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What will happen to us as the Earth continues to get warmer?

Something happened when we weren’t looking.  The atmosphere quietly reached 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide.  There is no magic number that says, “Once you hit this threshold, life as you know it will end.”  But there is scientific consensus that at double CO2 (counting from the start of the industrial revolution) the Earth’s average temperature could become as high as 5 degrees warmer in some places and it will be too late to reverse the warming.  This is not taking into account negative feedback loops such as methane released from the permafrost or melting arctic ice sheets, which can no longer reflect sunlight and heat.

What happens to us as the Earth gets warmer?  There will be more extreme weather events like Typhoon Haiyan, costing thousands of lives not to mention millions of dollars in damages.  There will be social unrest as coastal communities flee inland and resources become scarce.  There will be more infectious disease from insects thriving in warmer weather.  There will be more asthma due to pollutants.  There will be decreases in our food supply due to acidification in our oceans and drought on our land.  We are already seeing evidence of all these things.

So while the climate talks stall in Warsaw and the world argues over which developed nations must bear the cost of climate change, local communities are moving ahead.

Here in LA, the group Climate Resolve is spearheading a project that will outfit existing low-income apartment buildings with cool roofs.  These white roofs reflect heat, eliminating tons of carbon dioxide that will no longer be emitted by turning on air conditioning.

A few times a year, CicLAvia removes cars from LA streets.  It’s a hugely successful event, the economics of which were measured by LASC this year.  While CicLAvia won’t reduce climate change permanently, it sends a message:  we need more bike paths and want to see less cars on the road.

Million Trees LA is planting trees all over the city, drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere at a rate of 48 pounds of CO2 per tree per year.

Clean LA Solar is putting up solar panels to allow business and homeowners to sell electricity back to the grid.  Their goal is to generate 150 megawatts of solar energy, which would reduce 147 metric tons of CO2 emissions.  UCLA Luskin Center conducted the research, which happens to be deputy directed by one of our own LASC founders.

Supporting local groups such as Los Angeles Sustainability Collaborative helps us maintain our leadership as an innovative community and be a role model for other cities to follow.  If nations are moving the dial too slowly, then cities are the ones spinning it faster.

With 400 parts per million, the words: Think Globally, Act Locally has never been so important.

Cambria Gordon is the co-author of The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming. She is co-chair of the leadership council of NRDC and on the advisory board of LASC.

Image from Stewardship Report.

One Comment

  1. Amen!

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