Saving Our Planet: The Next Step

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

I am highly certain 99.9% of the world’s population have heard of the term ‘climate change’ – but for the 0.1% it means that our planet warming up, but too fast. Heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions are spiralling out of control as humanity continues to ignore the havoc we’ve created. Never before has a single species had such monumental power to change the Earth’s climate. 

When the sun’s radiations hit the Earth’s surface, it turns into energy which is absorbed and radiated back into the atmosphere as heat. Greenhouse gases act as a shield, only letting a small percentage of heat escape back into space. Most heat is reflected back to Earth, increasing the planet’s global temperature. This is known as the greenhouse effect, and as a result of higher greenhouse gas concentrations, more heat is being trapped and temperatures are rising further.

In an ideal world the planet would cool, wildlife would thrive, flora would flourish, and hydrological systems would be plentiful. Unfortunately, humans are too smart for their own good and fearfully, they are designed to crave more and more without limit. Living in a world revolving around politics and economics run by capital, we’ve evolved so much that murdering our planet is the inevitable next step.

Walking from Highfield Campus to Ocean Village with one eye shut and you’re surrounded by beautiful architectural designs, vibrant blossoms and the blue expanse of the Southampton Channel. With both eyes open you can see cars covered in dust and grime from pollution, the docks as a magnet for smog from cruise ships, carbon monoxide blanketing the area due to the toxic fumes from an ESSO-owned oil refinery, and waves of plastic. Awareness of the foremost issues surrounding our current epoch is critical in ensuring that our children and our children’s children can still picture the Earth blue and green.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), estimates anthropogenic global warming of 0.2°C per decade, due to past and ongoing emissions. In a room we’d barely notice such an increase, but within the last 100 years we’ve influenced weather patterns to the extent where there’s no going back. We have sprinted past the tipping point, where a series of small changes becomes significant enough to cause a larger, irreversible change.

Putting this into perspective is a video by NASA, shown below, displaying how the climate has changed from 1880-2018. Blue patches indicate temperatures below the period’s average, while red is above average.

But why is having more sunny days so harrowing?

Impact on glaciers – Earth’s remaining ice sheets – Greenland and Antarctica – are starting to melt. The resulting added water will increase sea levels significantly. By 2100, global sea level is predicted to rise between 26-55cm as glaciers melt. This will cause high tides and severe storm surges. Combined with land subsidence, flooding will increase in many regions. Moreover, as glaciers and permafrost melt, it releases methane and other gases trapped millennia ago, further increasing the greenhouse effect.

Extreme weather – The severity and frequency of extreme weather events, like droughts and hurricanes, will rise, causing many similar hazards to become common occurrences. Growing urban populations will also force many people to live in areas of higher risk.

Ocean acidification – As carbon dioxide rises, it’ll be increasingly absorbed by the ocean. Oceans will thus become more acidic, putting aquatic life at risk. Coral reefs are projected to decline by a further 70-90% as a result of a temperature rise of 1.5°C from 1990 – this would not only be devastating for wildlife, but also for around half a billion people who reportedly rely on fish from coral reefs as their main protein source.

Sea Level rise – Every year, the sea is rising by 0.13 inches (3.2mm). This is largely the result of melting glaciers and sea ice, but also because of thermal expansion under higher temperatures. Coastal cities and low-lying areas with dense populations will be the most at risk.

Food Insecurity – Changing weather patterns equal more varied rainfall. This impacts rain-reliant crops such as rice and maize, which are already strained as globalisation has led to increasing food product exportation. Therefore, weather events in one country can affect food supply in another. This will increase the gap between supply and demand, as well as increase the risk of malnutrition, especially in drought-stricken countries.

Wildlife extinction – Global warming is likely to be the greatest cause of species extinction this century. Animals unable to adapt fast enough will die out, impacting food chains. The IPCC claims a 1.5°C average rise may put 20-30% of species at risk of extinction.

That’s not all environmental refugees will skyrocket and the number of deaths due to temperature extremes will rise. If floods frequency intensifies, water-related diseases will spread and freshwater environments will be under excessive pressure from over-abstraction, damming and pollution. Many more cataclysmic impacts will cause the world to become a boiling hot water bottle on a cold, dark night.

Simply, there will be more frequent and higher intensity risks where there have never been before. Hydrological cycles and ecosystems may collapse, and within the next 100 years every animal from all children books could be extinct.

Earth is an extremely complex and dynamic place. Currently, we’re the only known planet with large living organisms – one tiny world in the infinity and beyond of the universe. Surely it’s up to us to find the reason we’re here. Through computer simulations and climate modelling, scientists have discovered that, based on a range of scenarios of increased fossil fuels consumption, average surface temperature could rise between 2°C and 6°C by 2100.

It’s a bleak picture, but there are ways to help:

  1. Reduce your meat intake – Not only does it have health benefits but cows and bulls produce an enormous amount of greenhouse gases – especially methane, just by passing wind. This doesn’t mean becoming vegan or vegetarian, as even a slight reduction of red meat can have a considerable effect.
  2. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Take advantage of second-hand markets, including Depop, eBay and charity shops. You can save money and decrease your carbon footprint. A US-focused 2009 estimated that waste reduction and recycling could cut carbon dioxide by 345 million tons per year.
  3. Think Green – When doing your weekly shop at the local supermarket take your time to think green. This means choosing products with less or no plastic packaging, with reasonable sourcing, and that are energy efficient. By choosing wisely it’d help encourage more companies to think green to stay competitive.
  4. Switch to energy efficient bulbs – By choosing a utility company certified by Green-e Energy, you could not only save money but contribute to the 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide kept out of the air already since they were first implemented in 1987.
  5. Don’t use your car – Beyond improving your mind and health, walking, cycling or public transport are easier alternatives to using your car. Each litre of fuel that your car uses equals to an emission of over 2.5 kilos of carbon dioxide.
  6. Educate – Climate change impacts will intensify if left unchecked, hitting the next generation even harder. Educating children in schools, at home, or just leading by example could leave an everlasting influence.
  7. Speak Out! Lastly, the single biggest way you can make an impact is to speak out! Share your story and ideas online and face-to-face with family, friends, anyone. Voice your concerns and especially encourage elected officials to enact regulations and limit greenhouse gas emissions. Do your part to question and remind, not just people, but politicians too.

See David Suzuki’s Foundation for more ways you can help fight climate change and for tips, opportunities and challenges to get you started.

The universal goal is to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5% every year until they reach zero. Reportedly, about 100 companies have been responsible for about 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. These should lead the way to renewable resources, and we need to encourage and promote to ensure the transition is made.

The global economy is still heavily weighted with fossil fuels to meet energy demands, so we have to change the demand. If you’re not nibbling your nails yet, according to the United Nations in 2018 we have about 12 years to avoid a climatic disaster. It’s therefore up to us to change. Stop focusing on climate change as a disease that you won’t catch if you avoid it. This is the biggest threat the world has ever faced, and we are the generation to combat the problem. What will we do? What can we do? We have to do better and be less gullible, take a stand and always have both eyes open. Let’s keep talking about the green future we want.

One life, one nature, no Planet B.

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