October 18, 2017
Perched 12,140 feet above sea level, Lake Poopó in the Andean mountains provided a way of life and an identity for the indigenous Uru-Murato people of Bolivia. For generations their culture survived unending threats: the invasion of the Incas, the conquest of the Spanish, and the military dictatorships of the 20th century. But today their fabric of life is quickly unravelling in the face of climate change.
As warming temperatures, water diversion and drought have dried up the lake, the Uru-Murato have become climate change refugees, forced to pull up their roots because the life they’ve known has been irreversibly altered by the Earth’s changing climate.
"The Uru-Murato's way of life has been irreversibly altered by the Earth’s changing climate."
Over 5,000 miles from Lake Poopó, in North America, millions of acres of pine forests have been destroyed by a beetle no larger than a sunflower seed. The pine beetle once helped maintain a healthy balance in the ecosystem, but warming temperatures have extended its life cycle and range, turning it into an invasive pest.
In British Columbia’s lodgepole pine forests, the percentage of trees ravaged by the pine beetle rose from just 17 percent in the 1980s to more than 50 percent by the mid-1990s. We have now lost more than 60 million acres of forest from northern New Mexico to British Columbia, collapsing entire ecosystems and local economies.
Closer to home, six years of drought has parched the California countryside. One third of the water for California’s cities and farms relies on snowpack and as of June 13, 2016, this water source was at just 6 percent of the expected average. The drought has severely impacted the state’s agricultural sector, costing $550 million and the loss of 1,815 jobs.
Irregular growing seasons, rising temperatures, and drier winters could have devastating impacts on a variety of crops in the region, from almonds and walnuts to apples and apricots. Already, farmers are seeing lower crop yields in their apple orchards and acres of walnut orchards have been decimated by fungal diseases and pests that are thriving in the drier, warmer winter months.
What’s causing this? The accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere—spurred by the burning of fossil fuels starting in the industrial revolution—has upset the greenhouse effect and thrown the Earth’s atmosphere out of balance.
"Climate change has devastated communities around the globe, with poor communities being the hardest hit."
The scientific community agrees that if we continue burning GHG emitting coal, oil, and natural gas at current rates, by the end of the century the global mean temperature will rise by six degrees. This imbalance has already led to an increase in coastal flooding, crop disruption, and storm intensity that has devastated communities around the globe, with poor communities being the hardest hit.
As if all of this weren’t scary enough, we’ve already passed the 400 parts per million tipping point for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels—higher levels than the Earth has seen for millions of years. This fact combined with the countless statistics, scientific studies, and countless stories of climate change refugees like the Uru-Murato make it clear: we have both an environmental and a moral obligation to act.
The good news is we have the power to take action. It can start with our daily lives, but our actions can also extend outward to embrace our local, and even global, communities.
Here are effective steps each of us can take that will collectively make a large difference:
Mitigating the effects of climate change can feel like a true mission impossible, but small (and large) steps locally can have global impacts. Cities and counties across California, for example, are dramatically reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable energy sources through CCE. These programs give the power for change back to individuals and small communities, creating the potential for a worldwide grassroots movement.
‘Think globally, act locally’ has become a popular phrase to remind us that our actions here in our own backyards do have the power to make a difference across the planet. The Earth, after all, is our common home. We share it with our next door neighbors and we share it with the Uru-Murato people thousands of miles away. We need to join together to take action against climate change - not tomorrow, but today.
Winners and losers.