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The world has a historic agreement. How are we going to build our future?

REUTERS/Charles Platiau
We would all remember being in Paris on Dec. 12, 2015, when it happened.

The sound, quite literally, of the world cheering filled the hall as I watched firsthand the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement. I cheered along, cheeks wet with tears. After years of struggle and work, nearly 200 countries agreed: The world must pivot – it must transition out of the era of fossil fuels and into an era of clean energy.

Kate Knuth

A few hours earlier, thousands of activists had filled streets in Paris. They gathered, with red banners and red flowers, to make the point that the Paris Agreement was not enough. The people must make the progress needed to secure a just climate future.

Back in the conference hall, countries started speaking to the agreement, and some common themes emerged. First, this agreement was historic. We would all remember being in Paris on Dec. 12, 2015, when it happened. Second, the hard work had just begun. The people of the world must come together to realize the promise of the agreement and to make the changes needed to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

Similarities in messages

I was struck by the similarities in the messages the activists and the conference delegates delivered. Both called for people to stand up for climate justice, to act, to hold leaders accountable – in short, for everyone to get to work on climate change solutions.

Now back home in Minnesota, this is the idea I carry with me. I am asking myself, how am I going to best contribute to making progress on climate change? I ask you to ask yourself the same question. The world needs us to ask this question … and then to act.

The first answers that come to mind are individual changes. Use less fossil fuel energy – invest in better insulation, screw in better light bulbs, get a more efficient furnace, drive less. Invest in renewable energy – community solar is an exciting new option. Eat lower on the food chain – food production, especially red meat, is a big contributor to climate change.

These actions are great. We need to do them. But they are not enough. To really address climate change, we need more than behavior change. To address climate change, we need system change.

It's harder, but it gets easier

System change is harder. System change work is not done alone. It asks us to step outside of ourselves and engage in public and political processes. It asks us listen deeply to people with different views and experiences and to respond genuinely and respectfully with our own perspectives. It asks us, again and again, to be our best selves in partnership and community with others. System change work is uncomfortable, but with practice it gets easier. And when it works, system change feels like magic. We saw it in Paris, and we can make it happen here.

What can you and I do to help our country fulfill its commitment to transition out of the fossil fuel era and into the clean energy era? How can we change our systems to align with the realities of climate change? Bring climate action into your public life – in your school, neighborhood, community groups, and workplace. Make climate change a voting issue – with your own vote and through engaging others one-on-one and in campaigns. Make climate change a financial issue – think about how you’re spending your money, examine your investments for risks associated with climate change, and, if you have a pension, ask the people who control it how they’re addressing the financial risks of climate change. Make climate change a justice issue – asking who benefits from keeping old systems and how we can all benefit from transitioning to new ones. Connect to others working on climate solutions – Minnesota has many organizations doing this work, and you can increase your effectiveness by working with them.

The important thing: Get started

There is no one way to contribute to building the new systems we need to create a better climate future. The important thing is to get started and to get better along the way.

The world has never before done what it just did in Paris. And it has never before done what we are being called to do in the coming years and decades. This reality simultaneously terrifies and excites me. I hope that we, all of us, are up to the task.

The world made history with the Paris Agreement. How are you going to build on this historic agreement to create the world’s future? The possibilities are limitless as we set out together on this path to a new era.

Kate Knuth was part of the University of Minnesota observer delegation to the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris. The views here are her own and do not represent the University of Minnesota.

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Comments (3)

One specific thing we can do right now.

I like the idea that behavior change isn't enough--we need to advocate for systems change.

One specific thing we can do right now right here is to ask the state legislature to provide its (relatively small) share of funding for the SW light rail transit line. This project is shovel-ready and all other funding partners have guaranteed their shares, totaling about $1.6 billion.

12 million energy-efficient rides annually are projected for this rail line alone. That's a lot of carbon-emitting cars left at home!

FAA/EPA Finding on Aviation Green House Gas Emission

It should be noted that aviation emissions are subject to International Commercial Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreements and related to national standards and landing rights for foreign airlines. The FAA and the White House had been working on ways to solve global warming issues and maintain world-wide competitive air service. Last year, the FAA and the EPA issued a finding that aviation produces 14% of the US greenhouse gases contributing to global warming and affected public health and welfare.

You knew that? Well, did you know that GHG emissions were increased by the airline mergers?
Quite a few direct city-to-city routes were replaced by city-hub-city routes. It is estimated that each connecting flight adds 200 miles and an airport operation compared to a direct flight. Emissions of GHG and small particulates emissions are associated with flight hours and fuel economy (or efficiency). Jet engines are most efficient at cruise altitudes. So both the extra hours/miles flown since 2009 and the extra landings add to air pollution and global warming.

One thing that needs to be considered nationally is how to route air traffic though more connecting hubs to save fuel and reduce emissions. For this and other reasons (cost of safety, passenger congestion, facilities sized for peaks hours), there should be a limit on flights per hour at MSP.

Lots of

good ideas here. But the Paris accord was just another toothless Conference of Parties. Alarmists got their agreement and skeptics got plans for more coal plants as China, India, and the other LDCs went home with no commitment. No sign of a carbon tax anywhere, and no mention of the oceans, the only part of the environment being harmed by plant food CO2.