Dear Umbra,

I want to send a letter to my local representatives about global warming and how our whole city and state should take part in stopping it, but I don’t know what to say or how to approach this. Please help!

Hillary Schwartz
Birmingham, Ala.

Dearest Hillary,

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Hmm, I can think of a few things to say. But you might get escorted out of Alabama if you put them in a letter.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Post haste.

Photo: iStockphoto

So on to more constructive advice. First, some general tips. A handwritten or typed letter is more effective (and prettier) than email. It’s best to keep to one page, and to be clear about who you are and the issue that concerns you. Don’t be afraid to get personal — not in the “your mama’s a yellowhammer” way, but in the “here’s why I’m worried, and here’s why I won’t vote for you again unless you do something about this” way. With the election coming up this fall, that last part might carry a wee bit more weight than usual.

Since you have limited space, focus on how this gigantic global problem will hit home. (I am going to give ‘Bama-specific info here, but take heart, ye letter-writers in other states: oddly specific factoids abound.) According to our friends at the Union of Concerned Scientists, sea levels on the Alabama coast could rise 15 inches by 2100, and extreme weather events may become more frequent and more intense. The EPA tells us [PDF] that protecting Alabama’s coast could cost $60 million to $220 million, and that climate change could increase asthma-causing ground-level ozone — which has long been a fly in Birmingham’s ointment. And the National Wildlife Federation thinks changes in Alabama’s habitats could have a significant impact [PDF] on your lucrative fishing and tourism industries. Tourism, by the way, supports about 148,000 jobs down there — perhaps even your own. There’s a chance to insert that personal touch we talked about.

It doesn’t look like anyone from ‘Bama has seen fit to join the emissions-reducing U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement — which is a shame, since 275 mayors representing 48.2 million Americans have. Maybe your mayor would like to be the first in the state! Your senators also do not appear to be climate all-stars, as they have recently voiced support for offshore oil drilling and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling. You’ll want to check out where your local representatives stand — your state conservation voting league is a good place to start — but I’m getting a funny feeling about your odds.

Still, it can only help matters if these folks hear from you. The tide is turning on climate change, and many politicians are beginning to understand the need to take some kind of action.

Here’s a nice, juicy quote that might help more than any factoid could, something ecologist Pat Byington of your Environmental Management Commission told the Birmingham Times a couple of weeks ago: “This is a moral issue. It’s something we all should be concerned about. We should all try to understand it.” Indeed.