Everyone can take personal and local actions that can have a big impact on climate change. That was the message Dan Kegel, Sycamore Square homeowner, software engineer and climate change activist, gave at the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Sustainability Committee quarterly meeting last night.
Kegel got interested in climate change for personal reasons, he said, to help preserve the planet for his son and his future grandchildren. He is optimistic that small, local actions, as well as collective efforts, can make a difference in what often seems like an overwhelmingly large problem with dire but distant consequences.
“It’s like voting. Your single vote doesn’t seem like much, but you still vote because it’s important,” said Kegel.
To start, Kegel presented the basic science behind climate change, and the history of scientific efforts to recognize the warming trends and warn of future consequence. These date back to the mid-1800s, when scientists trying to understand the causes for the ice ages first observed evidence that the atmosphere was capturing heat.
Kegel said there is clear evidence of climate change in Los Angeles – its consequences include our continuing drought and the increase in very hot days. (Heat-related deaths also rise as the number of very hot days increase, especially among minority and low income residents…which means climate change is a social justice issue, too.)
Another consequence is the heat island effect, where streets and large buildings soak up heat in the daytime and stay hot at night, so the city doesn’t cool off as it should. Wild fires and the potential for sea level rise in some parts of the city are also byproducts of overall warming.
So what can be done?
According to Kegel, the easiest local solution for the urban heat island is to plant trees. The city has many programs to help residents plant trees, and even though trees require water, once they’re established, they provide significant benefits. Also, white roofs can reflect rather than absorb heat. Kegel talked about a program called the White Roof Project, which helps people paint roofs of old buildings. He also suggested setting a goal to reduce the heat island effect…which the City of Los Angeles is trying to with its Sustainable City Plan.
In our homes, Kegel said, we can do small, easy things…like change all our light bulbs to LEDs (which were initially more expensive, but can now be found at affordable prices even in grocery and dollar stores). We can also drive hybrid or all-electric cars, purchase energy efficient appliances, or sign up for the DWP’s Green Power program. And soon there will be community solar programs where you can buy someone else’s excess power.
Kegel explained that scientists believe that the planet has an overall budget of a trillion tons of carbon that can be burned into the atmosphere before the balance is tipped too far and all life on earth is threatened. Most agree that, to date, we’ve burned about 515 billion tons, or just over half of the Earth’s budget.
So what can we do to slow down our carbon “spending”? According to Kegel, climate action is like voting; we can all make a difference. Also, Los Angeles is a huge city, so if it takes successful action, other cities will take notice and likely follow suit.
If you’d like to get involved, groups like RepublicEn, the Sierra Club and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which Kegel works with, are trying to create a political will and long-term strategy for a liveable climate. You can also contact your local representatives to ask that they take action on the issue. The action could be support of a revenue-neutral carbon tax (to spur the reduction of carbon emissions and send the message that everything that causes a green house gas should cost more), a non-partisan climate solutions caucus, or town hall meetings on the subject.
Kegel noted that land use issues also have a significant intersection with climate change, so we need to reform our land use policies quickly, as new technologies come on line. And we need to consider how to get people closer to transit, how to use fewer natural resources when building, how to create walkable and bikeable cities, and our overall water usage.
Kegel suggested that a resolution by the GWNC would also be a good first step, officially noting for the record that climate change is a problem that needs city attention.
For more information, history and suggestions, see Kegel’s full set of presentation slides at kegel.com/climate/whatcanwedo.