Tackling Climate Change Requires Looking Beyond Carbon

A new international coalition will work to get countries on board with simple and inexpensive climate fixes that could have an outsized impact.

The best way to reverse climate change over the long term is to start sending less carbon into the atmosphere, but he international community is failing miserably at reaching that goal. So researchers have begun pointing to another way to start addressing climate change in the short term: Forget about carbon and focus a little bit of attention on greenhouse gases like methane and soot.

Gases like these don’t stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide does, but they still contribute mightily to climate change—between 30 and 40 percent of human-induced warming, researchers say. Keeping those gases out of the atmosphere won’t stop climate change, but it could slow the process by as much as half a degrees Celsius. When an increase in average global temperatures of just 2 degrees Celsius comes with serious consequences, that incremental change can make a big difference.

This morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson and a handful of international dignitaries, announced a new international coalition to focus on reducing these “short-lived climate pollutants.” With funding from countries like the United States, Canada, and Sweden, the coalition will work to bring countries on board with relatively simple and inexpensive fixes that could have an outsized impact. Secretary Clinton acknowledged that this effort can only complement, not replace, work to reduce carbon. But aiming for shorter-term impacts has advantages, she emphasized, saying "We can have local and regional effects that people can see and feel."

One of the most compelling arguments for scaling down methane and soot is that such efforts will not only improve the planet’s prospects but also people’s health. Scaling back soot means switching out dirty kerosene-fueled cookstoves for cleaner models, outlawing the burning of agricultural waste, and cleaning up tailpipe emissions from cars. These aren’t wild ideas with unknown consequences. They’re solutions that have been successful elsewhere and need only to be implemented more widely.

Scaling back other short-lived pollutants, like methane and hydrofluorocarbons (the refrigerants that replaced ozone-killing gases), is more technically demanding, but does not require any dramatic innovations. The coalition will ask countries to consider actions like capturing landfill gas, improving wastewater systems, and keeping methane from leaking out of coal, oil, and gas projects. Some companies are already implementing these measures because they save energy and money. The substantial climate benefit is almost incidental.

There isn’t yet much money behind this effort, and Secretary Clinton framed the project in startup mode, trying to roll up supporters and financial backers. There’s so rarely good news in the realm of international climate politics, though, that this announcement feels like a strong step in the right direction. The State Department is not going to solve climate change, but it’s doing what it can. And that’s more than can be said for almost any other American effort to address climate change, well, ever.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

Keep Reading Show less

Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet