My Turn: Who’s afraid of climate change?

For the Monitor
Published: 5/6/2019 12:20:17 AM

My recent column (Monitor Opinion, March 26) on our climate crisis produced this email from a thoughtful reader: “The climate crisis is the issue that most keeps me up at night; I can hardly bear to even think about it. Sometimes I think all of us should drop everything else we’re doing and just focus on this.”

I can hardly bear to even think about it. This is the heart of the problem, isn’t it? We feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the climate crisis and then stop thinking about it or focus on something that seems more immediate and pressing.

No one likes to feel overwhelmed by a topic that seems unmanageable. Denial gets us through the day. Until it doesn’t work anymore.

So, how do we each get past the overwhelmed feeling to doable action?

There is a lot that we can each do, individually and together. Here are six actions that could help prevent a crisis from becoming a disaster:

1) Know the facts: Knowledge is power. The science is clear. Facts are facts. Unless we act, human-fueled climate change will make life as we know it unsustainable. Soon. You can find the information you need at

2) Talk to your neighbors. Finding kindred spirits can reduce the sense of isolation and lead to greater energy for doing something. In everyday conversations, don’t let easy denial continue. Don’t just nod when someone says that “the weather is always this way” or “it’s always up and down” or “the weather has gotten strange, hasn’t it?” Scientists are not fudging the data and the fact that some days are very cold does not change the reality that the Earth is warming at a scary pace. Ask your news stations to talk about the impact of human-created climate change during news and weather segments.

3) Join with friends to work on an environmental issue. There is power in small groups working on a specific topic. You can write postcards to the State House and our governor urging action. You can research water or air quality in your town. Or you can work on the problem of plastics.

3) Plastics are a major culprit. We all need to reduce, eventually eliminate, the role of single-use plastic in our lives. Plastic cannot biodegrade – ever; it just breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, which get into our groundwater, the food chain and even our own bodies. The world is being suffocated by plastics, particularly single-use plastics, much of it derived from the petrochemicals being taken from the Amazon basin, oil drilling that results in damage to the Amazon rain forest, the “lungs” of our planet. For more information, go to

N.H. has joined with many other cities and states in banning single use plastic bags, but this is just the start – the bigger problem is single use plastics that wrap so much of the stuff we buy. What to do? There are many local groups here in New Hampshire that have developed alternatives to the use of plastics that wrap our food.

Beyond that, we need a consumer movement to educate businesses to understand that we no longer want them to use plastic packaging material. In Chile, a grassroots movement of shoppers took off the plastic wrappers for foodstuffs, candies and other items at their supermarket check-out counters, giving them back to the cashier. If shoppers can do it in Chile, could we do the same in New Hampshire? Raise awareness, have an effect?

4) The State House needs to get active. Our elected representatives are hesitant to develop an overall strategy for dealing with the climate crisis here in New Hampshire. They need to hear from their constituents, demanding action. There are many noteworthy ideas and initiatives under consideration in Concord. You can find information on them at

However, this is a piecemeal and fragmented approach, without real leadership and an overall strategy. The UNH system has some fine environmental scientists and policy experts. What if the House and Senate leadership invited experts from UNH and Dartmouth to give a talk to a joint session of the Legislature in Concord, with the goal of moving us toward a coordinated N.H. climate crisis plan? A N.H. Climate Summit in our State House. We need a greater sense of urgency among Democrats and thoughtful Republican reps, and they need to hear this from their voters.

5) Think differently. Many cities and states around the world have come up with creative ideas. New Hampshire can draw on them. The Bullit Center in Seattle is a commercial office building designed to produce more energy than it uses. The city of Singapore has installed a grove of 80- to 160-foot “supertrees,” made of steel-and-concrete timber; these structures provide nesting for birds, shade for pedestrians, and the production of power through solar cells. Places around the world are developing creative, hopeful responses to the climate crisis. Why not New Hampshire?

6) Listen to the kids: Children are very worried about what sort of world they will inherit. Last month students from around the world – including here in New Hampshire – walked out of school to call attention to climate issues and demand action. There are now several lawsuits brought by youth who argue that their constitutional rights are being violated by the government’s creation of climate danger. We can encourage our children to speak and to lobby for the future that will be theirs.

We can still prevent the worst possibilities of climate change, if we get past our denial. There are reasons to be hopeful. But we need to act. Now.

(Sam Osherson lives in Nelson.)

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