Oped: Time is running out on climate change
Whether Americans accept it or not, climate change is one of the greatest threats to ever face the Earth.
With each day of inaction, mankind risks crossing major thresholds of greenhouse gas levels that may trigger abrupt and unprecedented changes. Even if greenhouse gas emission ceased overnight, global average temperature is still expected to increase another 1.5?. This is enough to greatly alter weather patterns (see 3:00 and 4:00), more than double the area burned by forest fires in the western United States (7:30), and cause droughts that significantly reduce crop yields (9:00).
Climate change is a threat that could take decades to become serious in developed nations, but increasing greenhouse gas concentrations (1:00) will bring irreversible and catastrophic effects (11:00), including wide-ranging impacts on human health.
In the United States, cardiovascular and respiratory disease rates will increase due to extreme heat exposure and worsened air quality. Changes in temperature, precipitation, and extreme weather events (3:00 and 4:00) will broaden the geographic range of diseases spread by vectors (mosquitoes, ticks, etc.), leading to widespread illness.
In the worst case scenario, sea level rise may result in portions of the United States being underwater (11:00). Humanity cannot adequately avoid these damaging outcomes without increased regulations.
Why is it that these troubling realities do not translate into government action? In America, the politics surrounding climate change — namely the lack of consensus, influence of the fossil fuel industry, and barriers associated with renewable energy — sabotage efforts to prevent these crises. Individuals who doubt the validity of scientific results make up a large percentage (52 percent) of the American public and are well-represented in Congress.
In order to secure pro-industry congressmen, fossil fuel industries pour millions of dollars into lobbying and advertising. This ensures minimal regulation and tax breaks for fossil fuel interests. Moreover, public fear and misunderstanding of renewable energy technologies such as nuclear power impel people to continue their use of fossil fuel-based energy sources.
The perpetuation of these practices brings with it the increased certainty of disaster.
If every American does his/her part, then we can combat climate change without Washington. Small steps add up. Here’s what you can do to ensure the safety of our planet, and keep us from reaching 12:00:
- Choose a healthy diet Buy locally-grown food and avoid processed items. Cut back on meat consumption, as livestock is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
- Live in the climate When temperatures are moderate, abstain from using energy to heat or cool your home. Use climate control only for the extremes.
- Rethink transportation Consider walking, biking, or using public transportation to get to work. When shopping for a vehicle, choose a fuel efficient model. Avoid flying.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle Purchase items with minimal and recyclable packaging, and repurpose slightly-used materials. This reduces the amount of energy used for recycling and waste being sent to landfills.
- Advocate energy efficiency Tell family, friends, and coworkers that energy efficiency is good for their homes, health, and the environment because it lowers air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
— Zoe Prats is a York Suburban High School student who is "deeply troubled by the continuation of poor energy practices in America." She completed her sophomore research paper on this issue and has drawn the accompanying cartoon, as well.