April is Earth Month.

This is a time when newspaper organisations can take some satisfaction in knowing they produce a highly recyclable product (newspaper) and are moving toward more digital products every day, thereby limiting their overall impact on the planet.

Feel good?

Not so fast. The concerns about the air we breathe are now moving well beyond mundane recycling issues.

What we now understand better: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its third report this April, “Mitigation for Climate Change 2014.” Since 1990, the IPCC has released a series of such reports every five years or so, providing an update of what we know about the changing climate and its effect on our planet.  

With every report series, the number of observations increases, the science progresses considerably, and the climate models rise in precision and accuracy. Thousands of people contribute to these reports as authors, contributors, reviewers, and observers.

The three update reports released so far are:

  1. Working Group I: “The physical evidence of Climate Change,” Fall 2013 (video)

  2. Working Group  II: “Adaptation strategies for Climate Change,” March 2014 (video)

  3. Working Group III: “Mitigation for Climate Change,” April 2014 (Web site)

The physical evidence of the impact of our changing climate on our ecosystems is no longer in doubt (see Report No. 1). The conclusion drawn is that the main cause of the change is the increase of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere, which trap the heat. This increase is caused mainly by human activity.

How do scientists know?  They look back 800,000 years in time and show there is a direct correlation between temperature and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations.

As you can see, the CO2 level never went above 300 parts per million (ppm) in the measurable past. We reached a daily average of 400 ppm this month.

To boldly go where no one has gone before: Increasing the temperature of our planet without fully understanding the consequences (and blithely assuming there won’t be any) might be reckless. How can we expect nothing to change?

Over the past four decades, the trend of increasing GHG concentration in our atmosphere has intensified, with the 2000-2010 decade showing the greatest increase of the previous four decades.

How can we continue to improve our standard of living and eradicate poverty while allowing for population growth? That’s our challenge and the challenge of the generations that follow us.

Action is needed: The IPCC suggests that combining adaptation strategies with mitigation actions is the most helpful.

Adaptation strategies are a form of risk management. Our ability to adapt is based on three aspects: vulnerability, adaptive capacity, and resilience.

Adaptation strategies are generally local in focus, meaning the benefits mainly accrue to a specific group or space. Adaptation strategies are best if implemented as add-ons to already existing programs and traditions.

Mitigation is defined as a human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases. Mitigation strategies are global in nature and require strong international cooperation.

From an operations point of view, the news media industry certainly can combine adaptation strategies and mitigation actions. Together, we could:

  • Review our paper sources: Increase our use of recycled fibre in our paper products. Consider using straw when possible.

  • Ensure proper recycling of our products: Municipal codes vary from city to city. We should work to ensure our newsprint gets recycled properly.

  • Conserve energy: Power down computers at night and moderate the building temperature so it is neither too cold in summer nor too warm in winter.

  • Be energy efficient: Change your light bulbs to LED lights, consider hybrid vehicles and LEED- certify your building.

  • Add renewable energy to your mix: Ensure part of a greater part of your energy mix comes from renewable sources.

  • Transport: Offer coupons or rebates to your staff to encourage public transportation. Add bike racks if possible.

  • Support our forests: Fund a campaign to add forest where there is none (afforestation) or to add to the current canopy (reforestation); and adopt the Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC) standard on all your paper purchases.

Much bolder mitigation actions are obviously needed. But we have the responsibility to take actions, to lead, and to ensure we properly inform the public.

Using the comments below, feel free to add other strategies and actions that your organisation is taking. Let’s share the knowledge and the successes.