5 solutions (and one major takeaway) from Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Before the Flood”

Climate change is scary. It’s fueling wildfires, sea level rise, extreme heat, and drought. It’s displacing people from their homes in Alaska. It’s causing sunny day floods on the East and West coasts. It’s increasing mosquito days and causing heavy downpours and melting sea ice and swamping forests and… yeah you get the picture.

But Leonardo DiCaprio wants to bring solutions to this scary problem. And through “Before the Flood,” the UN Messenger of Peace does just that. These are the 5 most important solutions he made cases for in his documentary (which you can watch on YouTube).

1. Palm oil is really bad for the climate. But you can help.

Palm oil is really terrible for the climate because it fuels deforestation. Deforestation prevents trees from doing their job (acting as a carbon sink), especially when “peatlands hold up to 28 times as much carbon as rainforests,” Ensia reports. Burning forests for deforestation also release carbon into the atmosphere in the form of smoke.

Nov-02-2016 12-34-44.gif
Palm oil plantations (NatGeo/YouTube)

Back to palm oil, though. It’s used in pretty much everything, from lipstick to chocolate to detergent. It can be grown almost anywhere, and is really cheap to produce, making large corporations a lot of money.

That’s where you come in. If enough people worldwide boycott (or cut back on) consumption of products containing palm oil, these companies wouldn’t have to clear-cut as many forests to harvest it, which would allow trees to remain in place and do their jobs as carbon sinks.

2. Methane is also terrible (but again, you can help).

Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change (like carbon dioxide does) but is about 34 times more potent than CO2 over a 100 year period (cutting the science jargon — it’s worse than CO2). New studies have pointed to cattle, landfills and agriculture as huge sources of methane in the U.S.

So how can we help? In short – eat less beef. In “Before the Flood,” DiCaprio (along with Dr. Gidon Eshel) explains that the largest reason for tropical deforestation is beef farming. This, like palm oil production, removes trees (and in turn, carbon sinks are disrupted).

Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 12.50.35 PM.png
NatGeo/YouTube

In a short segment, Eshel explains that in the U.S., 47% of land is used for food production, and of that, 70% is used to grow feed for cattle.

That feed goes to fuel cows, who produce methane through burping while eating (no, really). And as mentioned, methane is way worse for the climate. “Every molecule of methane (CH4) is equivalent to 23 molecules of CO2. And of the methane in the atmosphere, nearly all of it is due to livestock.”

So the seemingly simple solution is cutting down on beef in our diets, switching to another alternative like chicken or just having meat-free days. “Let’s face it — it’s fairly easy to switch your diet from one choice to another,” Eshel explains.

3. 100 gigafactories can serve the entire world renewable energy.

In case you haven’t heard, Elon Musk is building a gigafactory to build his Tesla batteries. When completed, the building will have the largest footprint of any in the world.

Elon Musk chatted with Leonardo DiCaprio about the future of the energy industry and how solar and batteries completely punt the need for energy plants in developing nations

“Batteries are critical to the sustainable energy future,” Musk says in this NatGeo clip..

… in which he also explains how 100 gigafactories could power the ENTIRE WORLD on renewable energy. The whole world. 100 gigafactories. The catch is that Tesla can’t build 100 of them — in order to move to this clean energy/battery future, other corporations will have to follow suit. “If the big industrial countries in China and the U.S. and Europe, the big car companies, if they also do this, then collectively, we can accelerate the transition to renewable energy,” he says. “Unless there’s a price put on carbon, we’re never going to be able to make the transition we need to in time.”

4. A carbon tax should really be considered.

A carbon tax would be a tax on any activity that puts carbon into the atmosphere — everything in the transportation sector (flying, shipping, driving, etc) and energy development (oil, coal, etc). It’s based on the principle that if you tax it, people will consume less (because it’s costing them money).

Gregory Mankiw, econ professor at Harvard, calls a carbon tax the “silver bullet” for climate change — which will cost taxpayers $44 trillion by 2060. So why don’t we have a carbon tax already if it’s such a good idea?

“Politicians don’t always do what professors want them to do,” Mankiw says. “If we want to change the President’s view on a carbon tax, we need to change the public’s view on a carbon tax.”

A carbon tax hasn’t been widely adopted, but Washington is putting the option on the ballot this year, and Canada just released plans for a nationwide carbon tax, but it’s not likely to be brought up U.S.-wide any time soon.

Side note: You can go on this website and calculate how much you contribute to climate change (hint: if you travel a lot, get ready for a heavy blow…). It also allows you to pay monthly to offset your carbon use.

5. Renewables really are the future.

Elon Musk hits the nail on the head when he says “If government sets the rules to favor sustainable energy, we can get there really quickly.”

“Before the Flood” really focused on renewables as the future of energy, and everyone else in the world agrees. The Paris Agreement has called for investments in renewable energy. Some countries are going carbon neutral (and using LOADS of renewable energy) just because they can (Costa Rica is well on its way, and so is Sweden, and Iceland, and…).

Renewables are also on track to be the source of 28% of the world’s energy by 2021, according to Climate Central, so we’re on our way.

The major takeaway… Can we actually possibly maybe do it?

Maybe we can limit warming to 1.5°C — but it’s going to take a lot of work, and maybe even carbon capture technology. Or 100 gigafactories. But the world needs to do it together. The Paris Agreement was the first step, but getting countries to limit their emissions through renewables is going to be the real test. Can we do it?

Watch the whole movie for free on YouTube until Sunday.

Earth Week 2015: how are the oceans doing, anyway?

Welcome to my annual Earth Week series! I believe that protecting the Earth deserves more than one day, so I’ve given it a week. Check back every day from April 20-24 to learn about a new environmental issue (or solution!) each day.

Sometimes we forget about the oceans, despite the fact that they take up 70% of the Earth’s surface. Or, more specifically, we forget to think about what ends up there.

A study in the journal Science found that we deposit between 5.3 and 14 million tons of plastic in the oceans every year. I mean sure, that’s a huge range. But to make it more fathomable, OnEarth made analogies for plastic totaling 9 million tons. 9 million tons of plastic is 136 billion plastic jugs, which, if stacked, would “reach more than halfway to Mars.” 9 million tons of plastic is “also the equivalent of piling five grocery bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the world.”

So, in other words, that’s a lot of plastic. And however you quantify it, a lot of it is going into the oceans.

garbagepatch

If you don’t know, there is a huge pile of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The patch is actually a group of trash piles that collect between the west coast of the US and the East Coast of Asia. The trash “vortex” collects in a convergence zone in the ocean – where warm water from the the southern hemisphere meets with cold water from the Arctic. You can see the different trash piles below:

The plastic converges here because a lot of it isn’t biodegradable, considering it’s plastic. That, paired with the fact that we produce 620% more plastic than we did as a society in 1975, is causing problems for marine life as well as the health of the ocean. Mashable reports that when plastic is jostled in the ocean, it is sometimes broken up into tiny shreds, small enough to be ingested my animals and avoid nets of those trying to clean up the sea.

Garbage washed up in Hawaii

So what can you do to help? Here are some ideas:

  • Use less plastic: we only recycle 14% of plastic we use in the US, and that’s pretty bad. If you live in an area where recycling is easily accessible, please just recycle. Just put that plastic bottle in your recycling bin!
  • Stop using products with plastic micro-beads in them: okay, so ICYMI, your facial cleanser probably has tiny pieces of plastic in it. Do you have exfoliating beads? Bingo. Simple solution – don’t use these! Find other products . If you’re inclined to take a stand, find out more here.
  • Reuse the plastic you do use: use extra plastic jars to house snacks instead of using plastic snack/sandwich bags. You can also reuse the tupperware from lunch meat to take your sandwiches to work. There are endless possibilities!
  • Don’t use plastic bottles: if you read my blog, you know plastic bottles are horrible, not just for the environment because of plastic pollution, but because of water extraction too. The bottles are made of fossil fuels, too, which doesn’t help the Earth much.

It’s easy to make change – just pick what works for you and stick to it! A little goes a long way. Thanks for joining me for this Earth Week series!

This post concludes my Earth Week posts for 2015. Click here for more!

 

Earth Week 2015: the rise of renewables

Welcome to my annual Earth Week series! I believe that protecting the Earth deserves more than one day, so I’ve given it a week. Check back every day from April 20-24 to learn about a new environmental issue (or solution!) each day.

So its not all bad news this Earth Week – renewable energy is on the rise. Renewable energy, once widely called alternative energy, is changing, considering it’s not so alternative anymore – it’s finally hitting the mainstream.

solar panels

According to Climate Central, renewable energy is in a “global renaissance”:

Renewables, mainly including hydropower, solar and wind, reached 28 percent of the total electric power supply in Germany in 2014, 19 percent in the United Kingdom, 22 percent in China, 76 percent in Brazil and 13 percent in the U.S., as investments in renewables increased more than 15 percent globally last year, BNEF Chairman Michael Liebreich said Tuesday.

“I haven’t heard the word ‘alternative energy’ in the last few years,” he said. “This is not alternative when the world average (for renewables) is getting to 11 to 13 percent. This is not alternative anymore. And, it’s cheap.”

For the United States, solar energy and nuclear energy are on the rise. Solar is cheaper and more efficient than ever, and more and more areas around the country are adopting it as their method of energy. By 2020, the World Nuclear Association expects America to be home to six new nuclear reactors for clean power generation, despite the stigma nuclear power has had in the past.

There are some cool energy projects starting up around the country and the world.

A vineyard in the Napa Valley outside of San Francisco has put 1,000 floating solar panels on an irrigation pond on the property, reports CBS News. Far Niente Vineyard is a certified national landmark, so the only place open for solar is the ponds, considering all other structures are out of bounds for solar development. The output of the panels daily is four times what the winery uses – they still get a power bill, but the balance has been zero for quite some time. The system also helps the drought “by reducing evaporation from the pond by providing shade. The proximity to the water also keeps the panels cooler and more efficient than they would otherwise be.”

In my opinion, that’s not a bad idea! Nothing much else is going on in those irrigation ponds, and there are farms throughout the entire state of California that could adopt this method.

Australia is also installing it’s first floating solar farm, which will be assembled on top of a wastewater pond.

vancouver

In a move to become more sustainable, Vancouver, British Columbia has committed to run on 100% renewable energy by 2030-2035, reports the Guardian. The Canadian city, population 600,000 will achieve these goals through the greening of their transportation, electricity, and heating and cooling sectors. Since cities make up 70-75% of global CO2 emissions, Andrea Reimer, Vancouver’s deputy mayor, feels it’s important to make this change and alter the global conversation about carbon emissions and how they affect our planet.

Although Vancouver isn’t as populous as major cities in the United States, this model shows that perhaps we can start to make city-wide changes, starting with San Francisco and San Diego, both of which have expressed interest and made progress on becoming green. Other cities around the world are in different stages of the process too, including Sydney, Copenhagen, Reykjavik, and the entire country of Costa Rica.

There are small projects going on throughout the country. Check into your town, city, or state and see how they’re making it sustainable. You may be surprised!

Check back Friday 4/24 for Earth Week 5: the state of our oceans.

 

Earth Week 2015: Happy Earth Day!

Welcome to my annual Earth Week series! I believe that protecting the Earth deserves more than one day, so I’ve given it a week. Check back every day from April 20-24 to learn about a new environmental issue (or solution!) each day.

Well, maybe it’s not so happy. 14 out of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. We’re running out of water. There’s still pollution in the Gulf of Mexico.

But we’re getting better! More cities and corporations than ever are committed to lowering greenhouse gas emissions over time. Renewable energy use is rising. Students at universities around the country, including mine (the University of Montana), are making the push to divest from fossil fuels.

This year, environmental holidays like Earth Hour and World Water Day were smashing successes, bringing information and education to thousands more than years prior.

NASA’s social campaign for Earth Day 2015

NASA has created a new celebration this Earth Day, which they named #NoPlaceLikeHome. They are encouraging social sharing with the hashtag, with which users should share their favorite places on Earth. I’ll be sharing on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, so be on the lookout for that!

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also joining the party with a Twitter chat (#EarthDayEveryDay) featuring EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy today at 3:30pm ET. The EPA also encourages Earth lovers to celebrate Earth Day by watching videos, attending an event, and taking action.

Earth Day Network also provides a list of events around the US to celebrate this wonderful holiday. This year, Earth Day Network is focused on three facets of saving the planet:

  • Sustainable development: this idea has grown in the past few years. LEED certified buildings are gaining popularity, as well as green cities. The green cities movement includes bike transportation, urban agriculture, and solar-powered buses, to name a few.
  • Grassroots movements: like sustainable development, grassroots movements have come to t he forefront of the environmental movement, too. The biggest climate march EVER happened in New York City last September, so people are starting to see climate change and environmental issues as something we should be paying attention to.
  • 2015 – the year of the treaty?: The world has tried, yet the US has never really signed a climate treaty.. yet. Earth Day Network hopes that 2015 will be the year of a treaty, one where global leaders will catch on to serious issues and start monitoring carbon dioxide output, TOGETHER. But the bigger question remains: will we actually do the things in said treaty? Time will tell.

earthday2012

As always, there are ways we personally can help the environment on this 45th Earth Day:

  • STOP USING PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS WITH PLASTIC IN THEM, please: sorry for yelling, but it’s time, people. Did you know there’s plastic in some toothpastes and face washes? It’s easy enough to switch to a brand without them. Microbeads, made of plastic, travel through our drains and end up in our waterways, killing small organisms and clogging up ecosystems. Take it a step further and sign this petition, if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle: Take a step back and re-evaluate the three pillars of eco-friendliness – reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reduce your consumption of plastic by using a reusable cup (see what I did there?). Reuse your containers (like glass jars, plastic lunch meat containers) to save other food, or to use in arts and crafts. Recycle said plastic cups and other recyclables in your bin or at your city’s recycling plant.
  • Pledge an act of green: if online activism is your cup of tea, head over to Earth Day Network and pledge an act of green. Try to get them to 2 billion!
  • Go outside: perhaps the simplest, yet the hardest to remember. Walk to class, ride your bike, or take your dog out for a much-needed run. Doing these things not only deepens your appreciation for the outdoors and gives you an excuse to exercise, it also takes us away from our homes, so we’re using less energy.

Whatever you do, choose something you can commit to doing. Last year, I got rid of microbeads. This year, I’m going to try harder to buy food items with as little packaging as possible. Happy Earth Day!

Check back Thursday 4/23 for Earth Week 4: the rise of renewables.