There are plenty of simple ways people can help combat climate change. Washing clothes in cold water, using less plastic, installing solar panels and bicycling instead of driving are a few options.

But one of the most important things individuals can do is even simpler. People need to talk about it more, according to the moderator at a climate change forum at the University of Mary Washington this week.

“I believe nothing has happened because we’re not talking about it enough,” said Pamela Grothe, a climate scientist and assistant professor in UMW’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science. “People want to feel they’re part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

The forum Thursday night was part of a global 24-hour series of presentations organized by the Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit founded in 2006 by former Vice President Al Gore with the goal of solving the climate crisis. On Wednesday and Thursday, presenters trained by Gore organized more than 1,600 events in all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, as well as 77 other countries around the world.

The goal of the presentations was to start a global conversation about ways local communities can work together to address climate change.

“We are not here to discuss climate impacts,” said Grothe, who moderated the Climate Reality Project event at UMW. “Fear will not motivate us to fix the problem.”

Julie Kay, the co-founder of Fossil Free Fredericksburg—a group of citizens advocating for the city to set a goal of getting 100 percent of its electrical power from renewable energy sources by 2050—attended Gore’s training to become a Climate Reality Leader in May.

She gave a short presentation pointing out some the ways climate change is already affecting us—including the rise of catastrophic weather events that in 2017 and 2018 cost $653 billion, making them the costliest back-to-back years for weather disasters on record, according to a 2018 report by risk management firm Aon.

Kay then discussed some of the many ways communities, countries, businesses and industries are showing that a move away from relying on fossil fuels is possible and affordable. She said both wind and solar energy capacities have vastly exceeded estimates set back in 2010—by 17 times, in the case of solar energy.

The cost of solar panels and lithium batteries is decreasing, and the number of companies that have pledged to go fossil-free and countries that plan to phase out gasoline-powered vehicles is growing, Kay said.

She also said grassroots movements focused on local solutions—groups like Fossil Free Fredericksburg—are growing.

“Every meeting of Fossil Free Fredericksburg has more people,” Kay said, adding that the group expects City Council to approve the 2050 renewable energy goal in early December.

Following Kay’s presentation, Grothe moderated a panel discussion with Kay and three student climate activists—Lily Tipling, a fifth-grader at Conway Elementary in Stafford County; Emma Devine, a student at Brooke Point High School in Stafford and UMW student Lis Heras.

The students talked about ways they try to help the environment.

Lily, who last year successfully advocated for Stafford public schools to stop buying plastic straws, said she tries to use less plastic and Styrofoam and is now trying to start a Do Good Club at her school to encourage her fellow students to think about their environment.

Emma said she works with her family to minimize the household’s landfill waste and also tries to “tie climate awareness into whatever I’m doing.” Heras said she tries to buy less and use secondhand goods as much as possible.

The panelists encouraged people who feel anxiety about climate change to join local organizations such as Fossil Free Fredericksburg and the Rappahnanock Sierra Club group.

“I feel better when I’m in these activist groups, because then you’re part of the solution,” Heras said.

Kay also said people who are concerned should reach out to political candidates and ask them to talk about their plans for tackling the climate crisis.

“Even just talking about climate change is doing something about it,” said Emma.

I feel better when I’m in these activist groups, because then you’re part of the solution. LIS HERAS,

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