By Philip Meng and Eric Wu
Photography by: Shanting Hou and Julian Lau
Our generation’s largest upcoming challenge is that of Climate Change, an issue that has virtually no borders and requires the cooperation of all countries to combat. Unfortunately, misinformation on this topic, has led many to believe false facts and theories about climate change. This article aims to give readers an unbiased, scientific explanation of the main causes and consequences of climate change, and shine light on the actions we all can and should do to save our planet.
First of all, climate change and global warming are two different concepts that are often mistaken for the same thing, which they are not. The important difference is that global warming only refers to the Earth’s rising temperature, whilst climate change refers to the shifts in Earth’s climate and weather patterns. In a simple explanation, global warming is only a piece of the much larger problem of human-caused Climate Change.
Throughout its 4.54 billion year history, Earth’s temperature has fluctuated dramatically many times and these extreme changes in temperature and climate happen around every 100,000 years.. Earth has had colder periods, for example, the major ice age from 2.6 million years ago until around 11,700 years ago, and warmer periods, including the Holocene interglacial period that we are currently in.
Most recently the Earth’s temperature has increased at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years. The main causes for the sudden increase of Earth’s temperature include the extensive destruction of marine ecosystems, deforestation, overpopulation, but most importantly the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels contain a huge amounts of carbon, and therefore when they are burnt, they release excessive amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This contributes largely to the greenhouse effect, a natural process that warms the Earth’s surface. This process works similarly to a greenhouse in which the glass walls of a greenhouse trap the sun’s heat, increasing the temperature inside the greenhouse. In the earth’s case, an array of greenhouse gases in the including methane and carbon dioxide, trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, increasing the temperature of the earth.
As the earth’s temperature becomes increasingly hotter, we are seeing worse and more extreme impacts on our climate and weather. Some of the expected and observed environmental effects include extreme changes in weather and climate, changes in ecosystems, desertification, acidification of the oceans, extinction of species, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, etc. These drastic changes in the environment can cause and have already caused extremely detrimental effects to the human population, including deadly heat waves that have caused 36 deaths and counting, wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes in California, a severe food crisis caused from the 2011 East Africa drought and more. These consequences are irreparable, and immediate change is needed to prevent such detrimental effects.
As governments and companies have deemed largely unresponsive to this pressing issue, young individuals decided to take this issue into their own hands, most significantly, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg. Thunberg’s famous words are, “The eyes of all future generations are upon you.” Representing that the future generations need the United Nations to work together. As the leading figure in the modern fight against climate change, Greta Thunberg has started many school strikes globally and was recently invited to the United Nations to give a speech about climate change. She has gained the attention of millions of children and adults, many of whom have joined in on these environmental strikes. Recently, the prestigious Harvard-Yale football game was delayed after students and alumni stormed the football field to protest climate change. A banner held by the students read, “Nobody wins. Yale & Harvard are complicit in climate injustice,”.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic New York Representative has also been pushing for social change in the U.S, she aims to mitigate the effects of climate change by sponsoring the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is a proposed legislation that pushes for transitioning the United States to use 100% renewable, zero-emission energy sources and tackling poverty and mitigating the effects of this massive transition. Though theoretically sound, the Green New Deal failed to advance in the U.S. Senate.
As established, climate change is a world-threatening issue, but still, world leaders and large companies in the status quo are barely doing anything. Though small advancements that aim to promote sustainability like the Carbon Tax in several European countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway are underway, many politicians and power figures are still ignoring the pressing issue that is climate change.
An example would be the United States, who under the Trump administration has grown less environmentally friendly. Since President Trump took office in 2017, the government has rescinded dozens of environmental rules, saying the regulations were burdensome to the fossil fuel industry and other businesses. An example of the Trump administration’s dismissal towards climate change is their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, an agreement within the United Nations on Climate Change, dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance signed in 2016. This action sent a strong signal to the world that President Trump, who has scoffed at climate science, is willing to reverse climate policies created during the Obama administration, and that he does not deem climate change an important or pressing issue.
Mitigating Climate change isn’t an issue that just lies in the hand of the rich and powerful, all citizens of this earth can strive to make a change. For example, substituting of beef and lamb with chicken in your diet could reduce your carbon emission of each meal by 10 times. Just checking that your lights and any unused electronic device are switched off each time you step out the door can increase energy efficiency. Or try flying on airplanes less – an airplane round-trip usually results in 1.6 tonnes of C02. Another change could be utilizing renewable energy in your everyday life, including electric cars, solar panels, etc. It is important that we all make changes to become environmentally friendly, studies have shown that when someone becomes more eco-friendly, others follow suit. These acts may seem small, but the change it will create will be immeasurable and crucial to saving our environment.