Famine, fire, flood: In the face of cataclysm, what can you do?

York Dispatch Editorial Board
A fire truck drives through central Greenville, which was largely leveled by the Dixie Fire, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Plumas County, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Heat waves with mounting death tolls.

Wildfires that reduce neighborhoods to embers.

Floods that inundate low-lying communities.

We're already experiencing the effects of climate — even in unlikely places, such as the "heat dome" that brought record-breaking temperatures to Canada and the Pacific Northwest.

And, according to its latest climate report, the United Nations expects things to get much, much worse if we (the global we) don't act quickly to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat in our atmosphere.

"It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land," the report says. "Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe."

We're seeing the effects right here in York County: The spring snow melt is coming earlier each spring, bringing increased flood risk with it. Massive wildfires in the western states lead to reduced air quality (and breathtaking sunsets) here. We're even witnessing changes to growing seasons and the arrival of species that normally inhabit warmer, southern climates.

And it's not all anecdotal.

More than half of the monthly maximum average temperatures recorded at Harrisburg International Airport, which has operated since 1939, were set in the last five years. (York's stations haven't consistently recorded data over such a long period of time.)

We are, as the United Nations declared, in "code red."

“It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” said report co-author Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”

In the face of such grim news, what can you do?

Cling to hope.

Not the blind hope that someone else will solve these problems nor the delusional hope that somehow, someway, thousands of scientists are wrong.

We're talking real, practical optimism. We're talking "the lord helps those who help themselves" kind of hope.

Here are a few suggestions:

Spend your money wisely. Pennsylvanians can choose their electric supplier, so choose one with a portfolio of renewable sources. The next time you buy a car, choose one of an array of increasingly affordable electric ones. Eat less meat and support local farmers and butchers. Grow your own vegetables like your grandparents did. Oh, and maybe don't buy (or build) your house in the flood plain.

Keep working from home. If this is an option for you, keep doing it. And, if it's not, try to reduce your commute by cycling or carpooling to work. Whenever possible, avoid air travel.

Use energy wisely. Invest in insultation for your home so you spend less money heating and cooling it. Install a programmable thermostat. Unplug appliances you're not using.

Reduce, reuse and recycle. Do you need a new wardrobe every year? A new car? New furniture? Probably not. Spend money on the people who matter to you, not the things you end up throwing away.

Finally, elect people who understand science and respect truth. For better or worse, everything is political. Make sure your elected officials understand the threat of climate change and have practical ideas about how to address it. Your voice counts: Use it.

Addressing climate change has global implications, it's true, but all of these actions improve your physical, mental and even financial wellbeing in the short-term.

Despair is a natural response to cataclysm but we still have options.

Make changes where you can.

Act now.