The Individual and Climate Change
Is there Hope?
By: Donna Nesbit
Grayson County Master Gardener
According to scientists, the earth is in trouble. Because of human intervention through the use of fossil fuel, deforestation, and chemical pesticides, climate change has been accelerated, and water and soil has been overused or abused. ‘The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) climate risk subcommittee issued a comprehensive report with an unequivocal warning: “Climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and its ability to sustain the US economy.” [Turning Up the Heat: The need for urgent action by U.S. financial regulators in addressing climate risk | Ceres] Despite this, the United Nations tells us that “While science tells us that climate change is irrefutable, it also tells us that it is not too late to stem the tide. This will require fundamental transformations in all aspects of society.” [The Climate Crisis – A Race We Can Win | United Nations]
Scientists and governments around the world are working to determine what is causing these changes and how to stop or mitigate them. According to facts from NASA Global Climate Change, “Human activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels) have fundamentally increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, warming the planet. Natural drivers, without human intervention, would push our planet toward a cooling period.” [Causes | Facts – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet (nasa.gov)]These greenhouse gases are water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N20), and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Water vapor is the most abundant. It is seen as a “feedback” gas as it responds to changes in temperature thus creating clouds or precipitation. Carbon dioxide is a minor but important component. It has increased by 48% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Methane is more active than CO2, but it is less abundant. Nitrous oxide is mainly attributed to cultivation practices through fertilizers, fossil fuel production, nitric acid production, and biomass burning. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are synthetic compounds of industrial origin and are largely regulated by governmental agencies.
Removing water vapor and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere back into the soil is called sequestering. Sequestering is an area where people can have the most individual impact. Changing methods in cultivation practices in agricultural and landscaping will help with nitrous oxide, and as stated before, the chlorofluorocarbons are already being regulated. These areas are already being monitored by ecology groups and governments.
As individuals, it often seems as if there is little or nothing that we can do to stem the rapid flow of the climate change; however, this is not the case. Technical solutions currently exist for more than 70% of today’s emissions. Outside of technological and governmental regulations, the individual can look at their own impact on ecology.
Mitigating individual footprints can be done in a variety of ways. Electric or hybrid vehicles can help as long as the electricity is obtained in a way that does not increase the carbon footprint in production or contamination through disposal of electrical parts. Sequestering water by reducing the amount of hard, impermeable surfaces in a yard or area can be of use. Using plants that hold the water in their leaves or roots or that pull the water down deep into the soil helps regenerate the aquifers that provide our clean water as well as removing water vapor from the air.
The United States has 15 broad level I ecosystems, and North America covers all of the biomes of the world. Because of this diversity, it is important to use plants that have developed for the ecosystem in which they are being used. The easiest way to do this is by the use of plants native to the region. Native plants have evolved to thrive in the climate in which they exist and interact with the soil and wildlife of the area. Using plants not native to the area actually changes the chemical composition of the soil in which it is placed. These changes not only impact surrounding plant life but can also impact wildlife in the area which has evolved to exist with the native soil and plants.
In addition, covering the soil with ground covers including trees, grasses, and forbs helps increase the health of the soil as well as sequestering carbon dioxide. For every 1” per acre of organic matter, 21 tons of carbon dioxide is sequestered. An average size suburban lot is 8560 square feet with the average house covering approximately 2300 square feet which leaves 6260 square feet of permeable material. If everyone covered their entire yard with plants adapted to their area, they would reduce the use of water, fertilizer, and fossil fuels while sequestering 3
tons of carbon dioxide. Not including urban areas, 76,000 suburban homes exist in the US. If the residents of each of these homes plant groundcovers, 228,000 tons of carbon dioxide would be sequestered just in the United States suburban areas. If suburban areas throughout the world were included as well as cover crops in agricultural and urban areas, the climate and water problems would be slowed significantly if not stopped altogether.
As individuals, we often feel helpless in the face of large, global issues. However, when it comes to climate change, individuals can make a difference by committing to small changes such as the transportation they use, how much water they use and how, and what they plant and where.