Hey, You! Let’s save our planet

/ Kerstin Langenberger

 

Over the past century or so, human civilization has evolved immensely. The world has taken a huge step forward when it comes to technology. We have giant cities filled with massive skyscrapers, jet planes that can fly us across the world in hours and technology that gives us access to unlimited information on a global network or allows us to communicate with anyone in the world at any time.

The problem is, the things we do to sustain our everyday lives are leading our planet into an unstable state. Global temperatures are increasing, weather is becoming unpredictable and sea levels are rising. Climate change is a real and, furthermore, serious problem that is happening before our eyes and yet a majority of people act as though it’s a myth. The people that do believe that our climate is being affected by our actions don’t seem to care enough to make changes.

Before talking about what is causing climate change, it’s important to highlight research. There are plenty of scientific facts that prove climate change is occurring and these facts are very accessible. The NASA website directed towards climate change provides plenty of reasons.

Our planet’s sea levels have been rising dramatically over time, and are only getting worse. According to NASA, sea levels have risen more than 17 centimetres in the past century. The scarier part is that in the last decade, the sea levels have risen more than double what they did the first half of the century. If sea levels keep rising, whole cities can literally be washed away. Don’t think this hasn’t started because Southern Florida is flooding as we speak. Miami Beach has had to install pumping systems that pump the water out of their streets and back into the Atlantic Ocean because of what they call “sunny flooding”. This is when it’s a perfectly sunny day, no clouds in the sky, and yet water begins to rise through the storm drains. Places such as Miami, Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and the entirety of the Florida Keys are at great danger. Scientists say that by 2045, the sea levels around the Florida Keys will rise another 15 inches, which would mean residences and stores could be constantly flooded and the cities would not be sustainable.

The second effect of climate change involves the global temperature of the planet. Over the last 12 years, nine of the 10 hottest years have been recorded. The average temperature has risen 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Although it doesn’t seem like a lot, the planet would be unsustainable if the temperature increase passed the three degree mark.

The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have been rapidly melting over the past couple of decades. Between 2002 and 2006, NASA discovered that over 150 to 250 cubic kilometres of ice sheets had melted. This has a direct correlation with the sea levels rising. On top of ice sheets melting, glaciers around the entire globe are getting smaller and smaller, and oceans are become increasingly warm.

The unstable climate of the planet has already been affecting our lives more than we know. The planet has been more susceptible to extreme weather. We’ve seen more than a few tropical storms this year, floods, wildfires, heat waves, snowstorms, and even hail storms with softball sized hail.

These events that are happening are direct effects of climate change and yet many of us refuse to believe it. We have political leaders that refuse to take action and this is only slowing down the process of making the right decisions as a society to reduce our carbon footprint and slow limit the effects of climate change. We need dedicated politicians in power that will take the necessary steps to get us on the right track. But instead, we still have leaders like Senators James Inhofe and Marco Rubio who constantly refute that climate change is caused by any sort of human impact.

In order to understand how to stop climate change, we have to understand what we are doing that is causing it. National Geographic’s newly released documentary Before the Flood, directed by Fisher Stevens and narrated by environmental enthusiast Leonardo DiCaprio, surrounding climate change that does a critical job of indicating how things we do in our everyday lives impact our planet. The most shocking thing is that an ingredient used in many common products purchased everyday, is produced by burning down the South East Asian Rainforest, one of the only three rainforests left in the world. The ingredient, palm oil, is used because it is the cheapest vegetable oil that exists. By avoiding products that contain palm oil, we can limit the production of the ingredient that destroys our planet.

Another shocking thing is that the amount of beef we consume has an extremely negative impact on the environment. When cows eat grass, they actually release methane into the atmosphere via flatulence. Because of the amount of cows needed to produce the amount of beef that we consume, a significantly large amount of methane is released into the atmosphere from cows alone. Recent studies have actually proven that this release of methane has a large greenhouse gas impact. It is small day-to-day decisions like this that if adopted by all of society could have a major impact on slowing down the effects of climate change.

The United States and China are two of the biggest economies in the world, and also two of the largest emitters. A country such as the United States, a world leader, should be expected to take charge and show the world what it takes to make better decisions, yet they have done nothing to reverse their footprint. People living in China must suffer the consequences of being the Western world’s producers of goods because they are constantly breathing in polluted air that can cause cancer. China is the number one polluter in the world, and this has started a movement by the people to push factories towards becoming environmentally friendly. With nearly 9,000 major factories in China, the dangers of using fossil fuels are obvious. But with the media constantly talking about climate change, the people have become unsettled and it has caused the government to revisit renewable energy plans and has pushed the country to focus more on becoming greener. What needs to happen next is the people of the United States to follow China’s lead, and force the U.S. government to take action. If China and the United States could get things started, the whole world would most likely follow suit and become more renewable.

A very important company that needs to be touched on is Tesla. Tesla has done a great job of trying to solve environmental problems, and making our ways of living more sustainable. They are developing a battery that will store energy gathered using solar panels so that when the sun’s not shining, the energy can still be used. Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, explained to DiCaprio in Before the Flood that the impact this battery will have on the entire world, including developing countries, will be enormous. Without having to run thousands of miles of hydrolines throughout the remote villages, they will still be able to be provided energy thanks to these solar panels collecting energy from the sun and the batteries storing the energy for later use. Musk says it is similar to how a lot of these countries skipped landline telephones and went straight to cellular phones.

It is extremely hard to constantly make the right decisions when it comes to climate change. You cannot expect everyone to always think about the environment when they carry out their everyday lives because we live such busy lives that we don’t have time to stop and think about what we are doing. An interesting proposal to try and get people to move away from fossil fuels and more towards renewable energy would be to implement a carbon tax. Carbon taxes are simple, you are taxed every time carbon is released into the atmosphere. Putting a tax on something raises the price, which ultimately lowers the consumption. Carbon taxes are very similar to taxes on cigarettes. When the prices went up, there was a decline in the consumption of cigarettes. Gregory Mankiw, an economics professor at Harvard, believes that carbon taxes could be helpful, especially since you wouldn’t have to raise taxes. By creating a carbon tax, you can lower other taxes, such as payroll tax.

The most painful thing to realize is that we’ve known about climate change for so long, and yet  we still face the problem because nothing serious enough has been done to combat it. We have extremely efficient ways of using energy without using fossil fuels that hurt the environment. We have solar panels and wind power and yet we still rely on fossil fuels to provide us with energy. It’s been 10 years since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was released, another documentary that had the same message as Steven’s film. Yet here we are in 2016, and we’re not even close to saving our planet.

Let’s talk about how the United States has actually taken a step backwards in their chances of moving more towards renewable energy and reversing climate change. Recent President-elect Donald Trump has very publicly gone against climate change, calling it a “hoax”, which will make him the only world leader publicly against the issue. Trump has selected Myron Ebell, from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead the search for the government team that will be in charge of addressing climate change. The problem is that Ebell is a doubter of climate change himself, repeatedly saying that it is not scientifically proven, yet more of a political consensus that included scientists. What kind of dangers are we in if the United States will have an environmental team full of people who refuse to face the fact that climate change is real?

As a society, we need to step up and take the initiative ourselves. If political leaders are not going to take the necessary steps towards becoming more sustainable, then we must force them to. It has worked in the past, even President Barack Obama was against same sex marriage when he came into office, but the people of his country spoke out and the bill was eventually passed to make same sex marriage legal. If forcing political leaders that have the power to get the world moving towards reducing carbon emissions, such as Trump, to make the right decisions is necessary then it needs to be done.

Our planet is on a path towards disaster and it is up to us to help fix it.

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