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Climate Change - Why It Matters
Catastrophic. Devastating. A global nightmare. We hear these words thrown in our faces from the news and on social media—but why exactly is climate change so bad? Is this another case of media over-exaggeration, or is there really a cause for worry?
The impacts of this issue are often hard to visualize. There are also misconceptions about what climate change is, and whether or not it’s actually caused by mankind. Because of this, we tend to underestimate and overlook the damage being done to the planet. Therefore, it is important to be knowledgeable about the issue so we can come together and find solutions.
First, let’s overview some basic information about climate change. According to NASA, it is “a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere.” So while there have been other changes in the earth’s climate throughout history, climate change refers to this specific event.
How do we know climate change is actually happening, and that it’s human-caused? There are several indicators that provide compelling evidence for this. The first is the occurrence of a global temperature rise of 2°F. This may not sound like much, but when we consider the averages across the entire surface of the earth over time, this increase is very significant as global temperatures from one year to the next only fluctuate in fractions of a degree.
Ocean acidification is another indicator. According to climate scientists, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent since the start of the industrial revolution. This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year. Ocean acidification has already led to negative effects on coral reefs. You can read more about this here.
A graph displaying the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) over the past 400,000 years. Image: NASA.
While the Earth has seen changes in climate before, none have been to the scale that we are seeing today. These numbers may seem obscure or obsolete…so why should we care about fossil fuel emissions and damages to the earth when they may be hard to see in our every day lives? What are the risks for current and future generations?
Scientists say, according to the New York Times, that in the next couple decades the climate will be similar to how it is today, with more of the extreme heat waves we have been seeing. Rainfall would be heavier in many parts of the world, but the periods between those rains will likely be hotter and drier. The number of hurricanes and typhoons may decrease, however they will likely have more intensity from a warmer ocean to draw energy from. Coastal flooding will grow more frequent and damaging, and this is already occurring.
In the longer term, if emissions continue unchecked, scientists fear that agriculture may collapse and governments may destabilize. Even though we cannot see fully into the future, it would be foolish to take chances. Furthermore, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases will improve air quality standards, which are posing a very large health risk through respiratory and heart-related illnesses. For example, the air pollution in China, a leading manufacturer of many of the world’s products, is 36 times above acceptable levels and many citizens develop these health problems.
Climate change is an issue that we need to care about, not only from an environmental standpoint but economically as well, especially if agriculture collapses and there is destabilization and competition for dwindling resources. While this is all speculative, it wouldn't be wise to sit back and wait to see how things play out. We are a part of this planet, and all of our decisions towards it will come back to us in the end.
Here are some ways that you individually can help combat climate change:
Reduce your meat consumption, or become vegetarian or vegan - The agriculture industry accounts for up to half of all greenhouse gas emissions according to the Worldwatch Institute.
Reduce your energy and water consumption - To reduce your energy consumption, you can turn off the lights, unplug electronics when not in use, wash clothes in cold or warm water, and purchase energy-saving appliances. To save water, you can take shorter showers and turn off the faucet when brushing your hands. All of these measures will help save you money on utility bills as well!
Buy local food products - this mitigates the transportation of goods and the releasing of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere
Live in the climate - use heaters and air conditioning only when in extreme temperatures to conserve energy and reduce your footprint.
Reduce and reuse before recycling - reduce the amount of waste you produce and reuse what you can before you recycle them. Recycling, while greener than making a new product, is still a carbon-intensive process and produces its own emissions.
Use your political voice - contact your representatives to tell them you want action on climate change. Tell them that reducing emissions will also build healthier communities, spearhead economic innovation, and create new jobs. You can also vote for politicians who support effective climate policies.
Use your voice as a consumer - You cast a vote in favor of a product whenever you buy it. Be aware of what you're buying and purchase products that are sustainable and local. This includes large-scale purchases like cars.
Spread the word - Tell others about these issues and how they can get involved!