Reflect | What can you do about climate change? Start by talking about it.

by Kristi Tabaj

Does thinking about climate change keep you up at night? Or do you shrug your shoulders, recognizing that you alone can’t solve the problem?

Either way, it might surprise you to learn that simply by talking about climate change, you are taking a step to reduce its impact.

Here in Northeast Ohio the climate is changing and we need to prepare for a new normal. The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) released in November 2018 described projected impacts for the Midwest. Predictions included warmer, wetter conditions and higher humidity.

Extreme rain events are already contributing to algal blooms in Lake Erie, creating threats to drinking water and recreational opportunities. According to the American Public Health Association, higher temperatures will result in poorer air quality making it difficult for people with respiratory issues, like asthma, to breathe. Finally, scientists predict that illnesses that were of little concern in the past, such as Lyme disease, will become more common.

What can we do about this? In some ways, we are already taking action. Individuals, households, cities and countries are lowering their carbon emissions — also known as mitigating climate change — by going green. Examples include driving less, eating less meat, and planting trees.

These efforts slow the impacts of climate change, but we will still feel its effects. How we react to those effects is called adaptation.

Climate change adaptation, as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. We will adapt as a response, but can also take action to prepare. Climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe says one of the most important actions we can take right now is to talk about it. Whether or not we have the resources to start adapting to climate change, we can choose whether or not we start dialogue.

How can we start a conversation about climate change without inciting an argument or sounding like a know-it-all? First, find entry points. Easy starting points are conversations about weather, health, nature and recreation. You don’t even need to mention climate change during the conversation if you think it might be a sensitive topic. Second, start with a common problem that impacts just about everyone and talk about solutions. A conversation on weather might go like this:

You: Wow! It has been raining nonstop!

Friend: Yeah, I just wish it would stop. I’m tired of this weather.

You: It would be nice to see the sun. Have you had any flooding in your basement?

Friend: No, but there’s a spot in my yard that’s turning into a splash pad for geese.

You: Wow! I need to get on top of fixing a problem like that on my back patio. It’s causing water to seep into my basement. I did some research and sealant will help the seeping, but I need to divert the water. I’m thinking about installing a rain barrel and diverting the downspouts.

Friend: How would a rain barrel help?

Need some additional conversation starters with friends, family or neighbors? Talk about what’s growing in your gardens, how the weather has impacted plant growth and what you’re doing about the changing weather affecting your plants. Have friends heading outside to go hiking or camping? Make sure to ask what they’re doing to prevent ticks from latching on for a free meal. How are family members dealing with hot summer weather? Are there cooler places for them to go if they need some relief from the heat?  

From these starting points, you may feel you can ease into a climate change conversation with evidence from the National Climate Assessment:

Heavy and erratic rainfall events are predicted to increase in the future.

As temperatures increase, Ohio’s growing seasons will change.

Warmer weather means insects that weren’t a problem in the past are becoming more of an issue for us.

The high temperatures that break records today will be the new normal.

You can use phrases like “changes in climate,” “predictions about climate” or “a changing climate.” If the conversation turns sour, you can always remind the person of the common concerns you share.

We all know that ignoring a problem does not make it disappear. Climate change is no different. Conversation can lead to new ideas, which in turn can lead to collaborative action. Some actions may involve investing money in a solution, while others involve time and a little hard work.  

But taking some small actions now to start adapting to climate change may save us money, improve public health and prevent lost sleep in the future.

In the words of 16 year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg: “Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.”

Kristi Tabaj has been a part of response and recovery teams for wildland fires and hurricanes. She is completing her second graduate degree in biology with a focus on climate change adaptation from Miami University. Find her on Gmail, Twitter and Facebook @cuyahogah2o.