Commentary

A Global Climate Strike Isn't Enough

Personal responsibility will do more for the climate than striking

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on September 19, 2019. 

A collective of influential green groups and corporations is supporting a campaign for a global climate strike from Sept. 20-27. The strike pushes young people to walk out of schools and workplaces to protest the energy sources that keep us alive and thriving. That many people are concerned about the global climate is obvious, but how will encouraging them to abandon their jobs or schools for a day or two, or seven, reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

The campaign website — globalclimatestrike.net — tells people they must “demand an end to the age of fossil fuels.” But, in the United States, we rely on these fuels for over 80 percent of the energy we use to provide basic necessities such as food, clean water, heating and air conditioning, medicine, transportation and so much more.

To make things worse, the energy sources offered up as replacements for fossil fuels — typically wind and solar — couldn’t even exist without fossil fuels. Natural gas, oil and coal are needed to mine, refine, process and ship the metals, rare earth minerals, silicone, plastics and various chemicals that go into renewables. Without steel, there are no towers to hold up wind turbines. Without rare earths, there are no solar panels. Adding to this conundrum is the fact that wind and solar cannot provide reliable power. They are intermittent, meaning they must be propped up by more reliable energy sources, such as natural gas.

A group of environmental policy experts has put together MyClimatePledge.com as our response, because we’d like to challenge climate strikers and to help them appreciate that striking won’t be enough.

Don’t get us wrong; we’re convinced that the climate strikers are serious. But we also recognize that before anyone can ask others to radically reduce CO2 emissions, they need to show how easy it is to cut their own emissions. The climate strike website claims that millions are expected to join the movement, so we suggest they commit to reducing just 1 million pounds of CO2 — that’s less than one pound per striker.

As a start, the strikers and the groups supporting them could lead with any— or all — of these actions:

  • Nuclear energy: Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or to your elected representatives asking that they reconsider or embrace the safety and reliability of nuclear power. In the U.S., we get about 9 percent of our total energy use from it. Some countries, such as France, get most of their electricity from nuclear. Nuclear is a way to produce massive amounts of reliable, affordable energy that is safe and essentially emissions-free.
     
  • Hydroelectric power: Water power has been used for centuries and is still one of the most effective ways to provide clean, reliable, renewable energy. Hydroelectric and nuclear power, when paired together, can meet many of the goals climate strikers say they want to achieve. So it is strange that these two energy sources face so much opposition from the environmental groups that are pushing for the strike.
     
  • Carbon credits: For those who truly believe they must reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, purchasing carbon credits from a reputable source is an easy way to offset their emissions. But if you don’t want to use a middleman, or aren’t fully convinced about the effectiveness of carbon trading, you could plant trees in your own yard or city. On average, one tree absorbs about 48 pounds of CO2 each year.
     
  • Transportation: While cars have become much more efficient and clean, they are still a source of emissions. Climate strikers could refuse to ride in a personal automobile for a year, choosing walking or bicycling instead. Similarly, they could refuse air travel and attend distant meetings or classes virtually.
     
  • At home: Limit your use of air conditioning and heat. The Department of Energy recommends installing a programmable thermostat and setting it at 78 degrees in the summer, 82 when you’re sleeping, and 85 when you’re away from home. For the winter, it recommends keeping your home at 68 or lower. You could remove your lawn and replace it with xeriscaping or native plants and trees that will require less mowing and other maintenance.

These are only a few options, and we have more options and information for strikers to choose from. A million pounds of CO2 cut from a million or more dedicated strikers. That’s not asking all that much, is it?