Every year, it seems we see news headlines pop up saying it’s the hottest year on record. This past September has been reported to be the hottest September our planet has ever experienced. We constantly hear about climate change being a global epidemic, but why and how is it negatively impacting our planet? Furthermore, with the overwhelming evidence and consensus among the scientific community about the phenomenon, why has it become such a polarizing and political issue?
To put in brief, global warming is triggered by the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, absorbing sunlight and solar radiation reflecting off of the Earth’s surface. Normally, the solar radiation would travel upwards into space and that would be the end of it. However, the greenhouse gases trap this radiation in the atmosphere, causing the planet to get hotter, a phenomenon referred to as a greenhouse effect. To put things into perspective, imagine the whole planet is enveloped by a ceiling layered with double-sided tape, so anything you throw – no matter how fast – just remains there. That’s essentially what’s happening to the pollutants humanity produces every year, such as the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity and emission of CO2 from the transportation sector. This has already had serious consequences for our planet. It’s not just a news-grabbing headline that every year seems to be the hottest on record; it’s a fact. NASA has reported some of the hottest years on its 137-year record to have occurred since 2000. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) further supplements this with their latest report in September highlighting the urgent need for action to reduce CO2 emissions, and specifically, the consequences for our oceans and cryosphere – the frozen landscape of the Earth. The ocean and cryosphere are warming, inciting the rise of sea levels and increasing the severity of coastal catastrophes.
Despite the excess of evidence in support of climate change and the consequences if we do not take action, why do so many Americans actively deny it, including our politicians? Part of it is a general lack of awareness, with a recent poll showing that 13% of Americans did not know whether the climate was changing nor that people were responsible. In addition to this general ignorance, there have also been active propaganda of deliberate misinformation about global warming, funded by supporters of the fossil fuel industry who would otherwise suffer if significant action were taken against climate change since they profit off of the pollution. There is also misinformation being rampantly spread by the current political administration, citing climate change as conspiracy theory or a hoax made up by China.
Nevertheless, many nations and individuals have taken a stand for healing the planet, with the 2015 Paris Agreement initiated between several nations to make a pledge to reduce carbon emissions, make investments into cleaner futures, and spread awareness and education about climate change to the general public. In addition, a young Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has recently become the face of an international youth movement to address climate change, consisting of school children walking out of school to protest and raise awareness of our global reality. It’s not just mere vocal complaints either. Thunberg herself has sworn off flying due to its effects on the climate.
Now, what can we do to help mitigate this crisis? While abstaining from flying – or even driving for that matter – may be impractical for many of us grad students, there are several other ways we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint. These include taking public transportation – which many of us do on our daily commutes to campus – unplugging fully charged devices, taking shorter and colder showers, and using more energy-efficient light bulbs, such as LEDs. All these things add up, resulting in a significantly reduced output of greenhouse gases, leading to a cleaner future for us all.
Peer-reviewed by Danielle Chappell