Opinion | Not a drill: The most important 12 years of your life

March Point refineries above Anacortes, Wash., with Fidalgo and Padilla Bay views. (Dana/Creative Commons)

On Oct. 15, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report revealing that the ramifications of climate change will take effect sooner than previously expected if mankind continues on its current trajectory.

The report, completed by a panel of 91 scientists from 40 different countries, found that the threshold for major environmental consequences caused by climate change could be reached as soon as 2040. As reported by the New York Times, the scientists concluded that a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) is enough of a difference to cause major environmental consequences, including the die-off of all coral reefs, increased wildfires, global food shortages, and flooded coastlines. This is significantly lower than the 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) benchmark that scientists had previously considered the threshold for severe effects on climate change and that had been the basis of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The findings state that if humans do not drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the atmosphere will reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase by 2040. Preventing this from occurring requires global industry and economy to completely transform itself at an unprecedented rate. It is projected that global action, or inaction, over the next 12 years will be the determinant of whether or not we can prevent earth from hitting the 1.5 degree mark in 2040, the Guardian reports.

The findings of the new report are harrowing. When one considers that preventing the destruction of the earth from becoming inevitable requires getting global politicians, including those who doggedly reject climate science, to confront the climate crisis immediately, it is hard not to feel overwhelmingly defeated. But now is not the time to surrender, now is the time to take responsibility for saving our only planet into our own hands. Every individual has the ability to make habitual changes that can help stop climate change. What we choose to do over the next twelve years will seal the fate of the planet. Here are six changes you can make immediately to start being part of the solution in your daily life.

1. Choose alternative transportation. America’s transportation sector creates approximately one-third of its greenhouse gas emissions. Whether you walk, bike, or take public transportation, reducing the amount that you use your car is critical in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Eat more plants and less animals. Globally, animal agriculture accounts for nearly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, and approximately 80% of greenhouse gas emissions from food consumption comes from animal products. This is a major issue that cannot be ignored if we want to stop climate change. Cutting meat out of your diet even one day a week is a great place to start.

3. Compost. Food scraps cannot break down properly in a landfill and end up emitting methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. By starting a compost in your yard or looking for local gardens or compost collection sites you can bring your food scraps to instead of throwing them away, you promote natural decomposition processes and reduce emissions.

4. Reduce your home’s energy footprint. Keeping your air conditioning off as much as possible, turning off all unnecessary lights, and unplugging unused electronics to prevent phantom energy usage will not only save you money, it will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to power your home.

5. Reduce plastic usage. Not only is plastic pollution one of the leading environmental threats of our time following climate change, but plastic is also one of the top products made from oil, making it a direct contributor to climate change. Julia Conley of Common Dreams reports, “Fossil fuel companies including Exxon and Shell Chemical have poured more than $180 billion into the creation of plastics facilities that are expected to create a 40 percent rise in production of the material over the next decade.” By rejecting single-use plastics such as bags, bottles, straws, coffee cups, and cutlery and opting for reusable items instead, you can make a personal stand against these harmful industries.

6. Vote. We desperately need people in office who will be proactive, not complacent or counterproductive, when it comes to environmental issues. We must vote people into office that will stand up for our planet. Democracy only functions when we participate.

The time has passed for sitting back and hoping that someone else will fix the planet. We all have the ability to make a difference, and we all need to consciously work towards a more earth-friendly lifestyle before its too late. There is no longer an excuse for inaction; it is time to save the world.

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.