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Author Bill McKibben’s answer is to do more locally, smaller, and slower in the communities where we live. For example, pay shares to support local organic farmers including urban farming. Some communities have wind power and other energy cooperatives, as in Canada. In Rwanda community work is performed the last Saturday morning of each month, as by planting trees.[i] We can eat less meat, because as much as half of global warming gases are caused by the livestock industry, more than greenhouse gasses emitted by cars.[ii] Cows produce one pound of methane for every two pounds of their meat. Activists for these kinds of remedies can use the Internet to organize, as McKibben has. For updates, see www.350.org.

Plan B 3.O by Lester Brown, in his book by that title, tells how to save our planet. He updates his research and is even more urgent in World on the Edge (2011) where he says “we’re one poor harvest away from chaos.” Global warming is reducing the world’s grain supply, the foundation of the food economy. His goal is to stop global warming, slow population growth, erase poverty, and restore ecosystems. His plan includes how to create better energy efficiency as with incandescent light bulbs and a plant-based diet, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, expanding forests, and doing away with coal power plants and overpopulation. He proposes a carbon tax of $240 per ton to discourage fossil fuel use. Some examples Brown gives of renewable energy in action are 60 million Europeans get their home electricity from wind farms, nearly 40 million Chinese homes get their hot water from rooftop solar-water heaters and Iceland uses geothermal energy.[iii] These alternatives need to become the norm.

 

Model Cities, Countries: Cities are creating information networks about resources[iv] and regions are joining together, such as a group started by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 called R20 to fund reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Schwarzenegger says local governments are taking action because:

 

We can’t afford to wait for national and international movement. I think that all great movements start on the grassroots level, so I think that we start on the local level, the state level and move up and put the pressure on national governments to get the job done. R20 will help pave the way in the transition to a green economy that will clean the environment, create green jobs and respond to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. [1]

 

Chicago is working to become “the greenest city in America,” although Portland, Oregon, makes that claim. Chicago planted over 500,000 trees and added more than two million square feet of rooftop gardens. It collects food wastes to turn into compost for city gardens. Plastic bags were banned by the city of San Francisco, requiring that people shop with reusable cloth bags or paper bags of biodegradable materials. It takes 1,000 years for plastic to biodegrade: An Internet petition opposes their use.[v] It also banned the use of city funds to buy bottled water because of the huge waste in plastic bottles—around the world 2.5 million water bottles are tossed each hour. The DVD Tapped shows us about water shortages and bottled water.[vi] When I was in Tanzania, they burned plastic bottles and other trash, polluting the air.

The Cool Cities program encourages the hottest cities to paint roofs and paved surfaces white. Hashem Akbari, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, explains that white reflects the sun’s rays rather than attracting and absorbing heat. The city of Berkeley passed a law in 2007 committing the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, down from 696,498 tons of greenhouse gases that the city generated in 2000. Solutions are to have shared vehicles and free bus passes; to require high-efficiency home appliances, solar-powered water heaters, and insulation in building walls; and to require new building to be green as by using recycled and green materials.

Models of green buildings include the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the California Environmental Protection Agency’s 25-story Joe Serna Jr. Building. It used recycled ceiling tiles and has worm-composting bins, leading to savings of around $1 million a year. Ford Motor Company’s old River Rouge Complex was restored with a roof garden that collects rainwater on over 10 acres. The University of New Hampshire gets much of its energy from methane gas generated by its huge compost landfill. The 30 St. Mary Axe building in London has gardens on every sixth floor for air purification.[vii] The UK plans to build “eco-towns” powered by wind or solar energy, not dependent on cars, and minimizing water use. As of 2016, all new homes must be carbon neutral in the UK, although skepticism abounds about achieving the goal. [viii]

Although the US Congress resists taking action to prevent global warming, some states tried to do something. The world’s eighth-largest economy, California passed a law in 2006 called the Global Warming Solutions Act. It imposed an 80% carbon emission reduction by 2050. It set up a cap-and-trade program because Congress didn’t pass it. (“The ‘cap’ is a legal limit on the quantity of greenhouse gases that a region can emit each year and ‘trade’ means that companies may swap among themselves the permission—or permits—to emit greenhouse gases.”[ix]) However, the attorneys general of at least four other states sued on the grounds it interferes with the right to freely conduct interstate commerce. Renewable energy will only account for about 10% of US energy consumption by 2020,[x] while the European Union is aiming for 20%.[xi]

Germany is a leading European country in developing green technology; for example, its parliament building runs on green energy. The country developed 250,000 new jobs in renewable energy by mid 2009, including wind power jobs. The green-jobs creation program costs the average family $38 a year on its utility bill. The government gives people incentives to retrofit their homes, police give tickets to polluting cars that drive in emission-reduction zones, and competitions are held to see who can save the most power.[xii] Spain is second in the world in wind-energy production and is a leader in solar and biofuel technologies. Sweden’s Natural Step established environmentally responsible industrial practices. In South Korea, consumers can earn “carbon points” for cash rebates when they use a “green credit card” to buy eco-friendly products or actions like taking public transport. The card is part of a government effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020, and private companies are also offering coupons in return for conserving electricity and water.

When I was in Brazil, gas stations had both gas and sugar cane ethanol, and they can be mixed in the gas tank.

 

Under the leadership of Marina Silva, Brazil’s environment minister from 2003 to 2008, the country once thought to be among the worst environmental offenders in the world turned a corner.[xiii] Today Brazil is a country that powers its cars with energy-saving ethanol, relies heavily on hydroelectric- and wind-produced energy, and legislates to protect the land rights of indigenous communities. In 2008, it soared to first place in National Geographic’s Greendex survey [India was second, US consumers were at the bottom], which ranks countries by environmentally sustainable consumption patterns. [You can get your own individual score by taking an online survey and also test your knowledge and compare with answers from individuals in other countries.[xiv]]

But Brazil’s environmental gains may not be long lasting. Experts predict that by 2014 Brazil will be the fifth-largest economy in the world, ahead of France and Britain. It’s these economic ambitions that threaten the country’s environmental footprint. In 2008, Marina Silva stepped down from her post at the Ministry of the Environment to return to her previous position in the Senate, citing a “growing resistance” within the Brazilian government to protecting environmental interests as her reasoning.

 

In 2010 she ran on the Green Party for president. Silva used social media such as Twitter and Facebook to help spread her ideas of environmentally sustainable growth, especially to younger voters.[xv] Young people started a movement on Twitter to support Marina Silva for president of Brazil, quickly attracting over 100,000 followers, but Dilma Rousseff won because of the endorsement of the previous president.

As well as governments, progressive businesses are going green. Sun Microsystems plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by using energy-saving technology and allowing thousand of employees to telecommute at home. In 2006 Toyota was the world’s first automaker to offer a mass-produced hybrid car, the Prius. India’s Tata Company featured the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, in 2008, with a total cost of only $3,250. Indians worry about what it will do to already crowded roads and to auto emission, although it gets 47 miles to the gallon.

Dried miscanthus, a plant related to sugar cane, could be the fuel of the future. Researchers say it’s possible to convert the cellulose in this and other plants into a fuel that could replace diesel and gasoline. Researchers at the new Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California-Berkeley are working on a recipe for this biofuel. Also in California, a new way to harness solar energy is being tested at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National [fusion] Ignition Facility.[xvi] The goal is to use hydrogen from ocean water to create an endless supply of clean fuel.

An expensive effort to use the sun’s energy to create nuclear fusion is underway in France.[xvii] It’s funded by a coalition of governments as construction of the plant alone costs over $17 billion. It’s called ITER, Latin for “the way.” The process will begin in 2026, fusing hydrogen nuclei that release massive energy. “Fusion offers the prospect of thousands of years of energy supply without further [environmental] issues,” reports Mike Zarnstorff, the deputy director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey.

 

Schools

The Sierra Club rates the 100 greenest colleges, with Green Mountain College in Vermont as #1.[xviii] Local schools can become green schools by growing a vegetable garden, serving local organic food, using ecological cleaning products, and educating children about the ecosystem. They can compost food wastes, use recycled paper, and LED lights.[xix] Providing exercise as well as healthy food helps correct the obesity problem. In China, Yunan Jin dreaded the sandstorms when they blew in every spring in Beijing, “a veritable hell on earth,” so when he was age 14, he got people together to plant trees in Mongolia where the storms start. Schools can encourage tree planting in their neighborhoods.

High schools students in Malawi had these suggestions for conservation:[xx]

Recycle paper, plant trees, and use alternatives to burning charcoal. Students “promise not to be littering and reuse plastics, treating sewage and making organic manure as Malawi is agriculture based.” Nellie wants to “Sensitize the community through groups and clubs” and to “recycle paper.”

The Kyoto Accord of 1997 was the first attempt by the nations of the world to slow down global warming, but expired in 2012. Only the US and Australia didn’t sign it, but among European countries, only the United Kingdom and Sweden achieved real reductions in greenhouse gases. The Montreal Protocol of 2009 was the first environmental treaty to achieve universal ratification. All the world’s governments are now legally committed to phase out ozone depleting substances (ODSs). The Montreal Protocol Multilateral Fund helps developing countries to stop using ODSs like halons. Some proposals to finance climate protection are taxing international shipping and air travel, auctioning emission allowances, and a uniform global tax on carbon emission.[xxi]

A small step forward was the Copenhagen Conference in 2009 where for the first time governments agreed that global warming is a scientifically proven problem and green technology is the business of the future. The conference demonstrated a shift in global power from the West, as India, Brazil, and South Africa, brokered the agreement with the US and the EU—although without any binding specific actions. At the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, 2010, President Felipe Calderon warned, “If we do not take immediate decisive measures, the negative effects will worsen and the economic, social and ecological consequences will be devastating.” He pointed to the year’s devastating floods in Pakistan, forest fires in Russia, and increase in Caribbean hurricanes as examples of extreme weather. However, decisive measures weren’t taken. The conference participants from over 190 countries agreed to wait for another year to decide in Durban, South Africa, if they should extend the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. They did establish a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change and preserve tropical forests.


[ii] Ibid, p. 176.

[vii] sierraclubgreenhome.com

[x] National Research Council and US Department of Energy 2010 Annual Energy Outlook.

[xi] Christine Lins, “Going Beyond 2020,” Bridges, Vol. 27., October 2010.

http://www.ostina.org/content/view/5202/1385/

[xii] . “Intelligence Report,” Parade Magazine, May 24, 2009.

[xix] greenschools.net, http://www.childrenoftheearth.org/ environmental education for youth, http://www.teensturninggreen.org/

[xx] Internet Discussion between Voices of Youth, high school students and UNICEF Malawi, 22t May 2009 http://www.unicef.org/voy/speakout/speakout_567.html

[xxi] United Nations Development Progamme, “What Will It Take to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals?–An International Assessment,” June, 2010, p. 35.

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