In Europe, tourists are wondering why German hotels have no air conditioning in the sweltering summer, why Venice is flooding more than ever and whatever happened to summer skiing in the Alps. The answer is obvious: climate change.
Of course, climate change is far more important than inconveniencing tourists. And as alarming news about the increasing pace and impact of climate change increases, my friends and loved ones are stricken with anxiety. The headlines can make us feel powerless, fearful and angry, according to research cited by the American Psychological Association. One effective treatment for anxiety is action.
As a businessman, I recently made the decision to keep my tour company ethical: We are determined to creatively mitigate the carbon our travelers add to our environment ($30 for each traveler who takes a Rick Steves tour, for a total “self-imposed carbon tax” of $1 million annually. The money supports climate-smart initiatives in developing countries that often are hit the hardest by climate change). And since I’ve been outspoken on the need to get serious about it, I’ve been struck by the number of people who, like me, care about this issue, but don’t know how to put their concern into action.
I believe that if we recognize that we all make a difference — both in our lifestyle choices and by supporting organizations that are making a difference — it’s really not that difficult. And getting on board by supporting an initiative that resonates with you can be a joyful thing.
For example, in Edmonds, community leaders are setting inspirational examples worthy of support. The board of directors of the Edmonds Senior Center is doing its part to mitigate global warming. Our old senior center (100 yards south of the ferry terminal) is being replaced by the new Edmonds Waterfront Center — as it morphs into a multigenerational gathering place where our neighbors, young and old, can learn and engage, and enjoy community. This goal is noteworthy enough. But the board’s recent decision to build the new facility environmentally smart to help fight global warming is worth crowing about (and supporting).
Globally, buildings generate nearly 40% of greenhouse-gas emissions — even more in densely developed American cities. Some communities are working to ban fossil fuels in new construction to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings, but these ordinances are often being challenged by gas companies and developers.
Wanting to lead the sustainable building charge — rather than follow — the board voted unanimously to switch (mid-construction) to an all-electric building and full solar build out, which added $500,000 to the cost of the building. The impact of this zero-carbon decision and investment will be amplified not only by the dramatically lessened carbon footprint of the building, but by inspiring others to look at their own lives and consider what bold actions they can take to mitigate climate change. Edmonds will have a building that demonstrates how a caring community can provide a wonderful facility for both its seniors and its youth as well as a building that will for decades to come raise the bar with its green example for other building projects.
But, of course, this takes money. I’ve contributed $200,000 (in addition to my previous support of the project) to help cover this added cost, and we need other neighbors and citizens to help out, too — with contributions big and small.
As global citizens, we are all called to take action to respond to this crisis. Whether it’s redoubling your efforts to conserve energy and water, reducing the use of fossil fuels or committing to using sustainable products, or helping Edmonds build our impressively green Waterfront Center, let’s convert our anxiety and concern into action. In doing so, we can have more than an Edmonds kind of day … we can help have an Edmonds kind of future.