vote, speak up
Let your voice be heard. It's probably the single most important action you can take. Support government officials and businesses who are acting on climate change. Apply pressure to those who are not.
Voting is simple, but powerful. Look at the candidates' websites, and listen to what they say. Do they support strong action on climate change, or are they downplaying the risks?
If there is little or no mention of climate change on a candidate's website, or in their campaign material, it might be a red flag that they do not accept the overwhelming consensus that climate change is real and human caused. Ask them about it.
If a candidate says that they will take action, have they seriously considered possible solutions? Are they proposing specific governmental policies to fight climate change? Examples include:
Has the whole world ever acted on an environmental issue? The answer is YES – and with very positive results.
The Montreal Protocol, designed to limit chemicals that deplete the protective ozone layer for the entire Earth, was signed by the United States during President Ronald Reagan’s second term. It was the first treaty in the history of the UN to achieve universal ratification. The treaty is widely regarded as a major success, and has resulted in dramatic reductions in the chemicals that have caused the “ozone hole”. The Treaty has also reduced climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions, as shown by a study of U.S. gases. Image: NASA.
Pick up the phone and call your government representatives. Tell them you want action on climate change - now. It’s a simple step that has big payback.
Ed Maibach (Center for Climate Change Communication) notes that many people are more likely to choose products as a solution instead of contacting their elected representatives:
“Many people don’t think contacting their elected representatives will make a difference. But elected officials and their staff say the opposite… They tell us they get lots of contact from angry voters who are against climate change policy, but very little saying that it is a good idea.”
Yet research shows that the vast majority of Americans want action on climate change. So let your voice be heard. And more than once. Don’t be drowned out by the vocal few.
Not sure how to contact your representatives, or what to say? See our guide below:
Contacting your representatives is easier than you think. And once you have done it a couple of times, it will become second nature. Tell your representatives that you want action to address climate change. If they are making progress, thank them - whether they are in your political party or not (everyone likes hearing praise).
A phone call (or voicemail) is often the most effective option. You will likely speak to a staffer, who will take your message. It is best to state your name and zip code (or your address) otherwise they might think you are a paid caller from another state. Be polite. Tell them you are a constituent and that you vote.
Then tell them what you want. If possible, include a specific action about a specific bill or relevant issue. But even a general request is helpful, like “I would like Senator/ Congresswoman/ Congressman [name] to take action on climate change because I am very concerned about its impacts on our nation”. Even better, you could reference a specific item in the news, and use one of the references from our science section. Example: “I live in an area that is impacted by forest fires, and studies by Columbia University show that Climate Change has substantially increased forest fires in the west”.
Consider calling several times (over days to weeks) about the same issue. It's helpful, even if a bit awkward. You can say something like, “I’ve called before about this issue. Can you let me know about the progress Senator/ Congresswoman/ Congressman [name] has made?”
A postcard is also helpful, especially if it is hand written. Postcards are often better than letters, which can be delayed by a few weeks because of security screening.
Write a letter to the editor of your local paper encouraging politicians to act on climate change and fellow citizens to advocate for action.
Champion walkable neighborhoods and bike lanes in your neighborhood. Support initiatives to improve mass transit.
Talk about better food options and food issues during dinner (see Food page). Who doesn’t love talking about food, preferably while eating some?
Contact your local officials about recycling. Let them know you want to expand the types of materials your area can recycle, or to support a zero waste plan.
Bring environmental and climate justice into conversations you’re part of in business, service groups, and local government. Push for equitable decisions and processes, and to include frontline communities (see Justice page)
Join a group that shares your views on climate change. Searching the internet may provide you with a list of groups – from education to action-oriented to faith-based organizations. Find one you like and join it.
Use your buying power to support corporations doing the right thing: buy from certified B corporations, a group of companies certified to high social and environmental standards, or from RE100 companies, companies dedicated to moving to 100% renewable energy – and then tell them why you bought from them. Ask businesses not to prop open front doors on hot and cold days.
Your buying choices influence how companies plan for the future. If people buy cars with poor fuel economy, the auto companies will conclude that fuel economy is not important to the public, and concentrate less on fuel economy for future models – and on lobbying the government to reduce fuel economy regulations. Your impact goes well beyond the fuel used in the car you purchase.
When you support companies for their action on climate change, thank them, and then share on social media.
Ask your workplace, service club, or community of faith to serve lower-carbon meals in its café or during catered events. Suggest chicken and tastier vegetarian dishes instead of beef.
Policy can be used in many ways to tackle climate change at the government level, from mandating emissions reductions in industries to providing economic incentives for consumers to favor lower emission products and services. The University of Wisconsin has a good overview of the various policy options available to governments. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) provides a more detailed article on the various market-based approaches and how they compare to “command and control” options.
The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD - PDF file) has a position paper on climate change policy developed by its 35 member nations.
What strategies would get us from where we are today to a sustainable future? Two prominent groups have studied this:
The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication conduct scientific research on public climate change knowledge, attitudes, policy preferences, and behavior, and the underlying psychological, cultural, and political factors that influence them. Their Six Americas study was a benchmark study to understand the American public's attitudes towards climate change. They have released a series of reports on Climate Change in the American Mind.
Niwot Ridge, Colorado has the longest CO2 record in North America, the 3rd longest in the world. Part of my job is to take the weekly samples for this record every Tuesday; skiing or hiking or snowmobiling to 11,500 feet in elevation where the wind rips through your jacket, but at least the air is well mixed for sampling, which is important to us. After the recent election my work was suddenly news. Reporters and broadcasters were calling to find out if they could take a snow cat ride up to Niwot Ridge to see the samples being taken.
I wasn’t expecting to get so many questions about policy. What did I think of Climate denial? Am I worried about funding cuts? I responded that from my perspective on Niwot Ridge - where the average CO2 reading has climbed from 390 to above 405 parts per million in the eight years since I started working for the University - two things seemed evident; climate change is a real problem, and from a technological standpoint, we can solve it. But the question that naturally follows was much harder to answer; so why aren’t we?
Shortly after this I received a text from a friend asking if I wanted to go to a Nederland Sustainability Board meeting. She knew I had been interviewed recently for my work on Niwot Ridge and that Climate Change was on my mind. She had an idea for our small town that she wanted to share with the board: 100% Renewable Electricity.
Nederland’s population is 1,534. It’s a small community about 15 miles and 3,000 vertical feet above Boulder. We use 12.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, or about as much as 5 large grocery stores. 100% renewable seemed very doable. The question of “why aren’t we?”, was now clearly “why aren’t I”?
What followed were four months of long hours working with the Sustainability Advisory Board and a small group of dedicated residents. Together we wrote a resolution to present to Nederland’s Mayor and Trustees, spent time researching what our path to 100 might look like, and requested to get on the agenda at one of the Town’s meetings. It was worth the effort. In August 2017, Nederland became the 4th city in Colorado to pass a 100% Renewable Resolution, the 42nd in the Country.
We are moving forward. In May of 2018 our Board of Trustees voted unanimously to purchase 100% of the electricity for town facilities and services from a Community Solar Garden being built in Weld County. We are working with a group from CU’s Masters of the Environment program to create a 100% plan for businesses and residents. We are partnering with our utility provider (Xcel Energy) and recently signed an MOU with them to work together on our 100% goals. And we are hoping to join Colorado Communities For Climate Change Action (CC4CA) this year to help advocate for greenhouse gas reducing actions at the state and federal level.
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