We all need to be advocates to address climate change

Recently, I traveled to New Haven to hear Thomas Friedman, author and foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, and a panel of distinguished scientists give a riveting talk about climate change, hosted by The Nature Conservancy.

I know climate change is a subject that many of us would rather duck than talk about — myself included. But the truth is we can no longer run away from this pressing problem. Almost every day we see the results of climate change in our odd weather, or in the rising high tides that lap against our shorelines, or in more sinister, subtle ways, such as the emergence of deadly insects.

Examples are the mosquitoes that carry Eastern equine encephalitis, whose bites killed three people in Connecticut last year, two from East Lyme and Old Lyme; eruptions of deer ticks that carry Lyme disease; or hemlock woolly adelgids, tiny aphid-like insects that destroy our hemlocks. (These nasty insects, and many more, used to get decimated by sub-zero winter temperatures. But now, we hardly ever experience these temps).

In other disturbing news, I’ve learned that the brush fires in Australia, fueled by tinder-dry landscapes, have not only killed 33 people, but an estimated 25,000 koala bears, as well. Sadly, these animals seek safety by climbing higher in the trees, rather than going to the ground and scampering away.

“In our research, seven in 10 people believe in climate change, yet only 3 in 10 are willing to talk about climate change,” said one panelist, teeing up the conversation.

Friedman, who is known for his articulate insights, told us, “We have to make climate change cool again.”

The author of “The World is Flat” and “Thank You for Being Late,” Friedman said he likes the attention-getting activities of unorthodox, environmental groups like Green Peace, who focus their attention on climate change, deforestation, overfishing and commercial whaling. Friedman called their actions “mean green.”

Mincing no words, Friedman urged all of us to “get out of Facebook and get into somebody’s face” and talk about climate change. “Without nature, we will be less human,” Friedman warned.

Whatever we do to mitigate climate change, Friedman advised, “Keep it simple,” so lay people can understand it.

He told the audience he was not a scientist, but instead an expert on what makes a community “healthy,” a term he equated to being inclusive, open-minded, and sharing ideas, rather than being combative.

To effectively respond to major issues like climate change, Friedman said a community must have “resilience and propulsion.” That is, be able to bounce back and drive forward, collectively.

Friedman said he has studied communities for several decades and concluded healthy communities do four things: They have a sense of urgency; a high density of leaders without authority; a complex, adaptive networking and partnering ability, enabling them to manage their way through problems like climate change; and use long-term planning.

When healthy communities hold meetings, Friedman said they have an attitude of “See that cloakroom. Check your politics on that hook,” adding, healthy communities strongly believe, “Our politics is what works.”

Both Friedman and the panelists urged the audience, in their everyday lives, to be participatory in climate change discussions.

“Where we’ve seen success is when environmental advocates join with labor to talk about climate change,” said Katie Dykes, commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “That helps propel the conversation.”

And Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy, added, “This is an all hands-on deck problem. Our climate change conversations need to center on solutions.”

Finally, here are some simple action steps that we can all take to help diminish climate change, courtesy of Save the Sound:

  • Reduce lawn fertilizers by 50% and apply them at the right time − around Labor Day or Memorial Day.
  • Pump out your septic system (if you have one) every three years.
  • Plant native plants, especially along waterfronts.

Bill Hobbs lives in Stonington and is a contributor to The Times weekly newspapers, a publication of The Day Publishing Company. He can be reached at whobbs246@gmail.com.

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