Why Climate Action Together?
As a young Asian woman at a private school in Los Angeles, California I hold a lot of privilege when it comes to climate change, so it is easy to dismiss the severity of the consequences of climate change. But after attending the Global Online Academy Climate Change and Global Inequalities class, I have been enlightened with the heartbreaking stories of those who are most affected by climate change – in deadly ways. As the semester progressed, the reality that climate change has created millions of refugees worldwide, forced millions into poverty, and will only grow worse became extremely daunting. However, with time, I realized that I could use my privilege to better my own communities. And soon, the overwhelming evil of climate change transformed into an equally empowering and inspiring area for change. So, I decided to take initiative and create Climate Action Together alongside my good friend and peer, Lily Gillam. Climate Action Together aspires to create change through education which includes inviting speakers to our school, teaching about climate change and its solutions, and spreading our own knowledge via announcements, posters, and updates on worldwide policies that surround climate change. But beyond the changes we can make, our ultimate hope is to provide people with the information and tools they need to go further with this work in their other communities. If we raise awareness and emphasize the urgency of climate change, people will care more about the issue, make changes within their own lives, and teach others about climate change. Climate Action Together represents the idea that if we work together, we CAN create change.
The founders of Climate Action Together
Lily(left) and Reese(right)
What is climate change?
Climate change is an extremely complex, overwhelming, and widespread issue that is hard to fit into a compact explanation. But to give a quick synopsis of climate change or global warming, according to the United States Geological Survey, which is a government Agency, global warming refers to the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
But you may be wondering, why is hotter weather an issue? First, it is called climate change, meaning the overall temperature, not just the weather. Altering the earth’s climate systems means increasing the number of and intensifying the extreme weather events around the globe such as heatwaves, hurricanes, droughts, and floods. This also means intensifying precipitation extremes or making wet regions wetter and dry regions drier. Additionally, climate change is raising the sea levels, which is caused by the melting glaciers and sea ice. Also, the overall increase in ocean temperatures contributes to the rise of sea levels because warmer water expands. Lastly, the increase of the overall climate alters ecosystems and natural habitats, shifting the geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, and the abundance of land, freshwater, and marine species. Though these changes may seem minor, or harmless to humans, they carry catastrophic consequences that could ultimately lead to the extinction of the human race. First, a hotter climate means insects that spread diseases like dengue fever and Zika can thrive, posing a threat to humans. Also, heatwaves are getting hotter and more lethal to humans as the overall climate increases in temperature. However, the most threatening to humans would be the droughts and floods that lead to a diminished food supply. Additionally, the hotter the climate, the faster the water in our soil evaporates, making it increasingly harder to grow crops and feed our planet. In fact, a 2011 National Research Council study found that for every degree Celsius that the planet heats up, crop yields will go down 5 to 15 percent. Obviously, this is a large percentage, especially considering the fact that scientists predict that by the end of this century, the overall climate of our atmosphere will rise by four degrees. This means that crop yields could potentially decrease by a total of 60%. This would leave an overwhelmingly large population of people hungry worldwide. Food insecurity can lead to starvation, mass human migration, and political instability to name a few.
Fossil Fuels and Greenhouse Gases
To understand the effects of fossil fuels on climate change, we first need to understand Greenhouse gases and their role in global warming. The main greenhouse gases include Carbon dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, and Water vapor which all occur naturally. Then there are fluorinated gases, which are man-made gases that can stay in the atmosphere for centuries and contribute to a global greenhouse effect. Common fluorinated gases include Hydrofluorocarbons, Perfluorocarbons, Sulfur hexafluoride, and Nitrogen trifluoride. These greenhouse gases contribute to climate change by trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. They let sunlight pass through the atmosphere, but they prevent the heat that the sunlight brings from leaving the atmosphere, thus heating up our atmosphere overall. Fun fact, greenhouse gases are named after real greenhouses for plants that let light in but trap in the heat. Also, it is important to note that greenhouse gases are not inherently bad, without them the earth would be too cold, and what we define as “life” or “living things” would not be able to survive in the cold climate, including us humans. However, the concentration of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere is becoming increasingly too high and therefore intensifying and speeding up the effects of climate change.
Next, fossil fuels. The main four types of fossil fuels are petroleum, coal, natural gas, and Orimulsion which are used in almost all aspects of modern life. Fossil fuels are used to heat our homes, run our vehicles, power industry and manufacturing, and provide us with electricity. In fact, The United States gets 81% of its total energy from oil, coal, and natural gas, all of which are fossil fuels. Our current society undeniably depends on fossil fuels. However, fossil fuels pollute the environment, are non-renewable, and therefore unsustainable. On top of that, drilling for fossil fuels is a dangerous process. Fossil fuels are detrimental to our environment because when fossil fuels are burned, they release nitrogen oxides(a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change, the formation of smog, and acid rain.
The problem with fossil fuels is that they are used so often, and so much that they have a massive effect on the environment. Fossil fuel companies are by far the largest contributors to climate change today. In fact, according to a Carbon Majors report, just 100 companies have been responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron, which are all oil industry companies, are identified as among the highest emitting investor-owned companies since 1988. Furthermore, more than half of global industrial emissions since 1988 can be traced to just 25 corporate and state-owned entities. If fossil fuels continue to be extracted at the same rate over the next 28 years as they were between 1988 and 2017, global average temperatures would be on course to rise by 4 degrees C by the end of the century. This is likely to have catastrophic consequences including substantial species extinction and global food scarcity risks, as previously mentioned.
(above) Five major oil companies that are of the highest emitting investor-owned companies since 1988
How do we as a society reduce our use of fossil fuels?
Clearly, we can’t just stop using anything and everything that uses fossil fuels. If we were to do that, our society as we know it would probably suffer. We wouldn’t be able to drive cars or ride buses or trains or heat our buildings or turn on lights or do many many other things. We could start trying small actions to reduce our usage of fossil fuels like turning off the lights when we leave the room or turning off the air conditioning in our homes when leaving for the day. But these small actions, though they can help, are most definitely not a solution. The best solution is an alternative source of energy. Thus, renewable energy. Renewable energy is energy that has been derived from the earth’s natural resources that are not finite or exhaustible, such as wind and sunlight. Renewable energy is an alternative to traditional energy that relies on fossil fuels, and it tends to be much less harmful to the environment. Some examples of renewable energy that have already been integrated into our society include solar energy, wind energy, hydro energy, tidal energy, geothermal energy, and biomass energy.
Solar energy is one of the most common and well-known sources of renewable energy. It comes in the form of solar panels, which use energy from sunlight and do not produce air pollutants or carbon dioxide. Wind energy is also one of the more popular renewable energy sources. Windmills produce energy when the wind turns the propeller-like blades of a turbine around a rotor, which spins a generator, which creates electricity. Hydro energy includes dams or barriers that create a controlled flow of water that will drive a turbine, generating electricity. Tidal energy is technically another form of hydro energy, but it uses twice-daily tidal currents to drive turbine generators. Geothermal energy is acquired by harnessing the natural heat below the earth’s surface. And finally, biomass energy is the conversion of solid fuel made from plant materials into electricity. It’s also important to note that these renewable sources of energy are not a perfect substitute for fossil fuels. They all have their pros and cons. For example, solar panels typically have an efficiency between 15% and 20%, while coal and natural gas have efficiencies of up to 40% and 60%. Also, some regions as a whole can’t use solar energy because of the amount of sunlight the area receives. Nevertheless, these renewable sources of energy are still extremely effective, much better for our environment, and are the closest we have to a solution for the effect of fossil fuels on climate change.
Everyday vehicles that use fossil fuels
Plastic Pollution and the Ocean
Like fossil fuels, plastic has also become an integral part of our society; furthermore, humans around the world use single-use plastic on a daily basis. However, single-use plastic is extremely harmful to our environment, specifically in our oceans. Though plastic itself does not emit greenhouse gases like the fossil fuels previously mentioned, plastic in our oceans does prevent coral from taking carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and from producing oxygen.
In fact, coral reefs are extremely important for humans to be able to live. While coral reefs only cover 0.0025 percent of the oceanic floor, they generate half of Earth’s oxygen and absorb nearly one-third of the carbon dioxide generated from burning fossil fuels. Coral itself naturally combats climate change; however, the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has become too much for the coral to absorb. On top of that, the increasing amount of plastic in our oceans has started to kill the coral reefs, leaving less coral to absorb carbon dioxide.
How does plastic end up in the ocean?
First, some countries/big companies are simply dumping their plastic waste into the ocean instead of disposing of them properly. Even when plastic waste makes it to landfills, it’s easily transported to the ocean via weather. The reason for this is because plastic is mostly used for single-use items like plastic bags, cups, straws, utensils, packaging for products, etc. Because these items are single-use, they are usually made of thinner, lighter plastic and therefore more susceptible to being taken away by weather such as rain, wind, snow runoff, flooding, etc. That’s why many environmentalists encourage people to switch to reusable alternatives for water bottles, straws, and grocery bags.
How is plastic harmful to the coral reefs?
In general, global warming affects the coral reefs because warm water bleaches coral, so as the temperature of the ocean increases, more coral dies. After coming in contact with plastic, coral is 22.25% more likely to become diseased and subsequently die. Plastic takes around 1,000 years to biodegrade, if not longer. This means that plastic and the effects it has on the coral reef will continue to harm the coral reef until it has completely decomposed, which is basically never. Plastic takes such a long time to biodegrade because Most plastics in use today are made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET for short, and are nearly indestructible. It is nearly impossible to decompose PET plastics because most bacteria cannot break them down. UV light from the sun can break plastic down, but it takes a long time.
Because the coronavirus is currently so prevalent in our society, it is important to acknowledge its impact on climate change. The coronavirus has done both good and bad for the environment so far.
Around the globe, we as humans have been using more single-use plastic for various things. Medically, we use gloves, masks, plexiglass dividers, disposable shopping bags, and face shields. Additionally, though it is more sanitary, easier, and cheaper to use single-use, disposable Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, it is worse for our environment and contributes to global warming. Since we cannot eat out, many restaurants are relying on taking out or delivering food to provide a safe dining experience. Along with this comes an increase in plastic packing, takeout containers, cups, utensils, and bags. In addition, since people are in lockdown and can’t go out to shop, many people are ordering products online. Ordering items has resulted in more packaging materials. Also increased the carbon footprint on e-commerce.
Overall, there has been less international travel. Transportation is responsible for 23 percent of global carbon emissions, with 11 percent of the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions attributable to aviation. The enormous decrease in international air travel due to COVID-19 has reduced CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions as well as ozone creation and particulate matter. This information is referring to early quarantine when everything everywhere was shut down; however, since a lot of restaurants and stores have opened up again, lockdowns are no longer being implemented, and people are out and about driving/traveling, carbon emissions have not stayed low and have started to return to their normal levels. Additionally, living simply within our homes has encouraged many people to reexamine their pre-pandemic, more materialistic, and consumerist lives. Consumer goods contribute to climate change throughout their life cycles: raw materials extraction, processing, logistics, retail and storage, consumer use, and disposal all result in carbon emissions. Lastly, people have also started to appreciate more of what they have, wasting less food, and buying less. People have gained a new appreciation for the environment and interest in climate change.
To conclude, the issue of climate change has become alarmingly obvious within the past few decades. An increased demand for plastic and fossil fuels globally has only sped up that process. And though the effects of the coronavirus are not over yet, it is clear that the negative consequences will likely outweigh the positive effects in the end. This information about fossil fuels and plastic waste is not new to us. We have solutions and alternatives to help lessen the impact of global warming. However, the issue is implementing these changes. This website explained how the real solutions to climate change are generally not ones that ordinary people like you and me can make, but instead ones that have to be made by people in positions of political power, or those with lots of economic power. When making decisions about our lawmakers and politicians, we must consider our planet as a factor. Though supporting large fossil fuel companies benefits a select group of people in our society, climate change affects everyone. Nevertheless, it is still paramount that we make every change we can to do our part and try our best to help our planet, so here are just a few changes we can make to help reduce the effects of climate change.
Ways to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions
- switch to an electric car/vehicle
- carpool with a friend/neighbor to work or school
- take public transportation
- walk or bike instead of driving
- turn off your lights when leaving a room
- turn off the air conditioning/heat when leaving the house
- switch to solar-powered energy
- use energy-saving LED lightbulbs
- compost or start a garden! it helps pull carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere
Ways to reduce your plastic waste and help the ocean
- Use reusable grocery bags, straws, cups, utensils, masks, other PPE, etc.
- recycle as much plastic as you can
- when buying to-go food, tell the restaurant to not add plastic utensils
- pick up any trash you see and dispose of it properly
- Assess your plastic usage by going through how much single-use plastic you use in a day