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MY TURN: Stemming global warming begins at home

by BILL IRVING/Guest Opinion
| August 19, 2023 1:00 AM

Aug. 14 was a historic day.

Amid local scorching heat, nearby wildfires and smoke, 16 young people in Montana prevailed in the first climate trial. They showed that their constitutional rights to a “clean and healthful environment,” enshrined in the state’s constitution, had been violated by Montana’s burning of fossil fuels. Droughts have worsened, rivers run dry, others flood and wildfires increased in size, severity and frequency. Wildfire smoke forced the children to stay indoors, causing episodes of depression, anxiety and worsening asthma.

In addition, magnificent Glacier National Park may lose all of its glaciers by 2030. What took nature millions of years to create — 146 glaciers were witnessed there in 1850 — human-driven climate change could destroy in fewer than 200 years. What a tragic loss.

The Held v. Montana legal case is “the strongest decision on climate change ever issued by a court,” according to Michael Gerrard, director of the Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Its “clear, constitutional language” is likely to have implications well beyond the Big Sky state. More than 15 other states are considering similar provisions — that a safe climate is a human or constitutional right — in their own constitutions.

Here in the Coeur d’Alene area, climate change has made temperatures hotter and drier and turned forests into tinderboxes. The Ridge Creek Fire, east of Hayden Lake, keeps growing despite efforts by dedicated firefighters to contain it. Wildfire smoke has turned our air hazy the past week. And lest we forget, only a few years ago we were stuck indoors for two weeks to avoid the damaging smoke. And who can forget the “unprecedented” heat wave two summers ago, driven by human-caused climate change? Hundreds in the Northwest died from that heat.

Many of us are having to use more water on our lawns nowadays, due to the hotter temperatures. A 17-year-old I spoke to recently said it “scared” her when she jumped into Hayden Lake a few years ago to cool off and it was the same temperature as the outside air. The lake provided no relief from the heat, as it had for her and generations before.

But all is not lost. Far from it. Renewables (primarily solar and wind) have become the dominant and least-expensive, choice for new power plants in the U.S. (Canary Media, March 2023). To maintain a livable planet, we’re nearly halfway to reducing our 2005 level of greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, according to Columbia University’s Dr. Melissa Lott. We each can make a difference in reaching that goal by making a dent in consumerism, our constant need for more stuff.

Consider that “The average American home has tripled in size in the past half century, though families have become smaller. A household in the U.S. contains, on average, 300,000 individual items — no wonder one in 10 households rent a storage unit and one in four people with a garage say it is too full to house a car” (Springer, S., 2017).

A 2020 study indicated the top three most effective individual actions to slow global warming are: live car free, shift to a battery electric vehicle and take one less long-distance flight a year (Millward-Hopkins, J., et al., 2022). Notice they all involve transportation. Indeed, transporting people and goods is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in Idaho (58% of all emissions) and in the U.S. (28%). Therefore, ride your bike, walk or take transit as much as you can. I’m 71, and I ride nine months out of the year. Doing so helps my waistline, pocketbook and blood pressure, as well as the climate.

Since more than half of all daily trips in the U.S. are less than 3 miles long, that’s a perfect distance for a climate-friendly bike ride (UCLA, 2022). The carbon footprint of cycling is “up to thirty times lower than that of a fossil fuel car, and even less than that of walking or taking public transportation.” And the carbon footprint of bicycling is about ten times lower than driving an electric vehicle (Brand, C., 2021). Fortunately, we have a robust bike lane system and miles of dedicated bike trails here in the Coeur d’Alene area.

So instead of driving, give biking a try. It’s easy, healthy, gets us outside, saves money and reduces traffic congestion.

Certainly, collective action on the state, national and international levels are needed to stem global warming. But important steps begin here at home.

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Bill Irving is a Coeur d'Alene resident.