The landscape of the world is changing, drastically in some parts, and in others the effects are much more subtle. But even here in the Northwest we can feel the warmer winters. As a nation we can’t make it through spring without wildfires. Tornadoes plague the mid-west; floods, hurricanes, heatwaves, the list goes on. Strange weather is impacting lives everywhere for the worst, and the cost is great. People are losing their lives to severe cold and heat, but we must also consider property damage, family migration, wildlife extinction, with the added potential of a destabilizing food system. What’s the cause of this unusual weather? Climate change.
Throughout the history of Earth there have been changes in climate. Solar and volcanic activity, even shifts in the ocean’s currents can change weather patterns. They remain factors, but these natural phenomenon can no longer account for the current rate of global warming. Our planet has had a fairly consistent cycle over its modern history, and even events like the “little ice age” are linked to natural changes. Over the past century the planet’s temperature has gone up by 1.4 F, and it’s expected to rise another 10 degrees by the end of the century (National Academies). At just over a degree we can feel the pressure. We don’t exactly know what all lies ahead in a hotter world, but we do know why it’s happening.
Before the industrial revolution Earth maintained a balance which we can see by measuring CO2 concentrations in ice-core samples that date back 800,000 years. After we industrialized we started adding CO2 to the atmosphere, and other gases like methane and nitrous oxide, by burning fossil fuels. These gases make it harder for heat to leave the planet by trapping it in the atmosphere, this is known as the Greenhouse Effect. Currently, our way of life puts an estimated 30 billion tons of carbon into the sky every year—135 times that of all yearly volcanic activity (EPA).
It seems like everyone has a different opinion on what is causing this warming. Politicians debate with scientists about the authenticity of man-made climate change. Environmentalists tend to put all the blame on carbon. And in the middle of the debate, 1 in 4 Americans isn’t really concerned about it at all (Saad). The biggest blow to the political discourse happened recently when voters elected Jim Inhofe (R), one of the most prominent climate deniers in America, to the Senate’s highest environmental position. But don’t be misled: 97 % of the world’s scientists agree that we are responsible for kicking open the doors to a new extinction period, and they can prove it with mountains of data (Molina).
While the debate wages on, a new report has come out by a committee put together by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Mario Molina restating what we’ve known for a while: “Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying,” and moreover if we don’t act soon there’s the potential for irreversible consequences (Gillis). I learned about these things in my 7th grade natural sciences class—in Texas. Since then things have only gotten worse. More and more nations have industrialized and equally as important, albeit less discussed, their populations are soaring.
Currently, there are 7.2 billion people on the planet, and that number is expected to grow to 9.6 by 2050. Scientists believed that at that point the population would begin to stabilize, but emerging data suggests the opposite. The population could exceed 12 billion by the end of the century (Thomas). A high population contributes to the overall problem, and according to the InterAcademy Partnership:
The relationships between human population, economic development and natural environment are complex and not fully understood. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the threat to the ecosystem is linked to population size and resource use. Increasing greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depletion and acid rain, loss of biodiversity, deforestation and loss of topsoil, shortages of water, food and fuel indicate how the natural systems are being pushed ever closer to their limits.
Many people view this information as highly debatable. Some even insist that there is a large disagreement among scientists, but one thing is absolutely clear: our world is in crisis. And the majority of data says it’s going to get worse unless we do something about it.
We have one thing in our favor and that is time, but we don’t have much of it. Luckily, the information is getting to us soon enough to act on it. It is our civil duty to demand our government treats these threats with the same voracity as economics and job creation. The time to lean on party politics is over—our food doesn’t care about them. The rising oceans will flood over every ideology from the hand of God to the writ of man. We must hold our elected officials accountable to lowering gas emissions. Funding and foreign policy must be directed at education, family planning, and birth control, which when used in conjunction can stabilize our populations.
We have the intelligence, we have the tools and resources to fix many of these problems, but we must work together—not just as a nation, but as citizens of the world. As a species we face possibly the greatest challenge in history. Above all, if we are win this fight then we must weigh our own values against the destruction they cause. I’m from a generation that all but lives on the web: we blog, play games, video chat—all of which require enormous amounts of power. As much as Google projects itself as environmentally friendly, it along with other companies won’t tell consumers how many data-centers (the hard-drives that house the internet) they own. A data-center can consume as much power as a midsize town. Our Luxuries come with a cost.
If we can all work together–government, people, companies—we can all win together. We inhabit a world where most things political come down to dollar signs, so if we start now it’ll spare our national deficit and subsequently our burden as tax payers. A stable population eases the tension on resources, and helps with the overall issue of climate change. I think most people will agree abundance is better than scarcity. If companies supplement conventional fuels with renewable energy it’ll lower emissions, create jobs, cultivate innovation, and make the transition away from fossil fuels possible without having to suddenly fire, or retrain hundreds of thousands of employees. None of these ideas are unobtainable or even novel, but the clock is ticking. Will we work together or will we die together?
“…and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.”
– Revelations 9:2
(Chair), Mario Molina. WHAT WE KNOW (n.d.): n. pag. What We Know. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.
Advancing the Science of Climate Change. Washington, D.C.: National Academies, 2010. N. pag. Web.
“Causes of Climate Change.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2014.
Saad, Lydia. “One in Four in U.S. Are Solidly Skeptical of Global Warming.” One in Four in U.S. Are Solidly Skeptical of Global Warming. Gallup, Inc, 22 April 2014. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.
Gillis, Justin. “Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2014. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.
Thomas, Ben. “World Population Won’t Stabilize This Century After All – D-brief | DiscoverMagazine.com.” Dbrief. Discover Magazine, 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.
“IAP Statement on Population Growth.” News Rss. The InterAcademy Partnership, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.