Global warming: all's not lost, but we must pitch in

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a column about the undeniable presence of climate change and the detrimental effects we can expect from it, should it continue unabated. The whole thing comes across as really pretty grim, and while it paints an accurate picture of the scientific truths of global warming, it doesn't tell the whole story.

That's why this week I'd like to focus on the positive. There is reason to believe that all is not lost, and that if we take drastic and immediate steps to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions, the worst of the effects of global warming may be mitigated. Jim Hansen, NASA scientist and longtime leader in the push for public awareness of climate change, states that it is "technically possible to avoid the grim 'business-as-usual' climate change." According to Hansen, by improving upon the efficiency of our current infrastructure of energy-production (e.g., enforcing construction of power plants compliant with new green codes, and the development and commercialization of more fuel-efficient cars), we can stem the worst of the chain effects of global warming.

However, for those of us who aren't public policy-makers and don't have Ph.D.s in physics, there emerges the question, what can we do? Though most of us may not have the power to enact change on a national or global scale, we can all take steps to effect changes in our own lifestyle. One easy and inexpensive way to reduce air pollution is simply to use reusable grocery bags.

The EPA estimates an average of over 380 billion plastics bags consumed each year in the United States alone. That's over 60,000 bags every five seconds. To produce this staggering quantity of bags takes about 152 million barrels of oil and releases about 17 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

To throw away such a vast magnitude of our limited resources and to produce such an unthinkable amount of air pollution for what is essentially a waste is shortsighted and lazy. Fortunately, policy-makers are waking up to the issue. In a recent referendum, the San Francisco board of supervisors voted to ban the use of traditional plastic grocery bags, giving supermarkets up to six months and drugstores up to one year to comply.

This mandatory enforcement is a step in the right direction, but a still more promising development is the prevalence of supermarkets and customers adopting the use of reusable bags of their own accord. A couple weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Wegmans is now offering its own reusable bags right at the checkout lanes. I bought a couple to give them a try, and have found them to be great; not only are they more durable and hold more than traditional plastic bags, but they help to eliminate your personal greenhouse gas footprint. For just 99 cents, I can now feel a sense of smug self-satisfaction whenever I go shopping!

Smug or not, that feeling is warranted. It is estimated that the average American (you and me) uses between 300 and 700 plastic bags per year. By these figures, if every Geneseo student used only reusable bags for one year, together we would save a minimum of 1,530,000 plastic bags. What may seem like a small contribution amounts to a huge step in the right direction, if we all make an effort. There is virtually no excuse not to do what's within our power to impact the world for good, so it's time for us to start caring and stop making excuses. So next time you're at Wegmans, shell out a couple extra bucks and start saving the world.