We Have 12 Years to Save the Planet: Let's Get to It

Unfortunately, there is a misconception that climate change and global warming is a futuristic issue. Most people realize it is an impending doom, but they put it on the back burner for future generations to deal with. Guess what though, a recent study shows that we have a mere 12 years to reduce the effects of global warming before it’s too late. Let that sink in for a second. I’ll even say it again, we must take action to change our effect on the planet in the next 12 years or it will be too late.

Hopefully that scares you. Personally, I’m about to turn 19, meaning that in 12 years I will be 31. That is not even half my life. There is no more time for sugarcoating the issue or saying it is up to next generation. The time is now, and every single person is responsible for doing their part. That being said, I am going to break down everything for you, from the report that said we have 12 years, to what that means and how you can respond.

For starters, you’re probably wondering where the number 12 came from. The IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was formed by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization in 1988 in order to provide an unbiased and scientific opinion on climate change. They release official reports every few years on the state of our planet, impacts and risks of our behavior, and possible options for change.

In late 2018, they released a report warning that Earth was about to reach a new threshold of warming: 1.5 degrees celsius (2.7F). Currently, the planet has warmed just over 1 degree celsius, and while this may not seem like a lot, if we exceed this level, floods, food shortages, wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, rising sea levels, natural disasters, etc. will all reach an extreme intensity. Not to mention that coral reefs would be 90% wiped out, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and summers in the Arctic would be ice-free, so say goodbye to polar bears.

Now, don’t panic. This does not mean that the world will end in 12 years, or that if we don’t solve our global warming issues in 12 years, we stop trying. However, it means we need to seriously take a look at our emissions and effect on the planet before it’s too late. The IPCC’s solution is that we must reduce carbon dioxide emissions 45 percent by 2030 if we hope to maintain a liveable planet. While lowering our emissions like this is not impossible, and many countries are already taking steps toward it, it is a huge global issue. Every person must actively take steps to help the planet and must encourage lawmakers to bring this issue to the forefront.

Now that you understand how dire our current situation is, you hopefully want to take action. You might be thinking, how do I personally reduce carbon when I don’t use it? Or maybe you’re thinking, I am just one person, how can I possibly make a difference? Here is the thing: carbon dioxide is used and emitted in thousands and thousands of ways. You probably know that carbon is emitted when you drive your car, and when you use household appliances, but you may not know that carbon is used and emitted in clothing production, plastic production, food production and millions of other ways.

Specifically, when clothes are made, they require fossil fuels that turn into carbon. Then, when the consumer uses, washes, irons or throws the clothes away, they continue to emit carbon. In addition, if clothing is produced overseas, the transportation to the U.S. emits even more carbon. Plastic products have a similar issue, and when they are thrown away they emit carbon as they lay in trash heaps and in oceans. Even the resources and transportation of the food we eat requires fossil fuels which turn into carbon dioxide. The demand for food is only increasing. This also requires cutting down more trees, which not only contributes to carbon emissions, but diminishes animal habitats and results in more animals making the endangered species list (giraffes are now on the endangered list for the first time). The scary fact: these are just a few of the millions of ways we emit carbon, and your personal carbon footprint is probably larger than you think.

Now that I have sufficiently scared you and/or made you upset, it’s time to do something. You can start small, but at this point, I suggest the go-big-or-go-home philosophy. Here is a list of five things you can change in your everyday life:

  1. Stop using single-use plastic. This is anything from plastic bags, staws, silverware, containers, etc. If you are still using plastic, watch this video. Ask yourself if your avocado really needs that produce bag, and take reusable bags everywhere (not just to the grocery store). Buy yourself a reusable water bottle that you love. If you really want to be amazing, take your own tupperware to a restaurant if you know you will have leftovers.

  2. Walk places, carpool, or choose a route with less traffic. Less stalling your car during traffic means less carbon emissions, plus walking or biking is great exercise.

  3. Take care with home appliances. Keep your lights off during the day, line dry your clothes, turn off the water in your shower when lathering up, and unplug your appliances when not in use (including your phone charger, just having it plugged in uses energy).

  4. Shop sustainably and start thrifting. Research what companies you buy products from, and choose companies that are environmentally conscious. Understand that spending a little more money on quality clothing you will have for a while is better than fast fashion (aka stop buying from companies like Forever 21 and H&M).

  5. Stop eating (or eat less) meat. Adopt #MeatlessMonday as a starting point and then maybe eat meat only four times a week. Red meat is more damaging than poultry, so if you can cut that out altogether, that’s even better. Eat more plants, #PlantPower is real.

Your personal actions may seem small right now, but down the line, your choosing of a metal straw or eating less meat makes a huge impact. (Seriously, if you are not using metal straws already you are living in the stone age.) FYI, Monday, April 22 is Earth Day. There is literally no time like the present.