We answer your climate change questions

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Forest fire. Credit: Pixabay. 

Rising sea levels and intensified storms that could lead to economic and humanitarian crises. Melted ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. The extinction of endangered species.

There is alarming news about climate change, and many of us feel overwhelmed and anxious. There are many questions around how climate change will affect us and future generations. 

You shared your questions about climate change. For answers, we reached out to Aradhna Tripati, a professor at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Q: I have a young child, and I feel an overwhelming sense of dread for her future. Are there “eco-grief” resources out there that can guide me through the move from despair and hopelessness to some kind of meaningful response? I’ve already bought my stainless steel straws and reusable vegetable bags, but I still feel helpless and ineffectual, and sometimes it’s hard to go to sleep at night.

Tripati says perhaps what's most important isn't just individual action, but collective action because many issues are structural and require a major upheaval. She says you can achieve this through politically organizing and demanding changes through regulation and incentives.

"We need to realize that our individual actions collectively can make a difference. But it's important to really think about what those actions are. So showing up to vote, calling for regulatory changes, calling for particular standards in different industries," she says. "I'd encourage you to get together with your neighbors, with fellow parents, colleagues at work, start organizing to call for action. California has a referendum process. So many of the things that can be done are in fact things we can call for with that process."

Tripati gives examples: ask local businesses what they're doing to be more eco-conscious, demand vegetarian options at your local restaurants (because meat production has a large carbon cost), demand that the fashion industry focus on upcycling, demand more gardens and trees in your community.

Q: Are there are any fiscal incentives available to make a real effort combating climate change that have not been enacted by local, state, or federal governments?

"There's so much more that can be done with respect to fiscal incentives. I feel like we've only barely scratched the surface," Tripati says.

What's really necessary are Marshall Plan-scale investments to support businesses and their employees in their transitions to be greener. 

"There are opportunities to subsidize the local level and the statewide level -- people making the transition to green cars, for example, or introducing solar in a way that is just not economically within reach for many people right now. So there's much more that could be done."

Q: If we do come to a point where we they find out it’s too late to reverse the climate change, should we start to prepare for the worst, prepare for an ice age or some sort of other catastrophe?

Tripati emphasizes that the impacts and scenarios differ widely when the global temperature rises by 1.5, 2, 3, or even 5°C. She says it's critically important to avoid a 5°C threshold for global warming. 

"As a person who studies climate history, thinking about whether we could have a shutdown of ocean circulation and an ice age, those are things that are so far in our future," she says. "What we really need to do is focus on the fact we're having warming that's causing extreme weather, fires, and floods, and that we can do something about that by focusing on carbon drawdown right now."

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Alex Tryggvadottir