I finally began allowing myself to feel optimistic about climate change. There was Hawaii’s commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, and Kauai’s success in leading the charge with our astronomical growth in renewables.

There was last year’s Paris climate agreement, which commits every country in the world to begin lowering emissions. And there was the recent news that global emissions have plateaued for the last three years (including a decline in both U.S. and China emissions) while gross domestic product continues to rise.

While we are far from being on track to avoid 2 degrees of warming, the momentum seemed to be building. And for the first time in my life I felt as if we had a realistic shot at avoiding the worst.

Hot year.

Globally, this will likely be the hottest year on record, continuing the trend.


On the evening of Nov. 8, all of that changed.

President-elect Trump has denied the science of climate change and gone as far as to claim it is a Chinese hoax/ (The Chinese government recently explained to him that it’s not.) And so he is committed to repealing Obama’s Clean Power Plan, to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement, to end the moratorium on expanding fracking and oil drilling on federal lands and to get the Keystone pipeline project restarted.

And while it’s true that Trump told The New York Times that he might reconsider several of his campaign promises and still has an “open mind” on the Paris accord, his actions to this point are not encouraging.

GOP congressional actions, which seemed almost laughable when they were attempted in 2013, now have a direct path to being signed into law. These include gutting the Environmental Protection Agency, cutting funding for renewable research in half, eliminating federal oversight on fracking and— most damaging— permanently blocking the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide.

Even if we are already locked in for significant warming over the coming century, we still need to do everything we can to reduce our emissions.

Which is why Vox climate journalist David Roberts summed it all up in an article Nov. 9 by saying, “Trump’s election marks the end of any serious hope of limiting climate change to 2 degrees.”

But this can’t be the end of the story. Can it?

I’ve been struggling with that question since the election. Looking for hope but finding mostly disappointment. Such as the appointment of a climate change denier to head the EPA transition, and then the ominous, mysterious and unprecedented collapse of global sea ice last week.

We can blame Trump for one and physics for the other. Which is a good reminder that the atmosphere doesn’t care about our elections. While I grew complacent and hopeful under President Barack Obama, the overwhelming lesson here is that we cannot pin the future of the world on one oval-shaped office.

So the answer is “no.” This cannot be the end of the story. Because the fight against climate change goes far beyond the presidency. It is a war that will be going on for the rest of our lives. And it involves all of us.

While we still need to support Senate Democrats like Brian Schatz in their commitment to blocking any substantial gutting of our nation’s clean energy framework, there are four areas where we can all begin to make a difference.

1) The United States is unique both in that we have the world’s only major political party that denies the science of climate change and the world’s highest level of climate denialism among the general population. That’s not going to change from people like me writing about climate change or from signing online petitions or from sharing another scary climate change article on Facebook.

The only way to combat denialism is for us all to reach out to our friends and neighbors and have a frank conversation about the consequences of a warming planet and the need for bold action. Don’t argue, judge or condemn. Just speak openly while listening to their concerns. And do it in person, not on social media.

2) We need to each take more personal responsibility in reducing our own emissions. And you don’t have to buy a Tesla to make a significant difference. The most important single action any of us can take right now is to reduce or eliminate beef and dairy from our diet. (See this chart for a simple reference on the emissions profile of various foods.)

Global greenhouse gas emissions from livestock are higher than they are from transportation (all cars, planes, trains and ships combined) — and if current trends continue, emissions from agriculture will consume our entire carbon budget by 2050. So we need to reduce our meat consumption. And yes, you should also start driving less, reduce your household electricity use and start a compost pile in your backyard.

3) State action is now more important than ever. While California has by far the strictest emissions regulations in the country (and some of the strictest in the world), it is leading the country in GDP growth and it is adding jobs at a rate quicker than any other developed country. It is providing the world with a blueprint of what effective climate policy can look like and how it can also boost economic growth.

Hawaii, as I’ve written before, needs to follow California’s model and enact our own cap and trade program or join our neighbors across the Pacific in the Western Climate Initiative. Send an email to your local state legislator or show up at their talk-story sessions and tell them that you support cap and trade.

4) And finally, counties need to step up to the plate. Land use, transportation and building codes are just as important as converting to renewable energy and reducing consumption. Which is why at least 36 major U.S. cities — including New York, Chicago and Atlanta — have already committed to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Kauai’s draft General Plan Update for 2035 outlines the same bold 80 percent reduction goal. Every county in Hawaii needs to make the same commitment and begin taking climate change into account with every single decision. You can get the ball rolling by emailing your county council member about the need for action on climate change.

Even with concerted action on all of those fronts, we’re still getting in the game 20 years too late. This year will likely be the hottest on record, beating the second-hottest year, which was 2015, which beat the third-hottest year, which was 2014. More than a million trees have died in California. Climate change migrants are already descending into Europe. Hawaii is already locked into several feet of sea level rise. Ocean acidification is already killing our reefs.

But, it doesn’t matter if we’re late to the party. In the words of a Tongan delegate at an international climate summit last week, “In 10 years we drown. Until then, we work.”

Because climate change isn’t a simple win or lose scenario. It’s not as if we go over 1.5 degrees and we’re cooked, stay under and we’re OK. Even if we are already locked in for significant warming over the coming century, we still need to do everything we can to reduce our emissions. Because 2 degrees is much better than 3 degrees, and 3 degrees is much better than 4 degrees.

Every action counts.

Disclosure: Luke Evslin is a member of the Kauai General Plan Community Advisory Committee.

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