Jan. 11—It was the summer of 1965.
Medicaid and Medicare were just signed into law. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he was doubling the number of men drafted to fight in Vietnam and protests were gaining traction. Although it went by another name, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had just been created and tasked with advancing the scientific study of the natural environment.
And in Wichita, Kansas, Glen Chambers, an Army veteran who had returned from Korea two years earlier, was teaching himself to program on the only computer at Wichita State in the hopes of getting a job at Boeing. He was able to teach himself quickly, but his heart belonged to science and the environment.
Chambers had always been interested in science and nature, partly due to his childhood summers at his grandparent's farm in Arkansas, and partly because of his non-stop devouring of science magazines. Even today, he continues to meticulously read scientific reports, subscribing to several scientific magazines, like Discover, National Geographic and Scientific American
"It was easy to understand what the researchers were talking about in their reports, especially with climate change and their effects," Chambers said. "I have witnessed some of those changes firsthand."
Chambers remembers a world that was different than the world we have now. One of the starkest examples was when he was young, between the ages of 10 and 12, he traveled to Glacier National Park. He remembers vividly seeing the glaciers from the highway.
When he later returned with his wife, more than half a century later, he couldn't.
"The tour bus took the turnoff, which would lead us up close to the face of the glacier, and as you're going down this road, they have signs that say, 'in this year, the face of the glacier was here,'" Chambers said. "There were probably six or eight of those signs indicating the retreat of the glacier face over the years."
Two decades after his time at Wichita State, in 1985, Chambers and his wife, Carolyn, began searching for a more sustainable way of life. The search culminated in an earth-sheltered house that they designed and built in north-central Wichita.
While it looks quite ordinary from the front of the house, the back is shaped like an igloo and is covered with gravel, which has quite a few footprints from his grandchild who likes to climb on the roof and play.
"It is total electric and is so energy efficient that we have recovered 60% of the original construction cost in lower electric bills," Chambers said.
They've lived in the house for 35 years. They estimate that they save $2,000 a year on heating and cooling costs, partly because their heat pump uses ground heated or cooled water. Depending on the season, the pump uses the ground to keep the water at approximately 58 degrees, meaning they have to use less energy to get the water to the desired temperature.
While he and his wife try to live as sustainably as possible, Chambers said he wishes more action was taken on climate change.
"I fear that there's got to be catastrophic changes before that happens," Chambers said. "I'm very concerned about what kind of world my granddaughter will be living in after I'm gone."
Here are five ways experts say everyone can help curb climate change.
One of the biggest ways everyone can make a difference with climate change is by talking to their friends, family and representatives, according to The Natural Resources Defense Council, an international environment advocate group.
But climate change is a global problem, which can be difficult for people to digest, according to Brian Houston is the director for the Disaster and Community Crisis Center at the University of Missouri.
"There is no silver bullet here," Houston said. "If we knew how to communicate about climate change, we would be doing something. We're definitely in the middle of this problem, and there's no easy answer."
Additionally, climate change is polarized, and advocates and politicians often over-rely on complex scientific numbers and statistics. For example, a commonly cited statistic is that the world's average temperature must not increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to address climate change, as agreed upon in the Paris Agreement in 2015.
The difference between a 2-degree increase to even a 1.5-degree average increase, just half a degree less, would be catastrophic, according to NASA. Under a 2-degree warming model, the Earth would experience dramatic heatwaves that would last a third longer than normal, rain storms would intensify by a third, crops would be unable to survive the heat and coral reefs would cease to exist.
"You want to talk about what the CO2 levels are and temperature changes over time, and as a person, you might zone out or you can't make sense of what it is or really understand what's going on," Houston said. "Those numbers, they're important, but they don't tend to help."
Instead, Houston advised focusing on climate change's human impacts and including tangible actions people can take to help. Most importantly, Houston said local news must tell local stories about climate change.
"That's the only thing that has a chance, in this really difficult environment of trying to persuade nonbelievers to get on the climate change action bandwagon," Houston said. "It is kind of one -person-at-a-time type of work, which can be discouraging because this is such a big threat and there's so much work to be done, but I don't know what the alternative is at this point."
Conserving plants and animals
On the hunt as a kid, Chambers and his siblings would spend many summer nights catching seemingly endless numbers of fireflies. Now a bittersweet memory, as Chambers can add fireflies to the list of changing animal populations he's observed in his life.
"When I was a kid, you could stand in one spot, turn around in a circle, and see hundreds of fireflies," Chambers said. "We would take a jar and trying to catch them, because it's fun to hold up the jar and see all the light in there."
A peer-reviewed study in 2019 found that insects are on the decline worldwide, and over 40% of insects are threatened with extinction.
Conserving forests, by both stopping deforestation and planting trees, is hugely important as plants take carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into oxygen. Species will be more likely to survive as they shift their ranges because of climate change because there will be more space that they're able to survive in, according to The Nature Conservancy, an environmental charity.
Kansas has seen the effects of climate change on Monarch butterflies and several animal species of native birds.
Kansas birders have recorded a simultaneous increase in non-native bird populations and a decrease in several native populations, including the state bird, the Western Meadowlark. There are several steps Kansans can take to aid the bird populations and help monitor their numbers, such as joining the Kansas Audubon Society or making bird friendly habitats in their yards.
Monarch butterflies are in danger of extinction, and while they won't get federal help yet, Kansans can help the Monarchs, by planting native milkweed, the caterpillars sole source of food.
Skipping the Plastic
From gas station cups to disposable masks to grocery store sacks, plastic surrounds everyday life. While they have many benefits, both when plastics are made to and when they are disposed of, they are responsible for emitting greenhouse gases, according to a report from the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit law group.
Transitioning to ending single-use plastics, building zero-waste communities, and creating systems where polluters pay for their products' environmental impacts are all possible solutions cited by the researchers.
In Wichita, a Single-Use Plastic Bag Taskforce was created last February by the city council to look at the possibility of banning plastic bags. Currently, eight states and several cities, like Boulder, Colorado, have already banned single-use plastic bags.
Supporting Electric Public Transportation and Vehicles
Ditching your car for public transport or choosing to walk or bike is most effective action people can take on climate change, according to a 2017 study by the Centre for Sustainability Studies at Lund University in Sweden.But for those who can't reasonably choose to ditch their car or can't reasonably walk or bike, can encourage their city to switch to electric buses or consider an electric vehicle.
Nearly 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change, come from transportation, according to EPA data. Buses and other heavy-duty vehicles account for one-quarter of those emissions.
This year, Wichita transit added seven new electric buses as it continues to march towards the goal of electrifying the entire fleet. While the buses cost more, each of the eleven buses the city currently has is expected to save the city $462,000 during their lifetimes.
Additionally, the price gap is shrinking and the cost to fuel an electric vehicle is, on average, half the price of a gasoline vehicle.
In early 2019, the Kansas legislature passed a bill that enforced additional registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles to make up for the loss in fuel taxes.
The increased fee nor those concerns stopped their growth, as currently, one in every 100 Kansas cars is electric or hybrid. There are more than 10,000 electric and hybrid vehicles, a 26% increase over the previous five years, according to Wichita Eagle's analysis of data from the Kansas Department of Revenue.
Championing Renewable Energy
Changing how we generate electricity in the country from relying primarily on fossil fuels to renewable energy, is a main goal for many environmentalists. In most cases, energy generated by new wind and solar is cheaper than energy generated by new plants that use coal or gas, according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, the goal seems more attainable than ever.
Kansas ranks second in the nation for wind energy production, with 41% of its electricity coming from wind. Kansas is home to 39 wind farms, with nearly 3,200 wind turbines, the fifth largest in the nation.
Now, solar advocates are turning their eyes to Kansas and four other states to watch with anticipation as residential solar policies are decided at the state level. Right now, the state government is deciding how solar customers will be charged, a crucial decision that is usually made on a state by state basis.
President-elect Joe Biden's agenda to bring 100% clean power to the nation by 2035 could depend on state policies outside of his control, meaning Kansas' decision could have broader implications for the nation, according to an analysis from Energy and Environment News.
Kansas is one of the nation's 10 sunniest states yet ranks 43rd in solar generation, with less than 0.3% of the state's electricity coming from solar.