"We need to stop talking about what we should do,
and start doing what we need to do."
As we return from Churchill, Manitoba, after a weeklong stay with Polar Bears International on the Tundra Buggy Lodge on the shores of Hudson Bay, the words of Dr. Andrew Durochet are stuck in my head. Durochet, a longtime polar bear researcher and a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta (and past chair of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group), spoke to our group of educators and communicators via Skype about polar bears and the Arctic ecosystem of Hudson Bay.
Dr. Durochet stressed that the plight of the polar bear, which many believe may disappear entirely from Hudson Bay by mid-century, is really about habitat loss. The ephemeral Arctic sea ice that comes and goes each season forms the basis of an ecosystem that is under assault. Polar bears are the apex species, but smaller changes in the ecosystem affect the polar bear in substantial ways. Polar shrimp are prey for polar cod, which are in turn fed upon by ringed seals, the main source of food for polar bears. As the habitat is altered, primarily by the warming of the oceans due to climate change, there are shifts in the food web. Atlantic cod displace polar cod as the sea warms, killer whales follow the Atlantic cod and also prey upon ringed seals that are staying out further from the bay during longer summers. Less ringed seals, less nourishment for polar bears in the winter, and reproduction rates go down.
For me, the takeaway is that the issue of climate change, while politically charged, is a complex one...but the destruction of an ecoystem, due to pollution and excess greenhouse gases, is not so complicated. We simply have to mobilize to make our votes, and our consumer dollar, count on the issue of climate change--and we also have to start at home in reducing our carbon emissions. Basically, to take my grandfather's favorite expression, put your money where your mouth is. Or, as Durochet put it: "I beleive that if people are concerned about the effects of habitat loss and climate change, then they need to act at a grassroots level. We've done enough research. There has to be a groundswell of change if we want to be on the right side of history."
For starters here's 5 Actions You Can Take at Home:
- Change 5 lights
Change a light, and you help change the world. Replace the conventional bulbs in your 5 most frequently used light fixtures with bulbs that have the ENERGY STAR and you will help the environment while saving money on energy bills. If every household in the U.S. took this one simple action we would prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from nearly 10 million cars.
- Look for ENERGY STAR qualified products
When buying new products, such as appliances for your home, get the features and performance you want AND help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Look for ENERGY STAR qualified products in more than 50 product categories, including lighting, home electronics, heating and cooling equipment and appliances.
- Heat and cool smartly
Simple steps like cleaning air filters regularly and having your heating and cooling equipment tuned annually by a licensed contractor can save energy and increase comfort at home, and at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When it's time to replace your old equipment, choose a high efficiency model, and make sure it is properly sized and installed.
Seal and insulate your home
Sealing air leaks and adding more insulation to your home is a great do-it-yourself project. The biggest leaks are usually found in the attic and basement. If you are planning to replace windows, choose ENERGY STAR qualified windows for better performance. Forced air ducts that run through unconditioned spaces are often big energy wasters. Seal and insulate any ducts in attics and crawlspaces to improve the efficiency of your home.
- Be green in your yard
Use a push mower, which, unlike a gas or electric mower, consumes no fossil fuels and emits no greenhouse gases. If you do use a power mower, make sure it is a mulching mower to reduce grass clippings. Composting your food and yard waste reduces the amount of garbage that you send to landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
(from Action Steps: What You Can Do at Home on www.EPA.gov)