By Karl Reitz
I first became aware of the threat posed by greenhouse gases in the 1980s, when I taught a course titled Society and the Environment. At that point, I began my journey as a climate activist. As an academic, I focused on teaching the science of greenhouse gases (GHG) and the role of society in their production. My perspective did not at first translate into action, but that began to change.
My first lifestyle change came as the result of hearing about the wonderful diversity of California plant ecosystems. I decided to landscape my yard in native plants. The decision was also motivated by learning that 20% of California’s energy was related to the use of water, so I was using less of two precious resources: water and energy.
The second major change came in the 1990s, when LED light bulbs became available for household lighting. They are 75% more efficient than incandescent lighting. Although they were more expensive, their efficiency made them economical in the long run, and so I converted all my lighting to LEDs.
Realizing that transportation was one of my biggest uses of energy, I decided to commute to work using public buses. When that became too onerous, I bought the first model of Prius. A hybrid continues to be my primary mode of transportation.
There are things that I could do to make my carbon footprint smaller. I could convert to electric appliances, including using a heat pump to heat and cool my home. I could switch to an all-vegetable diet, and I could be more careful to not waste food. I could put panels on my roof to heat my water and produce electricity. For my next car, I could buy an all-electric vehicle.
I finally realized that even if everyone did all that they could to be energy-efficient, it would not be nearly enough to prevent the worst of our climate crisis. Households only contribute about 23% of global GHG. Barriers abound. My electricity provider charges me considerably more to opt for renewable sources even though it costs them less. There are more gas stations than charging stations, and public transportation options are abysmal. And, finally, a portion of my taxes goes to subsidizing the fossil fuel companies.
Taking all of this into account, I realized that I needed to take political action, so I joined Citizens’ Climate Lobby. CCL has more than 200,000 members in 450 chapters. We lobby members of both parties by communicating with our local, state and national political leaders. We also try to educate the public to the realities of our climate crisis. Working together, we believe we can achieve what needs to be done to make sure that our children and grandchildren can inhabit a livable planet.
Karl Reitz, PH.D., is an environmental science educator, a member of the South Orange County Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Education/Lobby, and a retired professor of social sciences from Chapman University.