Jackson Dougan, a biologist by training, works for the Environmental Defense Fund in San Francisco, where he studies greenhouse gas emissions’ effect on plants, animals and their habitats. He spoke to ShareAmerica as he finished a year as a youth observer to the U.N. 

What can we do about climate change? Is your generation getting involved?

There are certainly more things we can do. Young people really do have an interest in climate change and the environment. They are waking up to the fact that our generation, in 50 years, is going to be saddled with these massive [climate] transitions, and if the changes haven’t already occurred, they are going to be in full force by 2050 or 2075, for sure.  So we have a responsibility to take this on. There is growing motivation  among young people to effect change and really tackle it, especially at home. A lot of young people are making more sustainable choices.

You mentioned reusable dishes instead of paper or plastic, and buying sustainably sourced products. What else can people do?

Combining trips and driving less if you have a car. Using energy-efficient light bulbs  and appliances. Using recyclable shopping bags. But the biggest pollution really comes from our direct use of petroleum and oil products. Activities where we can decrease our consumption, like driving, can make a huge difference. If everyone in the U.S. had an electric car — there is still some CO2 produced by electricity, but even so — it would produce a fraction of carbon emissions of those driving gasoline- or diesel-powered engines.

Dougan, during the time he served as a U.S. youth observer, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Courtesy photo)

Climate change is hard to understand. How can your message get to more people?

To incentivize action and communicate the severity of climate change, scientists can use plain language and not make it too complex. Use stories. Use pictures. Get people out so they have exposure to nature and our natural resources, so they can identify with what is happening. An example is California’s drought. People can see that and … they have a visceral response.

It is important that people understand the issues, contact their politicians and make their voices heard  to combat climate change.