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Climate change is impacting so much around us: heat, flooding, health, wildlife, housing, and more. WUSF, in collaboration with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, is bringing you stories on how climate change is affecting you.

Tips For Fighting Climate Change On Individual Level Is Focus of Sarasota Class

Lee Hayes Byron leads a climate change class
Lee Hayes Byron leads a climate change class at Gulf Gate Library in Sarasota on October 8, 2019. Kerry Sheridan/WUSF Public Media

Climate change is a major problem, and solving it will be complicated.

But people can make a difference in their daily lives, a local environmental expert said Tuesday during a free class aimed at empowering individuals to make meaningful changes.

Eating locally, installing better insulation at home and supporting efforts to educate girls globally as a way of cutting back on population growth are just a few ways people can help, said Lee Hayes Byron, director of Sarasota County's University of Florida-IFAS Extension.

Tuesday marked the first time she has has offered the class to the general public. Previously, she’s led similar sessions for clubs and civic groups.

The class is based on the 2017 best-selling book "Drawdown" by Paul Hawken. Compiled by dozens of international scientists, the book ranks the top 100 ways to cut carbon emissions and reduce our negative environmental impact in the next 30 years.

About two dozen attendees at the session, held at Sarasota’s Gulf Gate Library, pulled out their smartphones and logged on to an interactive quiz.

Lee Hayes Byron stands by projector
The class is based on the 2017 best-selling book, Drawdown. Kerry Sheridan/WUSF Public Media

"Which one do you think ranked higher? Composting or reducing food waste?" asked Byron.

The votes begin to show on the screen. Most chose food waste.

"All right, I don't want to give too much time on it, especially when it's looking a little bit lopsided. So you are correct, reducing food waste is found to be number three," Byron said.

Over the course of the one-hour session, participants learned that some of the key solutions to global warming also included installing rooftop solar, driving less, cutting down on food waste, composting, and switching to LED lights.

There were some surprises too, such as rooftop solar power outranking the impact of electric vehicles. 

At the start, Byron showed graphs depicting the mounting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Heat-trapping CO2 is reaching new highs each year, as global warming continues to accelerate.

Lee Hayes Byron points to graph
It starts with a primer on climate science, then goes interactive with a quiz about which solutions outrank others. Kerry Sheridan/WUSF Public Media

She also described how a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that the number of extremely hot days could vastly increase from about five per year currently in the Sarasota area.  

"If we take very slow action, so worst case scenario, Sarasota County could expect 77 days over 105," said Byron.

READ MORE: WUSF's coverage of the Union of Concerned Scientist's "Killer Heat" study

Joy Bush said she came to the session because she worries about the world her three-year-old granddaughter will inherit. Bush said she has already installed solar panels on her home, and has ordered an electric car. Now she plans to talk to her friends about what more they can do.

"What I really liked about this is so much of it talked about individual solutions. So you left feeling hopeful about the things that you could do, as opposed to some of the other things like deforestation and the Amazon that you can't do anything about,” Bush said. “Tonight, I think everybody walked away with something that they can do."

Laurie Bates-Weir said she liked the interactive aspect.

“The science information at the beginning was kind of dire - but truthful,” she said. "But then the suggestions or ideas about what you could do to change what we're seeing happening, I thought were really practical and useful. And something that a regular person could actually do."

A handout of possible solutions.
A handout of possible solutions. Kerry Sheridan/WUSF Public Media

According to Byron, a positive approach is what’s needed in the climate crisis.

"They found in social science research that people shut down with very difficult issues, and they end up not seeing that it's solvable. And this issue is solvable,” she said.

Byron said she may offer the public class again next year, given the positive reception. And she can also provide it upon request for groups like clubs, homeowners’ associations, and civic associations.

And to those who may wonder if one person really can make a difference?

"It matters that everyone takes action," said Byron.

"Those small actions really might not be enough for the global impact. But they are enough if every everyone then sees and takes action globally, and the momentum shifts, which I think is what will happen."

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.
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