5 Ways Families Can Help Tackle Climate Change
So now what?
While many climate solutions require leadership from governments, we also need changes within regular households, which are collectively responsible for 42 percent of Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions. In the U.S., where energy exports are proportionally smaller, the figure is closer to 80 percent.
We have drawn on our expertise as scientists in three diverse fields (environment, energy and psychology) to assemble a message of action and empowerment that we feel is necessary to address the challenge of climate change.
As the new decade begins, we offer five questions designed to guide discussions of climate action in your household.
1. What are you eating?
A plant-based diet is healthy, ethical and an effective carbon-cutting adjustment for a household. Anna Pelzer / Unsplash
Food production accounts for 23 percent of human greenhouse-gas emissions. Experts say that confronting climate change will ultimately require adjusting our diets. Eating lower on the food chain — or eliminating meat and dairy entirely — is one of the most effective carbon-cutting changes you can make in your household.
While there are many compelling reasons to eat locally, what you eat is more important than where it comes from. One influential U.S. study showed that transportation represents just 11 percent of the life-cycle emissions of household food consumption (a life-cycle analysis considers all aspects of production, transportation, use and disposal), compared to 83 percent for production. So if the thought of eliminating meat altogether is just not fathomable, consider buying products that use lower-emissions production processes such as regenerative grazing.
Discuss what dietary changes your household can make and how they contribute to the climate-change solution. Children learn best when adults link cause with effect: if we collectively choose to eat less meat, we can reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
2. What transportation do you use?
Start by biking, carpooling and taking public transportation as often as possible. Live car-free if you can. If driving is a must, focus on fuel consumption. Choose smaller, best-in-class vehicles and pay attention to distance travelled.
Air transportation is a major contributor to carbon emissions. One round-trip transatlantic flight — Denver to Paris, for example — produces the equivalent of 2.54 tonnes of carbon dioxide per passenger. That's half the emissions of a car driven for a year.
When planning your next family vacation, carefully consider the need for flights. Vacation locally or opt for a shorter flight.
3. How does your home contribute?
Households use energy for heating, cooling, lighting and appliances. Energy consumption is not the same as carbon emissions — the relationship depends on how your home's electricity and heat are generated — but it's still a great target.
Heating, both space and water, makes up 80 percent of residential energy consumption in Canada. Actions that conserve household heat can lower emissions.
These can range from small things like washing clothes in cold water to big steps like moving to a smaller, more energy-efficient home. Retrofits aimed at increasing energy efficiency are also worth considering, especially those matched with local financial incentives. A home-energy audit will help you choose the most effective targets.
4. What do you throw out?
North Americans produce more waste per capita than anyone else on the planet. Most of it ends up in landfills. Justin Ritchie / Flickr CC BY
Priortizing the reduce and re-use parts of the mantra will have a lasting impact on the environment. To reduce, plan carefully and buy only what you need. Buying less stuff not only saves money, it reduces emissions from packaging, transportation and production.
Families should also emphasize re-using goods. Take steps to re-purpose or exchange items, both inside the home and within your community. There are many creative ideas out there.
5. Who can you influence?
As parents, we recognize that making the time for change can be difficult. But changes can begin with small steps, like educating yourself on the evidence, causes and effects of climate change. Children are inherently curious and want to learn too. Make sure that they learn from credible sources.
Children are constant observers of adults' choices. Many kids will notice when an adult makes an effort to reduce waste and carbon emissions. To emphasize these changes further, explain what your actions and choices mean for the environment.
You can also show children how individuals can mobilize and inspire change. The world has just witnessed a 16-year-old launch a global climate movement that is inspiring millions.
Change is the product of individual actions.
Some claim individual actions won't make a difference or that domestic changes don't matter if others are not following suit. In addition to being incredibly disheartening, such views ignore the fact that our current crisis is the product of billions of individual decisions. Household actions lead to changes in collective behavior and are an essential part of social movements.
A more compelling argument is that the focus belongs on altering the systems (economic and political) that pose barriers to personal changes. We agree! But it's not a zero-sum game and transformations must happen on both fronts.
There is reason for hope. Family-based changes can shape the environmental landscape for future generations. We already have much of the technology and know-how required to transition towards a more sustainable society.
We just need to get started. And it can start with our families.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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