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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Global warming: Clearing up confusion leads to solutions

“Global warming… let’s see, it definitely has to do something with the sky… the ozone layer? No, carbon dioxide, or wait, carbon monoxide? Like from cars. And aerosol cans. Yeah, because that’s why they got rid of Freon. Right?”

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. The results of a recent focus group conducted by the David Suzuki Foundation reveal that most Americans are pretty hazy on just what global warming means. While they’re aware that it’s a growing concern, they’re hard pressed to say just how, or why.

Many folks, it seems, have confused the ozone layer with global warming, but in fact, they’re rather opposite phenomena. Ozone is a molecule found mostly in the earth’s stratosphere that shields the earth from ultraviolet rays. Certain free radicals released by human activity, such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), break down ozone, thus creating a hole in this protective layer.

This has little to do with global warming, which is, rather, the creation of too thick a shield in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, linger in the atmosphere surrounding the earth. Sunlight enters the earth’s atmosphere, strikes the earth’s surface, and radiates back out in the form of heat. Some of it escapes into space, but some of it bounces off these greenhouse gas molecules and stays close to the earth. To a certain degree, this is good – that’s why it’s warmer here than on the moon! But when human activity generates excess greenhouse gases, too much heat is trapped, causing the earth’s temperature to rise. That’s global warming.

Global climate change is a bit scary, but increased media coverage of global warming – particularly Al Gore’s new movie – has got people talking about solutions. After a Boston screening of An Inconvenient Truth, concerned viewer Elena W. vowed to get on the ball. “I should get some canvas bags so I can stop using the grocery store's,” she mused. “I think that's my first goal. I should also write to my town's politicians and ask them what's up with them not picking up my recycling. We don't have one of those plastic bins for the recycling, so instead I just put the recycling out in a paper bag, but the trash guys don't take it. I guess I better do something about that.”

Manageable, small changes are just what environmental activists encourage. Dr. Suzuki, of the DSF mentioned above, promotes ten of the simplest and highest-impact steps towards conservation, as part of his Nature Challenge:
1. Reduce home energy by 10%
2. Eat meat-free meals (at least) once a week
3. Buy a fuel-efficient, low-polluting car
4. Choose an energy-efficient home and appliances
5. Stop using pesticides
6. Walk, bike, or take transit to regular destinations
7. Prepare your meals with locally produced food
8. Choose a home close to regular destinations
9. Support alternatives to the car
10. Get involved, stay informed

While none of these things may appear obviously related to the situation in our stratosphere, they are more significant than you might guess. For more information on these and other steps you can take to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, check out www.davidsuzuki.org.

by Sara Kate Kneidel
Greener Magazine

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