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What people can do to address the human-driven causes of climate change

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK. Lots of people are calling what we're going through now the new normal - you know, heat waves, flooding, wildfires. But the phrase new normal assumes that we've reached some sort of equilibrium, that this new reality is as bad as it's ever going to get. That is not an accurate picture because humans are still pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and that is predicted to make the types of heat waves and floods that we're seeing today even more frequent and more severe. So how fast can we rein in that trend, and how ready are we to adapt to these extreme events?

NPR climate solutions reporter Julia Simon is here with more. Hey, Julia.

JULIA SIMON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so you're in Phoenix right now. How is it feeling there?

SIMON: Well, my car was 116 degrees yesterday.

CHANG: Wow.

SIMON: The heat here is serious.

CHANG: Yeah.

SIMON: It was a lot. And the heat here is serious. It is dangerous. Not everyone has air conditioning. If they do, they don't always run it because it's so expensive. Some people are unhoused. Heat records are falling around the world - in Iran, China. It's a wake-up call to how bad things are getting with climate change.

CHANG: OK, so it's another wake-up call. But, like, what strategies could rein in the causes of climate change? I mean, I'm guessing cutting back on fossil fuels is the biggest one, right?

SIMON: Yes. Yes. By far, reducing our use of fossil fuels is the big climate solution. So that means things like replacing coal and gas power plants with solar and wind plus batteries. That means building out infrastructure for public transportation, electric vehicles. We also have to think about energy efficiency and eating less meat.

CHANG: Are we doing those things enough, though?

SIMON: The U.S. has dragged its feet for years, but last year the country took serious action on climate change by passing the Inflation Reduction Act. Kim Cobb is a climate scientist at Brown University, and she says the law is a big deal.

KIM COBB: The new federal legislation, which really puts the wheels of the marketplace in motion to harness available technologies for emissions reduction - so that's huge and is already getting to work for us.

SIMON: Yeah. She says the U.S. is also engaging other countries when it comes to climate. John Kerry, the president's special climate envoy, is currently in China. Still, Cobb says that we're in a situation where we're going to keep experiencing extreme weather events over the next few decades.

CHANG: No matter what. Well, what does she mean by that - like, some of that warming is already baked in?

SIMON: Exactly. Greenhouse gases don't just disappear. They hang out in the atmosphere for several years. And humans have emitted so much that a certain amount of warming is going to happen no matter what. The question is how hot is the planet going to get? And that's where we come back to that main climate solution, which is to stop burning fossil fuels. Emissions are going up every year - not by much but by a little. So scientists like Cobb say we have to reverse the trend. In the meantime, we have to build resilience for the climate shocks that we're seeing right now.

CHANG: But what does building resilience look like, Julia? And what about people who are facing imminent danger? What are solutions for them?

SIMON: Yeah. In the heat, everybody is vulnerable. So Michael Mendez, a professor at University of California Irvine, says pay attention to your body and the signs of overheating. In particular, watch out for children, for the elderly. And Mendez says in urban communities, Black and Latino neighborhoods can often be a lot hotter.

MICHAEL MENDEZ: What they call urban heat islands can be anywhere between five to even 20 degrees hotter than communities and neighborhoods that have an abundance of trees for shade.

SIMON: So planting trees, particularly drought-resistant trees that provide shade, that's a climate adaptation solution, Mendez says. I see that here in Phoenix, Ailsa. It's so much cooler in the shade. Other climate adaptation solutions include reflective pavement, white roofs, things that reflect heat rather than absorb it all up. And get to know your neighbors. Check in on them. That's going to be a critical solution as we move forward.

CHANG: That is NPR's Julia Simon. Thank you, Julia.

SIMON: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Julia Simon
Julia Simon is the Climate Solutions reporter on NPR's Climate Desk. She covers the ways governments, businesses, scientists and everyday people are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She also works to hold corporations, and others, accountable for greenwashing.