Stop ruining the future

Smoke billows from a coal-fired power plant in November in Shanxi, China.

John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion who focuses on climate change and social justice. Follow him on Snapchat, Facebook and email. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Climate change can seem so big it's impossible to fix.

Just take a second to think about what's at stake: We're talking super droughts, scarier storms, sinking islands, flooded cities and mass extinctions in the animal world.
If we don't do something -- a lot of somethings -- fast then we could ruin the planet for future generations.
    World leaders and diplomats are expected to gather in New York on Friday to sign the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change. But that treaty, which is hugely significant, and hopefully marks the turning point in the war on fossil fuels, isn't enough on its own to beat this problem. The goal of the agreement is to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels -- which is the fuzzy-ish threshold for especially dangerous climate change.
    But if every country met its pollution-reduction pledge, the atmosphere still would warm 2.7 degrees.
    The Paris Agreement is a start -- it's a promise.
    It has to be followed up with real action if we're going to stop ruining the future.
    Luckily, you already know what's required.
    What do I mean by that? Well, earlier this year, I sent out an email asking for solutions to the climate crisis -- this problem that seems too big to solve. As of Tuesday, 452 of you had logged your solutions on an online form. These ideas are smart. I checked them out, and there's hope they'd work.
    I've listed and expanded on seven of your climate change solutions below.
    Maybe the diplomats gathering in New York this week will take a look.

    1. Defuse the 'carbon bombs'

    The town that stood up to coal
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    The problem: There are massive reserves of fossil fuels -- so-called "carbon bombs" -- buried all over the world. Think coal deposits and oil fields. If we want to avoid disastrous climate change, we have to leave many of these reserves untouched. Without new technology, "no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 degrees Celsius goal," the International Energy Agency says. Coal reserves are the most "unburnable." Research suggests 88% of coal should stay in the ground to help the world meet its climate goals.
    The fix: As part of the "Keep it in the Ground" campaign, activists are targeting the carbon bombs and the places where fossil fuels are sold. I recently attended a fossil fuel auction in New Orleans, for example, that activists attempted to disrupt. In May, 350.org and other environmental activists plan to hold demonstrations at carbon reserves in at least a dozen countries.
    What you said: "The world needs to stop using fossil fuel today," wrote Rebecca Burnell, a reader in Winnipeg, Canada.

    2. Defend the forests

    Watch Brazil's eco-police fight to save the Amazon
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    The problem: Chopping down rainforests moves carbon from trees into the atmosphere. Sometimes the forests are burned, sending carbon dioxide directly into the sky. Other times they are chopped down and allowed to decompose, which also results in greenhouse gases ending up in the atmosphere at an unnatural rate. Globally, it's estimated that 5% to 20% of global emissions are attributable to deforestation.
    The fix: Some countries, including Brazil, are stepping up policing of the forest and employing new technologies, including satellite tracking, to try to monitor the situation. These forests must be protected. But it's not easy to stand up against illegal loggers and oil companies who want to clear-cut the tropics. At COP21, the U.N. climate summit in Paris, I met Diana Rios, from Soweto, Peru, whose father allegedly was killed by illegal loggers because of his activism. She's continuing his fight.
    What you said: Clara Summers, who teaches English in Indonesia, wrote that "we don't pay enough attention to rainforest conservation" and its effect on climate. "Climate change affects ALL of Earth's life, not just humans," she said.

    3. Price climate pollution

    Opinion: We need a price on carbon
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    The problem: Economists and climate scientists agree that there are financial costs associated with each ton of CO2 we humans pump into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. But when there's no price put on that carbon pollution those costs are passed onto the public. The public is left to pay in the form of doctor's visits because of poor air quality; greater risks of flooding in low-lying areas; degraded crop yields; and the loss of ecosystems.
    The fix: Establishing a price on pollution -- like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system -- encourages people and businesses to do less of a bad thing (burning fossil fuels) and more of a good thing (buying power from wind and solar). Think of it as a full accounting of the cost of carbon -- and the negative effects it has on society. The carbon tax in British Columbia, Canada, has reduced CO2 pollution 5% to 15% since it was implemented in 2008. And the economy is growing.
    What you said: "A carbon tax is a simple and efficient solution that can work at the scale of the whole economy. If it is revenue-neutral, it will shift the economy inexorably toward the clean energy solutions we need AND it can reverse regressive taxation and benefit low-income workers and families," said Edward Wolf, from Portland, Oregon. " A proposal to do this will go before the voters in Washington state this fall as Initiative 732!"

    4. Eat smarter

    Why beef is the new SUV
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    The problem: Eating meat and wasting food both contribute considerably to climate change. Globally, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization attributes 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions to livestock. Beef and lamb carry substantially higher carbon footprints than other meats. And if food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest greenhouse gas polluter on the planet, the FAO says. Throwing food away, and letting it rot, has global consequences.
    The fix: Become a "climate carnivore," meaning you avoid eating beef and lamb, which carry higher carbon footprints than other meats. Better still, become a vegetarian or vegan. Whatever your diet, limiting the amount of food you waste -- either by buying less, cooking smarter, or giving away leftovers -- could go a long way toward fixing climate change. Chefs Sam Kass and Dan Barber have been trying to make ending food waste chic. Last year, they served "landfill salad" to world leaders.
    What you said: "Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change," said Ari Solomon, a Los Angeles who works on animal rights. "We need a global initiative to reduce meat consumption worldwide."

    5. F*** the politics (and support education)

    Opinion: Common ground with climate skeptics
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    The problem: Mainstream politicians, especially those in the United States and Australia, continue to deny the realities of climate change, or oppose any efforts to reduce pollution and slow man-made global warming.
    The fix: People, it appears, are coming around way before their leaders. In a small 2014 survey, a majority of Americans said they would favor a carbon tax if the revenues were returned to the public. That idea is on the November ballot in Washington state. Seventy percent of Americans, according to Yale research, support strict carbon dioxide limits on existing coal-fired power plants. And even more -- 77% -- support funding for renewable energy research. Perhaps the best solution to the political feud is to wait for politicians to catch up. We need to talk about this stuff more. Three-quarters of Americans "rarely" or "never" discuss global warming with relatives or friends, according to Yale research. And a recent study found two-thirds of American schools teach climate science poorly. Better communication means better politics.
    What you said: "How do we expect to have politicians to prioritize climate change when the global society itself is not perceiving the issue as an urgent one?" wrote Dimitris Papazisis, a CNN reader in Athens, Greece. "A society that consists of well educated and cultivated people, exposed to multiple cultures and high education/information would have the capacity and capability to automatically categorize the matter as an urgent one. People are very good in reacting to issues that (they) have been taught and/or exposed to during their educational years."

    6. Ditch carbon subsidies

    Qatar, shown from the air, has the world's higest fossil fuel subsidies per capita, according to the IMF.
    The problem: 195 countries have agreed we must ditch fossil fuels this century. Yet many of them continue to prop up fossil fuel industries. Governments threw $5.3 trillion behind dirty energy in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund. That figure includes local pollution costs, which energy prices generally do not account for.
    The fix: End fossil fuel subsidies immediately. As I wrote in December, "If 20 major countries abandoned their subsidies, global carbon dioxide emissions in those countries would decline nearly 11% by 2020, compared with a business-as-usual scenario, according to a recent report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Nordic Council of Ministers. If 30% of those funds were reinvested in clean energy, then emissions could be dropped 18% in the countries studied." Laura Merrill, a senior researcher who worked on the report, told me this is "the elephant in the boardroom."
    What you said: "The very, very simplest way for countries across the globe to rapidly reduce fossil fuel use is for the U.N. to pass a resolution that these government fossil fuel subsidies are to be completely phased out by 2020," wrote Laurie Barlow, from South Pasadena, California. "This relieves governments from contractual obligations in these subsidies and frees up money which can go to reforestation, protection of the great forests like the Amazon and development of carbon sink areas in rural and suburban areas. ... We have no time to waste."

    7. Gamble on tech

    Bill Gates' climate solution
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    The problem: It's going to be difficult (although not impossible) to stop warming well short of 2 degrees Celsius without technological advances. We've already warmed the atmosphere 1 degree, and the World Bank says we're locked into about 1.5 degrees of warming based on the pollution we've already put into the atmosphere and ocean.
    The fix: Technology may be able to help take carbon out of the atmosphere, letting the world boomerang back from an unacceptable level of warming. Better nuclear tech also could provide a clean, cost-effective alternative to coal and gas. But there has to be investment. Bill Gates and others are leading the charge. At COP21 in Paris, the billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft founder announced an initiative to raise billions in private investment for clean tech research. We can make massive strides with renewable energy technologies we already have, but we might as well bet big on the future, too.
    What you said: "I'd love to stop calling renewables 'alternative energy,' and start calling fossil fuels 'alternative energy,'" said Julie Fox Gorte, a reader in New Hampshire. She thinks technology will help get us there.
    Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this list and who has been following CNN's climate coverage.
    Please feel free to email me -- john.sutter@cnn.com -- with suggestions for future stories.