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Faculty Perspective: What Can We Do About Climate Change?

Posted 02/15/19

This piece was published in the Telegram & Gazette on Sunday, Feb. 17.

Professor Christopher PiconeBy Christopher Picone
Professor, Department of Biology/Chemistry

Studying climate change can leave us depressed and despairing.

Climate scientists are increasingly confident about our “carbon budget,” or how much more carbon dioxide we can add to the atmosphere before global warming exceeds 1.5-2ºC.  We have already warmed 1ºC, so we now must leave most fossil fuels in the ground.

Yet that necessary solution feels almost impossible.  Five of the ten largest corporations on Earth are fossil fuel companies, and they impede any real progress on climate change.  Another challenge is that we have been spoiled by the cheap, abundant energy in fossil fuels.  While the science is clear that we need to reduce emissions dramatically, global emissions have been increasing by 1-3% every year. For decades!

So what can we do?  

We must rapidly transform our energy infrastructure towards renewable sources, as the Green New Deal and the MA 100% Renewable Energy Act would do.  Such ambitious change requires massive, informed social movements, as well as elected leaders who value scientific reasoning.

We must also change the way we produce and eat food, which accounts for 30%of greenhouse gas emissions. Those emissions are reduced by agroecological techniques such as diversified crops, perennial plants, integrated livestock, organic fertilizers, and reduced tillage.  Eating less meat is also necessary.

Focusing on food develops solutions that beget more solutions.  Agroecological farming builds soil organic matter which pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  Such farms are more resilient to droughts and extreme rainfall, which are more common as our climate changes. These farms also serve as refuges for biodiversity, require less pesticides, and improve nutrition for farming communities.

Just a few generations past, we defeated global threats of fascism by transforming our economy, trusting science, and fostering a sense of duty and self-sacrifice.  If we did it once, we can do it again.

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