Small Steps into the Future

Maybe it is just my age, but every summer in Annapolis seems to be getting hotter, humidity thicker.

Satellite technology tells us that carbon, a greenhouse gas, is increasing in the atmosphere and that the whole world is heating up.

The world’s natural thermometer, ice, agrees. Ice asks no questions, has no political ideology and no agenda. It just melts. The Arctic icecap is shrinking. The Antarctic ice cap is thinning. Glaciers in the world’s mountains are disappearing.

This is probably not the first time in our world ice has melted.

During Earth’s history, climate has fluctuated. Volcanic and sunspot activity and Earth’s tilt on its axis have contributed to ice ages and shifts in tropical fauna. Where New York City is today was once a land of snow and ice.

The difference between today and all of Earth’s past is the number of people. Never in the history of the world have 6.8 billion people occupied our space in the universe. In 1945, Earth’s population was 2.3 billion. In a little over 50 years, population has tripled. By 2050, world population is expected to reach 9.2 billion. For the first time, people are overwhelming nature’s cycles.

Each one of us 6.8 billion has a carbon footprint. If I drive my hybrid car for 68 hours, I will contribute 1.7 tons of carbon into the atmosphere, according to my GPS.

In 1945 there were far fewer cars and no interstate highways in this country.

Everyday, 90 million tons of pollution enters the atmosphere, a third of that dropping into the oceans, creating dead zones like we have in the Chesapeake. The rate of pollution — hence the resulting greenhouse effect — is accelerating, according to NASA and NOAA.

A one-degree increase in temperature increases humidity, which than intensifies rain, snow and violent storms — as well as drought and desertification in arid areas. This is a natural ecosystem result.

We Can Do It

If I do not want my grandchildren to fry, what can I do to reduce the pollution I add to the invisible air around me — thus my impact on the world’s carbon footprint?

I can decide to drive less.

I’ll begin small, with 10 miles less per week. I can also ask my family and friends and neighbors to do the same. If I am intrigued by games and competition I can challenge another neighborhood to do the same and then have a party to honor the team that wins in reducing carbon emission.

The Annapolis city brochure “Take a Deep Breath” outlines the formula for emission reduction. Get a copy. Calculate with your kids the emission reduction when 10, 100 or 1,000 cars cut back 10 or more miles each. Then also calculate the money saved on fuel.

I can plant a tree.

Trees scrub and clean the air. They give off oxygen and take in carbon dioxide. With the increase in population and the destruction of forests for houses and shopping centers, we need to increase that phenomenon.

I can commit to plant three trees, an action China demands of each of its citizens. I can join the Arbor Day Association, which gives new members 10 trees, which I can share and gift to my neighbors. When autumn arrives, I can collect acorns with my grandkids and grow my own oak tree. I can set a goal for my lifetime commitment for planting trees. “Take A Deep Breath” also describes the impact of canopy in reducing carbon dioxide.

Since one-third of emissions comes from buildings, there are more things — though more expensive — I can do.

I can change all my light bulbs to more energy efficient ones. I can take a time-out day on using my air conditioner. I can install energy-efficient windows or solar panels (I did that 30 years ago) and secure a tax credit. I can replace my washer and dryer and appliances with energy-efficient models. I can dry my clothes in the fresh air like I helped my mother do when I was a kid. I can participate in the Annapolis eco-hatchery program, which helps record and identify energy savings. I can request an energy audit through the Maryland Energy Commission. The city EZ program is a resource for retrofitting home or business for energy efficiency.

At no cost but time, I can support programs and legislation to further alternative efficient energy sources — and urge my elected representatives to do likewise. I can read books and journals on the issue. A World Without Ice by Henry Pollack is my next read.

Each of us can take small steps to reduce our own carbon footprint. Our collective action will decrease our human contribution to a heating world. If I don’t — and you don’t — Earth may join its sister planet Venus, surrounded with a carbon ring at a temperature of 800 degrees.

Ellen Moyer was mayor of Annapolis from 2001 to 2009. She lives in Eastport.