Sawyer Burton, Staff Writer
It’s almost impossible not to have heard about climate change in 2019. And while it now seems synonymous with political ideologies and heated debates, there’s no reason why it has to be so divisive. Our job here at the Crusader is to inform the student body of timely issues that are important, whatever they may be. With that in mind, and a hope to inform, not persuade or criticize your personal views, let’s dive into the facts of the matter.
The planet we call home goes through cycles of global glaciation (ice ages) and warming. Around 10,000 years have passed since the end of the most recent Ice Age. These cycles are caused by the Earth’s proximity to the Sun, which in turn is affected by very slight changes in Earth’s orbit. However, this cycle seems to have sped up this time around. On average, global temperatures have risen 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 1800s. Most of that increase is recorded to have happened since the 1980s. Even in the last ten years (a relatively short amount of time when we are talking about any kind of global change, climate or not), we have evidence of Antarctica tripling its rate of ice mass loss. This rapid melting of Antarctica (and other major glacial systems such as Greenland) is accredited with elevating sea levels by 0.3 inches from 1992-2017.
According to NASA, “The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia”.
A different study in 2010 found that 97-98% of climate scientists interviewed agreed that human activity was majorly responsible for global climate change. Others have contradicted this, citing the aforementioned warming/ cooling cycle the Earth goes through as time goes on as the culprit behind the increase in global temperatures. However, 337 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide alone has been added to the atmosphere by human activities such as agriculture and the use of much-maligned fossil fuels. As you likely already knew, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane trap heat within the Earth’s atmosphere.
All of this may sound like a healthy helping of doom and gloom, but as of yet, we haven’t yet hit the point of no return. Changes in the lifestyle of the average citizen goes a long way towards securing our future, regardless of your personal politics.
Much of the human-caused greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have to do with excess, or the excessive waste of resources. Examples of this excess can be seen in global food waste studies, such as one done by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) which plainly states that one-third of all food made for consumers goes uneaten, or in other words, is wasted. Agriculture is necessary for the sustaining of human life, but it also is a major contributor to the methane and carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. Obviously, we can’t do away with agriculture as a whole, but by cutting back on food waste at home we can decrease the economic need for food producers to produce too much food, and therefore get a grip on methane and carbon dioxide output caused by excessive agriculture.
Energy use is another contributing factor to greenhouse gas emission. “The burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions,” says the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). The same study says that these practices account for 25% of global greenhouse gas emission (1% more than agriculture). Fossil fuels are burned close to a water source to create steam, and that steam is pushed through a shaft with a turbine. The steam causes the turbine to spin, which converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. Most of the electricity used in the United States is made this way. Considering the amount of electricity used by all 300 million citizens, a lot of fossil fuels are used and produce a lot of greenhouse emission.
The process of generating electricity can be made cleaner, as demonstrated by solar energy. Solar energy as a means of clean, renewable energy production has been increasing in popularity for a while now, and since it emits no greenhouse gases during the production of electricity, seems to be a feasible alternative to fossil fuel energy production. Manufacturers have also created “energy-efficient” products, such as LED light bulbs, to reduce the amount of energy used in the home.
Obviously, climate change is a complicated issue. If you are interested in learning more, we encourage you to do some research on your own.