Climate Change: A Planet at the Crossroads

In the past couple of years, it’s become nearly impossible to browse through the internet or join a political conversation without the matter of climate change being brought up. People across the globe have joined the conversation and jumped onto two completely different sides of the matter. We have those who are fighting for climate change, global warming, and the planet, and those who simply do not believe climate change or global warming exist. To that, it’s critical that we say, It does not matter what you think or how you feel. It exists. It's happening. And it's not going away. 

Climate is the average weather of a place. It’s important that we remember that climate can change in the same place over the course of a year—depending on location. Just like individual locations on Earth, our planet as a whole has a climate. This is defined by the averaging out of temperatures and climate types across the globe as a whole. Global warming, a common term brought up in such conversations, is oftentimes used interchangeably with climate change. This, however, should not be the case due to them being two completely separate and different terms. “Global warming refers to surface temperature increases, while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas amounts will effect,” states NASA, in an article featured in their climate change education series. 

Millions argue their case against climate change occurring in reference to the natural cycles that the Earth goes through. In the last 650,000 years on Earth, there have been seven cycles of glacial advancement and retreatment; the end of the last glacial advancement period (or ice age) being 7,000 years ago. The end of this marked the beginning of the modern climate in which Earth sustains itself on today. Additionally, it was a marker for something significant to us—the beginning of the possibility of human civilization. 

There is great validity in pointing out Earth’s natural climate change cycles. Scientists cannot simply ignore the history of the Earth and not take it into account when determining exactly what it is that is going on with our planet. The case of the matter is that scientists have taken that into account, greatly. Scientific data has been gathered through satellites in space, as well as other advanced technology that has allowed us to look at the, “big picture.” These advancements are great due to their ability to collect different types of data and information on the entire globe in such an efficient way. 

NASA points out that the current global warming trend is significant and different to other patterns of climate change due to the >90% that human activity is directly affecting it. To completely disregard human activity and claim it not have any effect on the greater environment is near stupid. On a smaller scale, the cars that we drive and the gases they release into the air is an issue. On bigger scales, the corporations and industries that pour thousands of gallons of chemicals into fresh-water bodies of water, throw tons of garbage and plastic into the ocean, and release tons of gases into the air on a daily basis are having a massive effect. 

It’s critical to remember that any time we are burning something—whether it be gas, chemicals, or fossil fuels—we are releasing gases into the air. This, in turn, causes the air to heat up. This can change the climate of a single location. Given that enough individual locations are partaking in those activities, we can—and have—changed the global climate. 

At this point, the evidence for rapid climate change is clear, scary, and the list is just growing. Additionally, there is proof that this cycle of climate change is occurring, “roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming,” (NASA). This is evidenced by ancient tree rings, ocean sediments, glacial core samples, coral reefs, and the layers of sedimentary rocks. Examples of the evidence further demonstrating both global warming and climate change are both horrifying and should scare us into action. 

The list continues to grow as evidence is gathered, but there is already so much evidence that we should be doing something. Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased massively. In fact, Greenland has lost an average of 281 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016. At the same time, Antarctica has lost about 119 billion tons during those same years. The Antarctic ice masses have been diminishing at a tripled rate in the last ten years. On top of that, we have warming oceans, global temperature rises (about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century), sea levels have risen, there is decreasing snow cover, glacial retreating, extreme weather conditions, declining arctic sea ice, and ocean acidification (increase of about 30% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution)! 

Climate change statements and observations have been backed by 18 scientific associations, including the American Chemical Society, The US National Academy of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

With all this evidence in mind, a question must have popped into your head by now: How can I help? While millions of us believe in climate change and want to make a difference, we don’t really know how. It’s abundantly clear that the United States government won’t be doing much to help out the environment, but there’s still plenty that you can do to help. While the things on this list might seem small, if enough of us partake in these, we can really make a huge difference. 

  1. Buy local. Buying local might not seem like a big deal at all. However, by participating in purchasing from local businesses, you are participating in mitigation. Mitigation is the lowering of carbon dioxide levels. The less demand a massive corporation—say Walmart—has from a specific area, the less they will spend on sending products to your area. Therefore, this will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being expelled into the air. 
  2. Reduce, reuse, recycle. This is something that we should all be doing by now, anyways. It’s one of the easiest ways to take care of our planet without having to really think about it. However, it’s easy to forget about the first two R’s in the sequence and jump to recycling. Reducing comes first. Try to push yourself to purchase less stuff. When shopping, make the conscious decision to ask yourself, Do I really need that? Secondly, reusing the things you already have or can easily get is your second best bet. Clothing makes a great example for this. Thrift or swap clothes with your friends! If you absolutely cannot reduce or reuse something, either recycle or compost it. 
  3. Reduce water waste and electricity usage. Turn off the lights when you aren’t in the room. Unplug electronics if they don’t need to be charging. Don’t leave water running if not necessary. 
  4. Reduce emissions in transit. Instead of driving your car, try carpooling, biking, walking, or riding public transit when possible. If you’re reading this, you’re most likely in college, which luckily means that public transit is likely available to you to use. It’s cheap (sometimes even free for college students, check with your school!) and great for the environment. 
  5. Get educated, get involved, and educate others. Do your homework on what it exactly it is that is going on with our planet. Watch documentaries, attend lectures, read, get excited! Involve yourself in pushing for environmental education across the board. All your newfound knowledge shouldn’t just be kept to yourself either, share it with everyone you know! This is something that affects all of us. 
  6. Push for change. Make your voice heard. Talk to your senators and representatives. If you’re wanting to start on a smaller scale, talk to your student government on campus. Schools across the nation should already be making changes and if yours hasn’t, get on it! 

This is a matter that affects all of us. It does not care if we are rich, poor, old, young, fat, skinny, privileged, or struggling in society. We have to stick together if we want change. Because we don’t have a Planet B we can jump to when this one goes down. Make every day Earth Day.