Don’t Worry. Do Something.

by Patricia Taylor

I try not to worry, but I can’t help it.  If humans keep burning fossil fuels, we are headed toward inevitable multi-meter sea level rise (which means that our coastal cities will be underwater).  We will have violent, unpredictable weather, massive crop disruption, a refugee problem involving everyone on the planet – and, let’s not forget all the species extinctions, upsetting who-knows-what other natural patterns.  The risk of a whole bunch of new, deadly insect-borne diseases appears to be a sure thing.

Yup.  Impending doom.  For real.  Unless we’ve done a superb job at preparing for it – and really, what are the chances? – human civilization will come to a screeching halt.  Capitalism, electricity, rule of law, good coffee — all the things we depend on to make our lives functional and interesting, will disappear.

I know.  We’ve heard all this before.  We’ve been talking about it for so long.  It’s coming, but we don’t seem to care.  Or if we do care, the bad stuff feels so far in the future – right?

People are always saying – what can I do?  What can we do?  Will anything really stop these things from happening?  And we go about our daily lives as if the future were normal; when not doing anything about carbon spewing into the atmosphere is exactly what is going to cause these disasters.  When actually, the answer to the question “is there anything I can do?” is — Yes.  As it turns out, there is a lot that each person can do (individually and together)….

I’m a member of 350.org and occasionally I go to 350NYC’s monthly meetings here in New York.  Each time I go, I hear about projects happening in our city and our state.  Two years ago I heard a Sierra Club organizer talking about their Beyond Coal Campaign and how there were only four coal-fired power plants left in New York State, still spewing ridiculous amounts of carbon and receiving annual government subsidies to keep operating.  I joined Beyond Coal’s legislative team to lobby state officials and in 2016 Governor Cuomo committed to a 100% coal-free New York by 2020.  I was amazed.  I’m big proponent of getting out for marches and rallies to be counted and try to get my voice heard – but this felt like actual progress, actual change — albeit relatively small and limited to upstate New York.

In February, I went to another 350NYC meeting – and, again, there were people presenting concrete ideas, about how we as individuals or groups could cut CO2.

For example, right now, if you pay your own utility bill, only 2% of your electricity comes from renewable sources.  The other 98% is a mixture of oil, gas, coal, hydroelectric and nuclear.  But, even as a renter, you have the right to choose who provides your electricity and it can be clean, renewable energy.  Our family made the switch years ago.  It takes only two minutes, and an extra dollar or two each month, to sign up for 100% wind energy using a link at the 350NYC website.

Another thing I heard about was the growing movement to divest from banks funding the fossil fuel industry. Grassroots Action NY organized a big Divestment Day on March 18th, for people to collectively close their accounts at the big banks and move their money to smaller banks and credit unions committed to investing in a low carbon economy.  Of course, our bank — Citibank – was the first on the list of BAD banks, so I decided to move my personal and business accounts to Amalgamated Bank – the largest union-owned bank in the country, well-known for its socially responsible efforts.  I knew that Citibank wouldn’t be hurt by having my little accounts disappear, but by joining a few thousand others that day and making a point of telling people about what we were doing and why – then maybe it would make a dent.  My bank divestment hasn’t been perfect.  Citibank is so convenient, with the best ATMs and online features.  Amalgamated has shared ATMs everywhere, not all of them working at all times (I’ve found), and only a few brick and mortar branches, but I’m happy to have made the commitment.  And, if you’re interested in the divestment idea, there’s an entire industry of ethically minded banks and financial institutions out there to choose from.

Since the Sierra Club project, I’ve been looking for another place to put my green volunteer hours.  A few weeks ago, I attended a discussion between renowned climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, and Professor Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University’s Earth Institute.  Dr. Hansen talked about a group called Citizens’ Climate Lobby and their idea of a “national, revenue-neutral Carbon Fee and Dividend system which would place a predictable, steadily rising price on carbon, with all fees collected minus administrative costs returned to households as a monthly energy dividend.”

Studies show that such a “carbon fee-and-dividend will reduce CO2 emissions 52% below 1990 levels in 20 years” and that recycling the revenue “will create an economic stimulus that adds 2.8 million jobs to the economy.”  It will be a tough path in the present political climate, but to me, CCL is a new, practical idea, which lots of people could get behind.  They also seem very well organized – with Intro Calls and Climate Advocate Training sessions, and I’m going to my first NYC Team meeting this week – so we shall see.  Wouldn’t it be just amazing to think that such a plan could succeed (eventually)?

I know – so much easier said than done – right?  But it’s good to hear that there are people who are committed to and can lead us in this fight.  To know that there are places to put our energy (ha! ha!) and that we can make big and little changes in the way we do things which will make a difference.

So, Happy Earth Day.  Try not to miss the People’s March for Jobs, Justice & Climate on April 29th.  (The big one’s in D.C, but there are similar gatherings all over the country.)

Join me in doing something.  While the world swirls with random violence and political stupidity, we can all take a deep breath, pull ourselves out of our daily routines and add our little Who-down-in-Whoville voices to the cry for world-wide change.

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