Call it a collision between the macro and the micro. The more I read this month about the 26th U.N. Conference of Parties on Climate Change – also known as COP26 – the more fixated I became on my leaf blower.

The conference in Glasgow, Scotland, which ended last weekend, produced a less-than-robust agreement that will reduce the steady rise in the earth’s temperatures – although not by nearly enough to avoid a host of looming natural catastrophes.

The leaf blower, a gas-powered Stihl that sits in my barn, for years produced a very robust air flow that can clear my large yard of leaves and other debris in less than two hours – all the while belching a carbon-rich stream of exhaust that contributes in its own small way to the aforementioned climate crisis.

That’s why I recently decided to stop using the blower. My personal micro just got run over by the planet’s macro.

It all stems from a pair of nagging realizations that descend on me with each new report of a drought or a wildfire or, as occurred in the Pacific Northwest last week, an “atmospheric river” that inundates everything in its path.

The first epiphany is that I’m at an age where I’ll likely be long gone by the time the climate crisis kicks in in earnest. As bad as the predictions sound for a half-century from now, my generation won’t be around to witness them.

The second is that my grandchildren will – and the last thing I want in the hereafter is to see them pointing their fingers up at me while asking, “Geez, Grampa. What were you thinking?”

More importantly, what was I doing? The sad answer is that, until now, I haven’t been doing enough.

On Wednesday I spoke with Susana Hancock of Freeport, who just returned from COP26. She is in her early 30s and already has a resume with saving the world written all over it.

She’s a Rhodes scholar with two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from Oxford University, where her thesis was on cultural diplomacy in intractable conflict. She’s an expert reviewer for the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, where she chairs a group of 89 young scientists who peer-tested a host of research papers and other reports for the two-week COP26 gathering. She also studies the Arctic as a researcher with the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists and lived for a while with reindeer herders in Norway, witnessing firsthand how climate change has caused migratory upheaval for both the animals and the humans who depend on them.

Hancock is also on the steering committee for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, an international network of volunteers working to mitigate the effects of global warming through grassroots political action. Here in Maine, the organization has chapters in Portland, Bath-Brunswick, Camden-Rockland, Belfast, Bangor, Waterville and Western Maine.

All of which makes Hancock a good person to ask, “How can an individual help – in a meaningful way – to save the planet? Is ditching my leaf blower enough? Or does real change require much more than that?”

“It’s both,” she replied. “It’s something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to, not just over the past couple of weeks but years – the disparity between those doing the negotiations and those of us who are living life.”

A case in point: Over the summer, Hancock and eight other Freeport residents formed Freeport Climate Action Now, a nonprofit dedicated to bridging the gap between COP26 and a small town on the coast of Maine. The group will hold a community forum Jan. 20 to explore, as it says on its website, “what we can DO, everyone together. And then, together, we will move forward with actions we can take.”

Some might scoff at such talk, much like they might tell me that forever silencing a piece of gas-guzzling yard equipment is at best a feel-good gesture that won’t save anyone from anything. But as Hancock notes, we all have to start somewhere.

“If it’s local, it’s local,” she said. “If that’s where your comfort is, that’s where your comfort is.”

Meaning you can write a letter to the editor or to the Maine congressional delegation urging the adoption of carbon pricing, which would place a fee on all fossil fuels and publicly distribute that money in the form of dividends to everyday people. Or you can lean on local and state officials for more electric-vehicle  charging stations, not to mention a heftier transmission system to handle our ever-increasing demand for electricity.

For Hancock, it all comes down to taking an honest look at how we each view the climate crisis – be it through our own eyes or those of our grandchildren.

Hancock said she spoke recently with a high-ranking official from the United Nations. He noted that when COP26 finally concluded with a watered-down agreement, which doesn’t come close to limiting the rise in average global temperature to a targeted 1.5 degrees by the end of this century, those doing the negotiating were “all white men over the age of 60.”

The U.N. official’s point?

“He said it’s an economic agreement for them,” Hancock said. “We’re concerned with climate, but they’re thinking about their own interests. They’re not looking out necessarily for future generations. We don’t have younger people in that sphere.”

On a similar note, Hancock found herself distressed that no fewer than 503 representatives of the fossil fuel industry were credentialed attendees at COP26 – a group larger than the combined delegations of the eight countries most affected by climate change.

Despite all that, some lauded COP26 for at least keeping the conversation going and holding to a framework on which future progress can be built. Color Hancock less than impressed.

Asked what grade she’d give the conference, she replied, “I would probably say C-minus. Made some effort, but if I were grading it in a college class, it wouldn’t have passed.”

Flunk a course and  you can always take it again. Not so with global warming – it’s already upon us.

Think about how depressing that sounds. We can see the crisis, we know it’s going to get worse, and yet the powers that be dither and delay because, as Hancock so accurately notes, real change will cost real money. At the same time, we wonder if our individual actions mean anything at this pivotal point – not just in the history of the human race, but in that of the planet.

While I ponder all of that, I’m going to  dismantle my leaf blower and bring the recyclable parts to our local transfer station if only to remind myself that we all have to start somewhere.

Then I’ll get out the rake.


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