Six Things Leaders Must Prioritize to Address Climate Change

2015 – Warmest Global Year on Record (since 1880) – Colors indicate temperature anomalies (NASA/NOAA; 20 January 2016).
2015 – Warmest Global Year on Record (since 1880) – Colors indicate temperature anomalies (NASA/NOAA; 20 January 2016). Wikipedia

Impose a price on carbon This could occur in several ways. The revenue-neutral carbon fee has a great backbone of advocacy support. It would charge fossil fuel producers at the first point of sale, and the revenue would be distributed among the public. Prices of goods and services dependent on fossil fuels would go up, while people who buy less of those products and therefore contribute less to climate change would come out ahead. The revenue-neutral system's one flaw, by some opinions, is that it doesn't provide government with a new source of revenue for funding social systems that promote renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and other climate-focused measures. A cap-and-trade system, on the other hand, would fund public agencies while creating incentive for industries to pollute less. Republicans, however, tend to oppose cap and trade because it acts much like a tax on businesses that they argue will depress the economy.

Carbon farming Agriculture has been one of the greatest overall emitters of atmospheric carbon. Now, agriculture must play a role in reversing the damage done to the planet — and it's theoretically a simple task: When plants grow, they draw carbon into their own mass and into the soil. All that a farmer needs to do is keep that carbon there. By planting long-standing trees and perennial row crops, farmers and other land managers have the power to sequester a great deal of the carbon dioxide that has been emitted into the atmosphere. In the process of slowing climate change, soils will become richer and healthier, with more natural productivity and greater water retention properties than depleted soils.

Redesign our cities Urban areas are responsible for more than half of America's carbon footprint, by some estimates. The role of cities in driving climate change can be largely offset by turning linear material and waste streams — like water inputs — into circular loops that recycle precious resources. Jonathan F. P. Rose, author of The Well-Tempered City, says 98 percent of material resources that enter a city leave again, mostly as waste, within six months. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings would be one very significant way to reduce a city's carbon footprint. Upgrading transit systems and making streets more compatible with zero-emission transportation, like walking and riding a bicycle, would also cut emissions.

Shift to renewable energy This is a big one that has to be tackled, and it will mean fighting the powerful petroleum lobby. Generating electricity currently produces 30 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, the single largest source by sector in the country, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. However, Donald Trump has promised to revive the American coal industry and tap into domestic reserves of natural gas and oil — quite the opposite of developing renewable energy technology.

Strive for low- to zero-emission transportation Driving your car — one of the most symbolic expressions of American freedom — contributes significantly to climate change. Transport accounts for 26 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, says the EPA. More than half of this total comes from private vehicles. Airplanes, ships and trains produce most of the rest. Against the will of the petroleum industry, national leaders must continue pressing for more efficient vehicles, as well as electric ones powered by clean electricity.

Make homes more efficient A single pilot light produces about a half ton of carbon dioxide per year, according to Peter Kalmus, author of the forthcoming book Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution. That is just one example of how households contribute to climate change. According to the EPA, commercial and residential spaces produce 12 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. In his book, Kalmus discusses how and why he took simple but meaningful action that reduced his carbon dioxide emissions from about 20 tons per year to just two.

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