By Dr. Kristin Drexler
Faculty Member, School of STEM
Note: This article is part 1 of a two-part series on climate change.
Climate is one of the biggest planetary challenges today. Climate change impacts every aspect of our lives, including our environment, health, economy, cultures, governance and justice. Also, climate change disproportionately impacts the rural poor and other vulnerable populations, creating challenges for community resilience, food, and livelihood security.
I recorded a podcast in late 2021 (with host Dr. Bjorn Mercer) describing the global reach of climate impacts. We discussed how humans have contributed to the climate crisis of today since the Industrial Revolution around 200 years ago.
The good news, though, is that humans can also be a part of the solution to resolving the problem of climate change. We can create a different future if we take local action and act collectively to make meaningful, positive steps to respond to climate change.
Related link: The 2022 Olympic Games: Lacking a Good Carbon Footprint
According to a May 2021 PEW Research Center study, a majority of U.S. adults across generations believe climate change is a priority today for future generations to have a sustainable planet. About 64% of the study’s respondents said that reducing the effects of climate change needs to be “a top priority to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations, even if that means fewer resources for addressing other important problems today.”
One effective action you can personally take is reducing your carbon footprint. You can then share your knowledge and influence others to do the same through education, films, social media, friends and family discussions, podcasts, news subscriptions and volunteering.
COWRIITE: A New Mnemonic for Climate Change
To help us remember what we can do locally to influence global climate change, I’ve created a mnemonic device called COWRIITE as in: “Let’s cowrite our climate future.” A mnemonic device increases our ability to recall information by using memory aids to help translate information from short-term to long-term memory.
“COWRIITE” outlines the daily local steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprints and have a positive impact on climate:
C: Choice and Conscientious Consumption
O: (Carbon) Offset
W: Water and Food
R: The “7 Rs”
I: Innovate and Automate
T: Transportation and Telecommuting
E: (Green) Energy
C: Choice and Conscientious Consumption
As consumers, we have choices to consume less and in sustainable and smart ways. According to a September 2021 PEW Research Center study, about three-quarters or more of both Canadians and Americans say they are willing to make changes to reduce the effects of climate change.
Examples of consuming conscientiously include:
- Using fewer or no single-use plastics
- Reusing containers
- Buying fewer new items such as clothes or appliances
- Consuming less fuel and carpooling more
- Walking or riding bikes more often
- Having fewer children and smaller families
- Buying organic produce locally
- Reducing or avoiding food waste
We can choose to consume less and to be smart, resourceful, resilient, and conscientious of our resource consumption. In this way, we flex our consumer purchase power and drive real change in the supply/demand of several sectors.
O: (Carbon) Offset
Carbon offsetting means attaining balance and being carbon neutral as much as possible. We can compensate for our greenhouse gas emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving somewhere else.
Carbon offset projects have an important role in combating climate change, but only if they are done on a large scale and collectively between individuals, businesses, governments, and organizations. The overarching goal is to reduce our CO2 emissions as much as possible first and then use offsetting for the remaining and unavoidable emissions.
Carbon Footprint offers multiple carbon offset projects that have achieved international quality standards, including the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), Gold Standard Voluntary Emission Reductions (VER) and Certified Emission Reductions (CER). Many of these projects “also provide wider benefits in addition to carbon reduction, such as biodiversity, education, jobs, food security and heath & well-being in developing countries.”
Examples of these carbon offset projects include
- Participating in certified forestry projects for carbon sequestration
- Planting trees
- Protecting forests
- Supporting wind farms
Carbon Footprint also suggests social projects such as:
- Increasing education and employment
- Reducing economic inequality
- Alleviating poverty
- Participating in other projects that encourage sustainable use of natural resources
W: Water and Food
Probably the hottest topic in planetary sustainability today is water and food security. How will we provide these basic needs for a global population that has already reached 7.9 billion people and is growing fast?
We have developed technologies to capture and treat (i.e., reuse) potable and agricultural water. However, our growing population will increase resource pressure (such as the loss of forests and will increase agricultural pressure. We will need to convert more land for habitation, use more water and use more chemicals to enrich degraded soils. We must also conserve water, soil and forest products.
Examples of reducing our water consumption include:
- Using drip irrigation
- Fixing leaking faucets
- Using low-flow shower heads
- Taking shorter showers
Examples of how to manage food consumption and waste include keeping and planting trees, growing a garden, and buying local and seasonal produce at your local farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets offer multiple benefits:
- A supply of local and seasonal foods
- Food that is often organic or grown with fewer chemicals
- Foot that is fresher and requires minimal transportation
- You can get to know and support your local farmers
Other food choices you can make to reduce your carbon footprint include cutting your beef and dairy intake or choosing to consume grass-fed beef. The movie and movement Kiss the Ground promotes grass-fed beef as being a healthy benefit to people and our planet.
Additionally, reducing food waste and increasing the use of composting is beneficial for reducing carbon emissions. The U.S. Composting Council states there are multiple benefits to composting, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions at landfills, promoting uptake of carbon dioxide by vegetation, and making gardens more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Part 2 of this article series will explain the other sections of the climate change mnemonic “COWRIITE.”
About the Author
Dr. Kristin Drexler is a full-time faculty member in the Space and Earth Studies Programs. She teaches geography, environmental science, earth system history, and conservation of natural resources for the School of STEM. She earned her Ph.D. in educational leadership at New Mexico State University by researching socioecological systems, sustainable agroecology and community education. She earned her Master of Arts in international affairs with an emphasis in natural resources management from Ohio University. Dr. Drexler earned the Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching Award for the APUS School of STEM (2020) and the Dr. Wallace E. Boston Leadership Award for American Public University System (2021).
Kristin has conducted numerous community surveys in Belize regarding agroforestry, conservation and sustainable agriculture. Until she became a full-time instructor with APU in 2009, she was an environmental scientist in New Mexico, conducting field biology surveys and environmental impact analyses. Drexler founded the Belize Field School Program at NMSU, coordinating short courses in Belize in wildlife, agroforestry, marine ecology, and documentary film (2006-2014) and produced an award-winning short film, “Yochi” in 2017 about youth conservation and action against poaching and illegal wildlife trade. In the late 1990s, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize. She co-founded and serves on the board of directors of Full Basket Belize, a U.S. nonprofit that provides high school scholarships and community grants in Belize. Kristin serves as a faculty advisor for the university’s wSTEM and AWIS chapters. She also founded the “Science Talks with Dr. Drexler and Friends” lesson series for primary school (2020-21).