First, we need to reduce our personal and national carbon emissions. We are making progress: Carbon emissions in the United States are down 7% from 2007 to 2011 as utilities shift from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas, consumers buy more efficient cars, and businesses realize that saving energy saves money. But we can and must do much more, starting with putting a price on carbon and pursuing other societal incentives (such as new fuel efficiency standards) to reduce carbon pollution from all sectors of our economies. California has led the way, with laws that sharply drive down that state’s carbon emissions through 2050, and analyses published in Science showed that the economic costs of those policies will be modest.
Individual actions can also make a difference. You can get ideas to address your own carbon habits and contribute to collective belt-tightening, by visiting The Nature Conservancy’s Carbon Footprint Calculator.
Beyond that, our cities and communities need to be prepared for the “new normals” we are already experiencing. To that end, many large cities — Chicago, Boston and New York, for example — have developed climate adaptation plans. Get in touch with your municipal officials to find out what they are doing to plan, and how you can help.
And then there’s making your own plans to adapt. Sarene Marshall suggested in a recent post that climate change may require us to adjust the timing of family activities — whether that’s to consider a September vacation instead of one in July, or swapping your lunchtime tennis game for a night-time one under the lights.
As the recent heat and the latest science both make clear, we need to move quickly to adjust our use of carbon. Otherwise, the adjustments we’ll need to make in our lives and our economy to cope with climate bankruptcy will make those needed to prevent it look trivial.
Photo credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via Flickr/Creative Commons
Frank Lowenstein is Climate Adaptation Strategy Leader for The Nature Conservancy.
Evan Girvetz is Senior Scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Program.