border, that’s 82 degrees Fahrenheit). The average high in Montreal on May 4th, just so you know, is 16 degrees Celsius. In honor of the unusually hot day, I thought I would pay tribute to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, whose records demonstrate clearly that nine out of the 10 hottest years on record globally have occurred in the 21st century and ask: why haven’t we gotten anywhere on addressing climate change?
Most of us blame politics—lack of political will, lack of resources, or fear of job losses and economic competitiveness are the standard scapegoats for our lack of action. If we are to believe political leaders, then, most of the solutions lie with international cooperation, right? Well, right and wrong. I studied the international climate change negotiations for six years, attending 8 international meetings, and can attest that, while the international regime may be the only real way to cooperate internationally, action has been way too slow in the making. Why? Let me just share an excerpt from the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB)—the daily bulletin distributed to attendees at the climate change negotiations which provides a summary of the previous day’s progress—from one day at the 2008 negotiations in Poznan, Poland:
“Extended consultations focused on the presence of a semicolon in text recommending methodological guidance on ‘issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.’ This text, present in early drafts, was drawn from paragraph 1(b)(iii) of the Bali Action Plan. India and others, seeking a more central role for conservation and other activities, sought removal of the semicolon, which would give these issues more prominence in the text. The final text included a comma in place of the semicolon, a move many interpreted as a small victory for inclusion of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in any possible future REDD mechanism.”
Clearly this hasn’t and won’t get us anywhere fast. International and national action is necessary, but we can’t keep waiting for these fools to do something in order to solve the problem, especially since the impacts are becoming all the more apparent and pressing. And I’m not just talking extreme weather events, which are more numerous and destructive. I’m talking about daily life. For instance, I spend a lot of time planting and harvesting each year. The plant hardiness rating in Montreal has change two full measures, from 5a to 6a, in just 50 years—that’s a huge difference in the season, from frost dates to the temperature change, that dramatically impacts how and what I grow. Think about your greening efforts in summer: have they become more unstable? More expensive? While the extreme weather may have not brought devastation to your door, it may have significantly cost you already.
Clearly, action is necessary. So, show up to a demonstration. Get involved in the politics. Pressure the government to get its act together. But also act like you live in a carbon-limited world, where food miles, gasoline prices, and ghg emissions impact our lives.
What can each of us do? It’s nice outside. Plant a garden; grow some food to get fresh produce that hasn’t traveled halfway around the world. Get rid of your grass lawn entirely or plant clover, which means more green with less watering, less mowing, and more food for bees. Think about walking, cycling, and taking the bus or metro instead of driving. Start a compost for your organic waste. There are a million things each of us can do, every day. And the beautiful thing about planting a garden, getting rid of lawn maintenance, walking, avoiding traffic jams, and taking out less garbage? It might just make us happier as well.