What a difference a week makes! Midterms are over, and I'm on spring break! It's amazing how being at home just helps me to relax and clear my head. I love going on all the adventures I have experienced at school, but home will always be home.
So do you guys remember how a few weeks ago I mentioned that I want to start making a real difference on behalf of our planet in the fight against climate change? Well, the only place to start was to do some good, old fashioned research! Today, I'm going to break down some of the information you should know to inform you (and myself) about what we can do to help the planet.
How do we know that something very bad is happening to our planet? According to NASA, the evidence is pretty clear. Data shows that:
- global sea level has risen 17 cm (6.7 in) during the last 100 years. However, the rate it has increased over the past 10 years is about double tat of the last century.
- global surface temperature reconstructions done by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (three of the leading institutions in scientific research) show that the Earth has warmed since 1880, and most of it has occurred since the 1970s. Ten of the warmest years on record have occurred during the last 12 years.
- much of this heat has been absorbed by the oceans, and the top 700 meters (2,300 feet) of ocean have increased by 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. Even though this seems like a really small change, it is quite difficult to increase the temperature of water due to it's chemical properties. Therefore, even a small change is significant.
- between 2002 and 2006, the Greenland ice sheet lost 150 to 250 cubic km (36 to 60 cubic mi) of ice each year, while the Antarctic ice sheet lost 152 cubic km (36 cubic mi) of ice between 2002 and 2005.
- Arctic sea ice is the least extensive in September. Between 1981 and 2010, the reach of September Arctic sea ice has declined by an average of 13.4 percent each decade. Glaciers around the world and spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere have also retreated.
- the number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing and the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing since 1950. The number of intense rainfall events has also increased.
- the oceans also absorb some of the carbon dioxide released by human activity. Increased human emissions of carbon dioxide has increased the acidity of the ocean by 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution, wreaking havoc on coral reefs.
The Environmental Protection Agency says that Earth's average temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century depending on what actions people take.
Why is this happening?
Let's throw it back to science in 7th grade! The Earth is warming because of the ozone layer and greenhouse effect! Here's a neat infographic that gets to the point:
To some extent, the greenhouse effect is normal because it helps keep the Earth at a livable temperature. However, human activities are changing the ozone by increasing concentrations of the greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases (as in CFCs). According to the EPA, these gases come from:
- burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, gasoline, diesel) for transportation, electricity, and industry. In 2010, Electricity and heat production accounted for 25 percent of the world's use of fossil fuels, follwed by agriculture, forestry, and other land use at 24 percent. Since 1900, global carbon emissions from fossil fuels has increased by 90 percent. China consumes 28 percent of the world's fossil fuels, followed by the United States at 16 percent.
- agriculture: Not only do we burn fossil fuels to transport supplies to farms and food to grocers, but the waste of animals creates methane gas. Fertilizers can also create nitrous oxide which is more damaging to the atmosphere, and pesticide run off releases chemicals into the environment that can significantly affect ecosystems. Agriculture, especially animal agriculture, guzzles up water and other resources that could be used by humans directly. Killing predators to protect livestock on land and fisheries in the oceans also disrupt ecosystems.
- humans just because we're alive. There are billions of people on Earth, and we take up space. That means we have to cut down forests for places to live and build factories to produce all of the things we need. By cutting down these forests, we're reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that is taken out of the atmosphere by trees and plants, who use it for photosynthesis. Note that land is also cleared for the sake of agriculture. It is estimated that 45 percent of all land mass on Earth is used for animal agriculture.
Since 1990, the United States has increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent each year on average.
Why does this matter?
If some of the information I included above didn't already make it clear, climate change is not only disastrous for the planet, but it's also dangerous for us. Pollution itself is making us sick!
- Drinking or swimming in water affected by a harmful algal bloom can cause rashes, stomach or liver illness, respiratory problems, and neurological conditions. If an infant drinks water too high in nitrates, a compound found in fertilizer, it may become seriously ill or die. The byproducts of water treatment can cause reproductive and developmental health risks or even cancer.
- Air pollution can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and breathing difficulties; worsening of existing lung and heart problems, such as asthma; and increased risk of heart attack. It can cause acid rain and damage crops and forests.
- With more extreme heat events, more people are at risk of developing heat related illnesses such as heat stroke, especially infants, young children, the elderly, and those who are already sick.
- If winters are warmer, there is a greater opportunity for insects to spread infectious diseases in new areas.
In a class called, "The Global Majority," that I took last spring, I learned that the poor are the most vulnerable to climate change. The Global Majority/Global South, or the people that live in developing nations, are concentrated in the Southern Hemisphere. Although the effects of climate change are expected to hit the Northern Hemisphere much more severely, any change that makes the hot Southern Hemisphere hotter would be disastrous. In some ways, people in the Northern Hemisphere will benefit from warmer temperatures. As a side note, did you guys notice how mild this winter generally was? Wasn't that kind of nice? Well that was climate change at work. In developing nations, there will be greater competition for water, people will die due to sanitation issues and natural disasters exacerbated by the effects of climate change, and people will lose their livelihoods, especially small-scale farmers.
Additionally, if Earth is unlivable, where can we go? With rising sea levels, coastal communities at sea level face inundation. Additionally, hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean have grown stronger in the last 20 years and have put people's lives and livelihood in greater danger. We could also lose out on some of our favorite recreational activities like going to the beach (beach erosion) or skiing (warmer temperatures=less snow).
What can we do to slow and stop global warming?
There are many things that need to be done to stop global warming. As a population and as individuals, people need to commit to finding solutions and taking action toward a sustainable future. Essentially, much of our energy infrastructure needs to be overhauled to focus on sustainable sources of energy like solar, hydroelectric, and wind energies. All of this depends on collaborations between politicians, scientists, engineers, architects, business owners, and all citizens. The United Nations has developed the Sustainable Development Goals to help the Global South achieve a decent and fair standard of living. Addressing climate change is an essential part of those goals and reflects how this is a global issue that requires the collaboration between nations.
Individually, we can use energy efficient appliances at home, use heating and cooling systems responsibly, seal and insulate buildings so energy isn't wasted, recycle and compost, use water responsibly, use fuel-efficient vehicles and maintain them, bike or walk or use public transportation instead, and create green spaces or gardens by our homes or in our neighborhoods. You can check out your personal carbon footprint by using the EPA's Carbon Footprint Calculator. The UN has also come up with The Lazy Person's Guide to Saving the World which I just stumbled across and very much enjoyed.
You might not want to hear this, but reducing the consumption of meat and other animal products can positively impact the environment as well. I have also linked to it above, but I highly recommend the documentary Cowspiracy. They do a much better job explaining all of this information, but going vegan could be one of the most important things people do for the sake of the planet, in addition to the benefits that it has for the animals and for our personal health. However, I understand that it isn't easy to see climate change from this perspective, and we have attachments to the foods we eat for a reason. Here, I hoped to give you the facts and explain why I do some of the things that I do, but I recognize that every person makes their own decisions. I hope my blog shows that being a vegan doesn't have to be about deprivation or be boring, and it can actually benefit and enrich our lives in many ways.
Ultimately, we need to ask the people that have the power to create more extensive changes to do so. (Cough cough we're voting for the next president later this year cough.) The bottom line is that we should care about this planet we call home, and we need to take action to save it! I know that I threw a lot of information at you, but I hope it was interesting and helpful to you! I know what changes I will make going forward to reduce my carbon footprint, and I hope you're inspired to do the same!
As a reward for making it through this long post, here are some inspiring photos of nature I have taken over the past few years!