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Alan Northcutt: Saving the climate involves far more than neighborhood recycling

Alan Northcutt: Saving the climate involves far more than neighborhood recycling

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On Sept. 13th, I was fortunate to meet a wonderful group of Waco citizens — people who cared so much about our environment that they waited in line to recycle their Styrofoam. In fact, so many dropped off this plastic that we stuffed a 26-foot U-Haul truck and sprinted to U-Haul to rent a second truck. But I must point out a stark reality to these diligent folks and to all Waco residents, schools, businesses, churches and governmental bodies: Recycling and litter cleanup alone will not preserve our environment and will yield climate catastrophe.

Waco has an admirable tradition of recycling, which is adopted and promoted by citizens and city governments alike. Unfortunately, there is a pervasive attitude that recycling and litter cleanup are the only actions required. To the contrary, decades of climate science make clear that we have only 10 years to halve our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or suffer climate devastation. If we don’t slash emissions, the global mean temperature will rise 3 or 4 degrees C by 2100, resulting in regions of unlivable heat, massive drought, serious crop failure and famine, sea-level rise with submerged cities and islands, extreme hurricanes, enormous fire destruction, lifeless coral reefs, mass species extinction, two billion climate refugees and likely societal collapse.

Thus, at this moment in human history, recycling alone is like manicuring the garden in a minefield: It looks nice but does not decrease the danger. Recycling was the environmental challenge of the 20th century; climate change mitigation is the challenge of the 21st century. So I call on all the dedicated, generous people I met, and local businesses and governmental bodies, to continue recycling but to also take robust steps to lighten their carbon footprint.

What can be done to combat the climate crisis? The list of actions is huge, but key steps include purchasing 100% renewable energy, ensuring excellent building insulation, installing rooftop solar, driving electric vehicles (EVs), eating less meat, divesting from fossil fuels and voting for candidates at all levels committed to climate action.

In addition, educating ourselves about the climate crisis and solutions is vital. Thus, I am pleased to announce several upcoming events dedicated to climate crisis education:

Fourth annual Climate Crisis Art Exhibit: This free virtual gallery is a community show, with professionals and amateurs, adults and students, exploring many aspects of the climate crisis. Visitors will learn and be inspired, vote for the People’s Choice Award and have an opportunity to win a door prize. Oct. 1–Nov. 30, climatecrisisartexhibit.org

Solar Tour Waco: The second year of the free virtual solar tour consists of videos and photographs of local residences and businesses with photovoltaic systems. Learn the practicalities of solar energy while a federal tax credit of 26% is still available in 2020. Sept. 28–Oct. 4, find link at friendsofpeace.org

National Drive Electric Week-Waco: This event, sponsored by the Heart of Texas Electric Auto Association, will provide an opportunity to view electric vehicles and discuss them with owners. At least one car will be available for a test ride. Masks required. Sept. 26, 9 a.m.–1 p.m., Sixth Street and Austin Avenue, Waco.

One year ago, Waco Friends of the Climate began a Styrofoam recycling program to fill a need in Waco — to keep a portion of the city’s Styrofoam waste out of the landfill, the neighborhoods and the waterways. We deeply appreciate all those who collected their Styrofoam and delivered it to us for recycling. Recognizing your deep concern for our environment, we sincerely call on you now to join us in taking action on the most important environmental issue of our time, that of the climate crisis. As Robert Swan observed, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

Alan Northcutt is a Waco physician and director of the climate action and education organization Waco Friends of the Climate.

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