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Humanity is racing toward an uninhabitable Earth. Changing climates come and go in the natural course of time, and humanity has thus far simply weathered them. In the 19th century, however, humanity began to have an impact on this cycle by pumping billions of tons of carbon and other pollutants into the atmosphere. The Industrial Revolution was the beginning of a trend that has only grown in scope over the last two hundred years. In the 1950s, scientists began to notice that global carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were rising and began to question the common wisdom of the day, that seawater would absorb all excess gases that were being pumped into the air (“A Brief History of Climate Change”). From the burning of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio to the general warming of the climate, scientists began to grow alarmed that humanity was walking down a path that was impossible to turn away from. Over the last 40 years, there has been a growing call for action from citizens, activists, scientists, and politicians around the world. The formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the 1970s was a step in the right direction toward fighting against pollution, but there has since been a surge of denial in many parts of the country and proposed solutions have been tepid at best. The United States has not had an effective approach to climate change, and it is imperative that drastic action is taken to evade environmental catastrophe.
To begin, for as long as humanity has existed, it has massively impacted the planet’s environment and ecosystems. Even if greenhouse gasses were to completely stop being emitted into the atmosphere today, it would still take up towards a century for the planet to respond. This is due to the harmful gasses in the atmosphere taking a very long processing time to naturally dissipate. According to NASA, the temperature of the atmosphere is also at risk of rising to six degrees farenheit by 2100. Six degrees, though seemingly meager, will have a drastic effect on the severity of weather events. Storms, heat waves, floods, and droughts will become more drawn out, and increasingly more violent than the average storms today. In an article published on Mother Jones, several researchers stated that a slowly heating atmosphere impacts the way weather patterns form and travel. Wet areas will become even wetter and dry areas drier, which will lead to difficulties in agriculture. If humans want to preserve the planet for future generations, action needs to be taken today to ensure a brighter and cleaner future.
Furthermore, despite being a subject that drastically impacts lives and ways of living, the US government has not done enough to take action on the topic of climate change. In fact, there are several political leaders that believe climate change is just a theory (in the colloquial sense), regardless of the evidence that the climate is changing. For those politicians that do believe in the impacts of climate change, it is difficult to pass bills when many politicians find other matters more urgent emergency. Historically, the US government’s involvement has not been prevalent through countless horrific events. Take, for example, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, which was so polluted with oil and runoff from local factories that the river was set ablaze. The first fire happened in 1868, but movements to counteract the pollution didn’t happen until 1969 according to Ohio History Central. Events and tragedies like this need immediate action taken by leaders to jumpstart preventative measures. Other countries have taken action into their own hands by implementing small scale changes to their society. The German government has an innovative recycling system that pays people back for everything they recycle. In the US, however, shockingly 91% of all “recycled” plastic does not get recycled according to an article published in National Geographic. Plastics in the US first started being produced only a century ago, the Science History Institute reflects, and the first pieces of plastic are still completely intact as it takes hundreds of years to decompose. The government’s active ignorance to climate change is a matter that needs to be addressed and time is running out for it to do so.
Moreover, the agricultural sector contributes immensely to greenhouse gas emissions and its impact must be greatly reduced. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture makes up 14 to 18 percent of global emissions (“How to Feed the World in 2050”). A single cow produces as much methane in a single day as a car produces carbon dioxide (“Are Cows the Cause of Global Warming?”). In the United States alone there are almost 95 million cows. Methane as a greenhouse gas is 23 times more effective at trapping heat inside the atmosphere than carbon dioxide and is a major contributor to the impact that agriculture has on the environment. The calorie intake of Americans is increasing: since 1961, the average daily intake for Americans has risen by more than 24 percent (Fierberg). In order to accommodate rising demand, deforestation has increased to make way for fields for crops (“Huge Increase in Amazon Deforestation Rate”). As a consequence, with fewer and fewer plants such as trees able to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, there is necessarily a net increase in CO2 emissions. With the increase of the size of fields comes an increase in the use of diesel- and gasoline-powered farming equipment, leading to an increase in greenhouse gas production. In the end, the situation becomes an ever-hastening increase in emissions and a decrease in the availability of plants to aid in the absorption of gasses. The impact of agriculture on greenhouse gas emission and climate change in general must be addressed in any proposed legislation targeting a reduction in the rise of global temperatures.
Equally important, climate change is wreaking havoc on farming and agriculture. Increasing temperatures result in more variable weather, which can cause more severe of storms and can make flooding more common (Extreme Weather). According to the EPA, “Climate change could make it more difficult to grow crops, raise animals, and catch fish in the same ways and same places as we have done in the past.” Such difficulties could lead to increased prices and even famines. The EPA also mentions that the United States accounts for 25 percent of the world’s wheat production. Many factors like heightened CO2 emissions, drier soil, drought, and extreme weather can lead to a diminishing crop yield, which would have a ripple effect on the food supply around the globe. Higher temperatures also have significant effects on livestock; heat waves from climate change are becoming more common and can lead to diseases, lower fertility rates, and a reduction of milk production. Fisheries are having troubles resulting from climate change as many aquatic species migrate in search for cooler water. Not only does this affect fisherman and fish consumers, but it also has significant impacts on both the species that are migrating and the other species that were already in the habitat (Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply). Additionally, according to “The Impacts of Climate Change On Human Health in The United States: A Scientific Assessment,” climbing temperatures and extreme weather are key for “pathogen introduction, food contamination, and foodborne disease.” Such consequences would be detrimental to society. A foodborne pathogen outbreak due to climate change is an avoidable catastrophe but becomes more likely as temperatures continue to increase. It is evident that climate change has the potential to have significant implications on the world’s agriculture.
In addition, it is projected that the frequency of extreme weather events will continue increasing into the next century. Over the last 50 years, the U.S. has experienced an increase of excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, horrible winter storms, and in some areas severe floods and droughts (“Extreme Weather and Climate Change”). In recent years, summers have been beating record high temperatures and leaving areas severely dry causing more wildfires (“Heat Waves and Wildfires”). Along with hot temperatures, this is causing many states such as California, Nevada, and Arizona to be in a drought. Since the early 1980s, there has been an increase in Atlantic hurricane activity (“Menu”). This means that the measure of intensity, frequency, and duration of the storms keep increasing and are becoming some of the strongest hurricanes that the United States has recorded. Scientists believe the causes for this are linked to the heightened sea surface temperatures in the region that the Atlantic hurricanes in which they are forming. Winter storms have been increasing not only in frequency but also with intensity since the 1950s, which is due to the atmosphere holding more moisture which then causes a heavier snowfall (“Winter Storms”). According to “Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?,” over the past five decades, satellites reveal that the amount of snow covering the Northern Hemisphere has been decreasing faster than what has been projected. In 2018, it was claimed that winter in the Arctic was the warmest it had ever been. Lastly, the arctic ocean has lost more than 95% of its oldest and thickest ice since 1985 and its glaciers have shrunk by two-thirds (Glick). It is believed that the cause of this is the burning of fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which results in warmer weather and in the melting of ice and the temperatures changing in the oceans. Weather events are starting to become more extreme and will continue if drastic changes are not made.
Additionally, climate education must become more of a priority. There are still many people who don’t believe that climate change is occurring. According to a survey backed by the National Center for Science Education, only three out of four high-school teachers discuss climate change in their classes and of those, 30 percent report to their students that humans are only partially to blame. This negligence undermines the serious issue of climate change. Future generations will need to know both how dangerous climate change is how to effectively stop or reverse it. The changing climate is making it more challenging for some children to get education, especially those in places with poor education systems. Natural disasters caused by climate change can destroy schools, and effect the economy, both of which lower student enrollment. For example, “In 2010, heavy monsoons led to devastating floods in Pakistan that destroyed 11,000 schools” (Chuang et al). It is for reasons like these that it is urgent that something be done about climate change. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been making strides toward a wider reach of climate education. Through their Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development program, they aim “to make climate change education a more central and visible part of the international response to climate change” (Climate Change Education). This program and others take the initiative to provide education for young and old alike and add to climate literacy, which will result in better public awareness of the problems concerning the changing climate. Where there is a populace who is both educated about and concerned with the issues of climate change, there is populace who is better able to work toward negating climate change. Proper education of climate change is invaluable for the future generation’s ability to reduce climate change.
Fortunately, there are a few solutions that are viable to achieve a more sustainable society. One such way is to support political candidates that have combating climate change apart of their agenda. There are many presidential candidates for 2020 who acknowledge the severity of climate change: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker, and Sec. Julian Castro are but a few examples. There are also ways an individual can easily limit their environmental footprint. Walking, biking, or taking public transit to work and other obligations can greatly reduce emissions. Investing in renewable resources like solar and wind energy will be a necessary leap into the future of global sustainable energy. There are petitions like the one by Terrapass that can encourage tax incentives for companies who invest in renewable energy. Another important way the population could minimize its footprint is to eat less; eating less meat and more plants will not only lead to a more sustainable food supply, but also help curb the rising climate. The most important thing that can be done is to inform; make others aware of the severity of the rising climate, and share the actions that desperately need to be taken. Without awareness of the problem, there is no chance of a successful solution.
The United States is failing in its obligation to combat climate change. Among the lack of an educated populace, the lack of concern regarding urgency, and the lack of laws working to combat climate change, there is much that is urgently needed to be done to minimize catastrophic effects of climate change. Taking responsibility for the climate and how it is affected will be crucial in maintaining a sustainable society in the future.
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