Step it up

Ten years ago this week, United Nations delegates from the world’s developed countries came together in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate the Kyoto Accord. It’s a bittersweet anniversary because it marks the first time world leaders decided joint action was needed to curtail global warming, but it also stands as a reminder today of how little distance we’ve traveled toward a solution.

A mid-November report from the U.S. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes, beyond a creditable doubt, that global warming is the greatest threat we face today as a civilization. Thousands of the world’s top scientists have compiled mountains of data and now instruct us, inescapably, that our planet is at grave risk from planet warming and that we have an ever-shrinking window of time—perhaps 10 years—to take steps to minimize it.

We need change at both a political and personal level.

Politically, we need to get Congress to raise fuel-economy standards for new cars; build a national energy policy based on renewable sources such as solar and wind; demand that the United States join an international treaty that radically cuts global-warming pollution; and fight for laws and policies that expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil and coal.

Personally, we need to “go green” in our lives by doing such things as replacing standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones; recycling more; walking, biking, carpooling and/or taking mass transit more often; using less hot water; avoiding products with lots of packaging; keeping automobile tires inflated properly; moving the thermostat down two degrees in winter and up two degrees in summer; planting trees; and turning off home electronics when we’re not using them. (Find plenty more suggestions at

This past year, Bill McKibben—the renowned author and environmentalist whose essay starts our special report—helped his students launch a campaign rightly called “Step It Up” to remind Congress and the American people that it’s time to greatly pump up our efforts in the fight against global warming. It’s going to be political, and it’s got to get personal, he advises. And the changes must come very soon.