The Year Like No Other

2020 has turned out to be a year like no other in my long memory. We have been dealing with a polarizing and anxiety-producing election, a deadly pandemic that is still increasing in size, and the frightening early effects (wildfires, floods, droughts, heat waves, sea-level rise and more and stronger hurricanes) of the global climate changes on the way. Happily, the election is over. We know what we have to do to fight the pandemic: wear masks; socially distance; be tested and be vaccinated as soon as there is a safe vaccine. If enough of us do this, life might begin to return to normal sometime next year.

But it won’t stay normal unless we also deal with climate change. The Japanese woodcut to the left, titled "Tsunami," is a powerful metaphor of what's ahead if we continue to ignore the issue. It is such a huge threat that many of us put on blinders and refuse to think about it. To put it simply, any reduction we can make in our use of energy from fossil fuels is a gift to future generations, as well as to all life on earth.

However, time is running out. We have been warned about climate change since the 1970s and are just beginning to act. No current technology offers us hope that the damaging effects of global warming that we are already experiencing can be reversed. Things will continue to worsen, and eventually will make large areas of the earth uninhabitable as a result of sea-level rise or unbearable heat. I know I won't be around to see it, but my children and grandchildren will be.

The life changes produced by the pandemic in our consumption and transportation have temporarily reduced the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, although our eventual return to normal will see it rise again. Some people have come to the conclusion that the slowed-down life under the pandemic had benefits, and that it might be worthwhile finding ways to consume less and travel less, making for a more relaxed life as well as benefiting the earth and our future. Hopefully, each of us will choose areas where we can make changes.

Last year I wrote a 10964 article about the noxious effects of using gasoline-powered leaf blowers. In it I described the damages to the environment and to the users of these machines and suggested a number of steps home-owners could take to reduce the impact of these harmful blowers. These include restricting to the months of October and November your use of landscapers to clear leaves from your property, buying an electric leaf-blower to use yourself, or asking your landscapers to replace their gasoline-powered leaf blowers with electric, battery-operated leaf blowers. The landscaper Cellen Wolk tells me that all the machines she uses are now available in electric versions. You may have taken no action last year, but it's not too late to do something this year.

One of the biggest uses of harmful fossil fuels is in heating our houses. On the next page you will find an article by Paul Riccobono on heat pumps, an effective means of changing our energy use to reduce CO2 emissions. The technology not only reduces harmful emissions but saves you money, after installation costs. There are also two articles in this issue on coming threats to the Hudson River and its shores from climate change if we take no action.

It would be tragic to lose the battle to slow global warming because we deluded ourselves into believing helpful steps would be too expensive, or that climate change wasn't really happening. We know what we need to do and have the technology to do it. In this particular battle, the important thing is to begin to act. Past climate changes doomed some early human species to extinction. Could it happen again?