This summer’s lethal heat wave and extreme drought have convinced a few more of us that climate change is happening… now. 

In fact, polls show that most of us accept the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change, our responsibility for it, and the need to change what we are doing to our planet. The tricky part is knowing what and how to change. 

It would be much easier if carbon dioxide (CO2) was an evil dark red gas. We could see it belching out of chimneys and tailpipes. It’s produced anytime we burn carbon; coal, oil, gasoline, or natural gas. Unfortunately carbon dioxide is invisible, colorless, and odorless and often released far from us. 

So it’s not easy to see the effects of our everyday choices. We have to pay attention.

Some consequences are pretty straight forward. When I chose to burn a gallon of gas I dump about 20 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere where it captures heat for the next century of so. I can use an efficient, high mileage car and travel 30 or 40 miles on that gallon, but the bottom line is that every gallon of gas that goes into my tank ends up as 20 pounds of CO2 in the atmosphere. 

Would it help to have the pump at the gas station read 15.0 gallons, $45.00, and 300 pounds of CO2 ? It wouldn’t hurt. 

Some of us might think twice about that quick trip to Fargo.

So how about an electric vehicle? No gas in; no exhaust out. An obvious solution – maybe. 

It depends on where that electrical energy comes from and that’s not at all obvious. Our electric power is cleaner than ever before but most of it is still produced by burning fossil carbon. 

There’s a really cool display on Lake Region Electric’s website that shows in real time the current output of the solar panels in front of their office. That’s direct evidence of real progress. But there’s no similar display for today’s carbon emissions. It’s important to recognize the very real improvements that have been made but foolish and dangerous to ignore the critical need for more. 

My monthly bill shows me kwhr used and dollars spent. That’s obviously important but what I really need to see is how much carbon was dumped on my behalf into my grandchildren’s atmosphere. Could we call it transparency? 

A good analogy for our climate change predicament is a school bus loaded with our descendants going 70 mph in the dark toward a cliff. We don’t know exactly how far away the cliff is but we know it’s there. Every pound of carbon we burn is a bit more pressure on the accelerator. Discussions about whether to use the brakes or back off on the gas are important but the necessary critical first step is to look where we’re going. We need to be able to see today the carbon consequences of the choices we make when we make them.

We need to turn on the headlights, get our eyes on the road and our foot off the gas and on the brakes. 

Dave Ellison, Pelican Rapids