By Madison Medeiros
The United Nations’ Scientific Panel issued a climate report that foresees an irreversible future for the planet if action is not taken within the next 10 to 12 years. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as they are presently, by 2040 Earth will be experiencing some of the most severe effects of climate change. The U.N. is calling for nations to take “unprecedented” actions to cut carbon emissions over the next decade, according to the report.
This is not one state’s problem. This is not one country’s problem. This is not even one continent’s problem. Food shortages, inundated coastlines, severe and catastrophic storms, mass-die offs of coral reefs—this is a global problem and no system will be left untouched by the hands of Mother Nature.
“I think we haven’t had a wake-up call like this in a very long time and we need it,” said Executive Director of the local non-profit, Sustainable Practices, Madhavi Venkatesan, Phd. “One individual can feel very much overwhelmed, but when you join an organization then it’s the collective power of that group that can really create change.”
“It’s all interrelated. It doesn’t matter what you do, or what you’re talking about. There’s economic ends to it, there’s sociological ends of it, there’s environmental sides of it, but it all comes together and it all works together,” said Environmental Studies Professor and Biology and Bird Migration Expert Edwin Hoopes. “When you start pulling on the thread, the thread is attached to all sorts of other things that you didn’t think about.”
IN YOUR CUP:
An individual should consider their water footprint each time they drink a beverage that is not water.
Coca-Cola and beer use five to ten times more the amount of water than a 12 ounce glass of water would.
It takes 120 ounces of water to produce a 12 ounce beer, and it takes 60 ounces of water to make a 12 ounce bottle of Coca-Cola.
It’s not as simple as one might think. Coca-Cola owns popular beverages such as Fanta, Gold Peak Tea, Minute Maid, Honest Tea, Powerade, Vitamin Water, Simply Orange, SmartWater, Dasani, among many more.
“What we’re not realizing is that each time you drink a beverage that’s not water, you’re actually overconsuming your resource—and it’s a finite resource, especially fresh, clean water,” said Venkatesan.
Consumers craving coffee should also be aware of the environmental impacts.
The most common coffee that people drink is from a sun plantation, which is an area in the forest that has been cut down and replaced with nothing, but coffee plants. For the coffee producer, it is good as the coffee grows faster directly under the sun. But, for the environment, migrating birds and fragile ecosystems that surround the area—the coffee plantations are destructive.
Purchasing coffee that is Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, Organic, and Bird-Friendly certified, will ensure that the beans are shade-grown in humane conditions, keeping rainforests and biodiversity intact.
Rainforest Alliance and Bird-Friendly certifications help preserve the rainforests and prevent habitat loss.
“Literally the kind of coffee you drink can help change the world. It’s literally something that simple,” said Hoopes.
IN YOUR YARD, INSIDE YOUR HOME:
Whether an individual owns acres and acres of land, or a small patch just outside their door, planting native flowers, plants and trees in their yard can make Cape Cod’s biodiversity flourish.
Native plants are more suited for the Cape’s environment. They can easily adapt to the local conditions, and tend to not require as many resources, such as water and fertilizer.
The run off of fertilizer from the yards enters the creeks, estuaries and water column, causing an increase in the amount of nutrients. This is why Cape Cod is seeing an increase in algae blooms, which can look like a green film covering ponds and lakes, choking out the sunlight.
“You get those green lawns at a price. It’s a huge amount of water that has to be applied to get that nice, green lush grass. You need to put a lot of herbicides and pesticides as well. All of that severely impacts the local estuaries,” said Hoopes.
Switching incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs reduces the amount of energy used, as well as unplugging appliances when not in use.
Composting and recycling also reduce the amount of household waste, and can later be used for other things down the line.
“There’s lots of things that can be done to help reduce the level of carbon. They’re ready to go right now,” said Hoopes.
IN YOUR SHOPPING CART:
Eating local and organic foods can have a strong impact on the environment and economy.
Eating local reduces the transportation footprint and the carbon footprint related to that. It reduces the methane footprint, as most local growers are growing on a small scale. It reduces ground water contamination from pesticides, while promoting economic sustainability in the community.
“The person who grows the food wants to keep you as a customer. They’re going to make sure it’s healthy and free of pesticides and things that could be harmful to your health,” said Venkatesan.
Consumers must weigh the environmental costs when purchasing items—especially meat.
Half the red meat produced every year comes from commercial feeding operations. The emissions associated with large food operations are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
Meat products have a larger carbon footprint than grains or vegetables due to the quality of life of the animal.
Although a vegetarian diet greatly reduces an individual’s carbon footprint, switching to a less intensive meat diet can prove to be beneficial too.
Purchasing grass-fed beef rather than corn-fed beef, ensures that the animal had free, open space to roam, a vegetarian diet and was killed humanly.
“Get away from eating the cheapest grocery store beef you can get, don’t eat it as often—but when you do eat it, eat the very best you can afford and spend a little bit more money,” said Hoopes.
IN YOUR TOWNS:
Getting involved in local government can make a big difference. Attending town meetings, running for local government positions and starting organizations within the community are all assets to solving a climate crisis.
“We forgot how to be participants in our own regulatory process,” said Venkatesan. “The problem is you have 15 towns that operate independently from one another, even though they’re on this one land mass. Cape Cod should institute on a county basis certain policies. And those policies should be related to carbon emissions.”
“It all comes back to the many local decisions that are made, whether it’s here or locally in Madagascar or Costa Rica,” said Hoopes. “It’s a volatile time right now. Anything you do is going to work and is going to be helpful.”
Society is capable of change. The United States of America has seen this before during the Civil Rights Movement in 1964. That is the best example of how people changed first and how regulation followed.
“If you have a society that understands that doing this is harmful to us all, as well as themselves, then we create a permanent change. We continue to try to be better every time we look at the problem,” said Venkatesan.
In the next 25 to 30 years, the planet is expected to gain an additional 2 billion people to the ever-increasing human population.
The overwhelming influx of humans will continue to occur, further exasperating climate change.
“Are we going to survive? Yeah we’ll survive. Will it be the same planet that you see today 30, 40 or 50 years from now? No it will not,” said Hoopes. “You have got to control climate. You cannot continue to allow the climate to go like it has been going, because if you do it’s going to be a drastically different world.”