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Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner: Resetting Earth’s thermostat

As I am writing this, more than 190 world leaders and tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses, and citizens are gathering in Glasgow, Scotland for the 26th Global Climate Summit, COP26. From Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, they were to be working on reaching agreements, setting targets, and developing strategies for reducing global warming. For nearly 30 years, the U.N. has been bringing together representatives from almost every country on earth for global climate summits, called COPs, which stands for “Conference of the Parties.” This year’s summit, COP26, was originally scheduled for 2020, but was delayed one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2015, the Global Climate Change summit (COP21) was held in Paris. History was made when, for the first time, every country attending agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees C, aiming for 1.5 degrees. This became known as the “Paris Agreement.” As part of this agreement, every country committed to developing national plans detailing how much they would reduce their emissions. They also agreed to present an updated plan every five years, which is why this year’s summit is so important — this is the year for those updated plans.

Unfortunately, the plans made in Paris did not come close to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Continuing under those targets would result in global warming well over 3 degrees by 2100, which could be catastrophic. Let us hope that our world leaders recognize this and develop new targets and strategies. We must find ways to produce less carbon than we take out of the atmosphere, in other words, reach “net zero,” by 2050, to achieve the goal of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.

Have we made any progress? Yes. Solar and wind energy are now the cheapest electricity in most countries, and a growing industry. Many car manufacturers are moving to making only hybrid or electric models. Some cities, states, and regions are working toward reducing their emissions to zero. More natural areas are being protected, and trees are being planted, which sequester carbon. New agricultural practices are being developed to make the soil better able to store carbon.

The U.K. is a leading example of what can be accomplished. It was the first country to pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2035. Its economy has grown by 78 percent over the last 30 years, while its emissions have been reduced by 44 percent. Nine years ago, 40 percent of the U.K.’s electricity came from coal. Today it is only 2 percent, and coal will be entirely phased out by 2024. The sale of new gas and diesel cars will end by 2030. The U.K. is planting trees on 74,000 acres of land per year by 2025, and is working with farmers on improving the carbon-holding capabilities of agricultural land. The U.K. is the world’s largest producer of off-shore wind power. On the international scene, the U.K. is spending over $16 billion over the next five years to help developing countries with climate change, with at least $4 billion of that focused on nature-based solutions. Impressive! Let us hope that other nations, including our own, will commit to meeting the goal of reaching net zero by 2050, and take actions, as the U.K. has, to make that happen.

In the here and now, at home, each one of us can make a difference. Small steps, but if every one of us takes them, they will become giant steps towards a healthier, cooler, safer planet. Here are some things you can do:

1. Plant trees. Trees take in carbon and exhale oxygen, which we breath. Trees store carbon, provide shade, and moderate temperature.

2. Improve your lawn and garden soil. Adding organic matter, such as peat moss, chopped leaves, compost, and manure, and using cover crops, increases the soil’s capacity to store carbon.

3. Use renewable energy. Install solar panels at your home, or purchase your power from a facility that generates from solar or wind.

4. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. You’ve heard this mantra for years — now please do it! Landfills create methane, 25 percent more potent than CO2.

5. Eat for a climate-stable planet. Eat more meat-free meals (Livestock is a huge source of methane!) Buy organic and local food — support your local farm market. Grow your own food. Don’t waste food. Compost your food waste.

6. Buy a hybrid or electric car.

7. Shopping on-line? Choose slower shipping. 1-day shipping means more delivery trips.

8. Walk or bike instead of driving, or carpool. Combine errands to save on trips.

9. Get an energy audit on your house, and follow up on ways to save energy.

10. Contact your elected officials. Urge them to take bold actions to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.

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Cynthia Burkhart is a gardener, goat herder and concerned citizen living in Ritchie County, with solar power.

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