Aug 16 2015

5 Things We Learned From the ‘Point of No Return’ Climate Solutions AMA

Journalist Eric Holthaus and ten climate experts answered readers’ questions about how to combat climate change

Climate Change
The climate experts agreed governments must act to adequately address climate change’s effects on humans and other species. Ullstein Bild/Getty


Eric Holthaus’s recent Rolling Stone article, “The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here,” has clearly struck a chord, reaching millions of readers and advancing the conversation about the disastrous effects of our warming planet.

One of the most common things people have asked after reading the piece is, “What can I do to help?” So on Thursday afternoon, Holthaus, along with ten climate experts, participated in a Reddit AMA to answer readers’ questions about climate change solutions.

Below are some of the things we learned.

1. Climate experts aren’t all doom and gloom; they’re happy to offer solutions for “average” people.
“Teach your children to be mindful of what they do. That waste causes problems. That they live in the context of a big world but that the world is made up of individual actions,” said marine ecologist Dr. Carl Safina.

“I would also add that ‘awareness’ is a key step forward. Talk about these issues with friends and families,” said Kansas State University grasslands ecologist Dr. Jesse Nippert, adding, “Engagement with others also has more relevance when it’s local – notice/record ‘small things’ in your community like changes in plant phenology (first flower, leaf drop), first freeze/thaw dates, rainfall amounts, etc….[C]itizen science has been a HUGE movement and source of invaluable data recording climate change.”

Eat less meat. Choose low carbon transportation (basically anything but flying or driving in a car by yourself). Talk to your friends & family about [climate change],” added Holthaus.

2. Some members of the public wish scientists would engage in more direct climate activism – and scientists have fascinating thoughts about that.
“I am a believer that we all have things to contribute, and we do not all have to do the same things to be effective,” said Dr. Simone Alin, supervisory oceanographer at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “I am glad people are marching in the streets to show how many people understand the problem and demand change. On the other hand, as a federal scientist, I have played a role in planning and implementing our regional, national, and international ocean acidification monitoring systems (with many, many great partners, from the policy world, academia, other gov’t agencies, tribal nations, industry, NGOs, etc.). In this capacity, others in my organization/field and I have had the opportunity to present our scientific findings to all of the above partners, all the way up to Congress, which has resulted in many positive outcomes.”

“I think we benefit more from mutually supporting each other and realizing we can be partners at the same table than from suggesting others aren’t doing enough because they are working through other channels,” she said.

3. The experts agree that modifying individual habits won’t be enough to combat climate change – we need to see big changes at the government level too.
“We need both, to show our elected leaders we have skin in the game, but we need to demand that they take actions at the scale of their power,” said J. Drake Hamilton, senior policy director at Fresh Energy. “I have heard Congressmen crow about switching a few light bulbs — they need to sign into law comprehensive, market-based systems that put a limit/price on carbon pollution and internalize those external costs of climate.”

“The problem is too huge for the citizens to be making bottom-up changes; it is almost an imperative from the state/country to be leading the way,” said Dr. Nina Bednarsek, an ocean acidification scientist at the University of Washington and NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “Having said that, citizens’ responsibility is to try to make these changes on the local and state level by writing to their politicians and demanding more green approaches.”

4. Climate scientists have a sense of humor.
When asked if the AMA participants had any “crazy ideas [for] promoting climate change,” Dr. Alin responded, “A cooking show from the future. Premise: now that we only have jellyfish in our oceans, what tasty treats can we make out of them anyway?”

She added, “More seriously, I have thought for a long time that we need some sort of mechanism/agency/organization to quantify the overall footprint of human actions on the environment….All of our consumption choices and actions (flying, driving) have a total environmental footprint, but I’m not aware of anyone or any organization that calculates this….Ideally it should be an international entity (UN I suppose) that would create evidence-based metrics to support the sustainability of various lifestyle choices and such. I say this in part as a consumer – it can be mind-boggling enough to go to the supermarket and pick out a cereal in our world of needlessly plentiful choices – how’s a person to make important decisions about bigger consumption choices?”

5. There is hope. Maybe.
Asked if climate change is reversible, Dr. Bill Peterson, an oceanographer at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center, had this to say: “We can only hope.”

Holthaus followed up on Dr. Peterson’s response, saying, “This is actually a pretty good answer from a scientific basis. There’s no way of knowing if future technology will be able to reliably and affordably remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the best current approach is not to put it there in the first place.”

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