It is no mystery that our planet is getting warmer. Collapsing of ice sheets in the Arctic, catastrophic storms, massive droughts creates scarcity of food, and our biodiversity rapidly depleting due to our anthropocentric greed is becoming all to common. When will we realize the implications of our actions? We have exceeded four hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is far greater than what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does not recommend exceeding which is three hundred fifty ppm. How much damage can our Earth take? Ultimately, what’s our role?
In order to protect the environment and foster sustainable communities current and future, citizens worldwide need to become climate literate. By understanding these the complexity behind climate change, citizens are able to improve their choices and reduce further degradation onto the environment. So what is climate change? First I should ask, how do you define it?
When we refer to climate, realize it can be describe on a regional, national or global level. Climate can be defined as average weather conditions measured over an extended period of time and the variations that occur within. From studies, scientists can see patterns of change from the past and present as well as project future fluctuations. Through experiments, observations, and hypothesis scientists have done extensive research on the subject of climate change. Their peer-reviewed data, highly assures consensus amongst scientists that our human actions contribute enormously towards these critical issues.
Greenhouse gases are being trapped in the atmosphere, primarily through water vapor, and warming the Earth surface. These gases may remain in the atmosphere for decades, centuries, to even thousand of years. The 20th century Industrial Revolution increased concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. Interesting enough, without any greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, planet Earth would be an ice age. The challenge, is that we are currently pushing the limits now of our planet. The levels of greenhouse gases are too high and as a whole, we need to transform our lifestyles as well as consumption habits in order to reduce them. Additionally, we need to realize that carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide, methane, water vapor and ozone also largely contribute.
Methane is supposedly a worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide with twenty-three per units and typically is emitted via cow feces. With high demands for supply within the beef industry, natural habitats are being cleared to raise cattle and soybeans so that our hungry mouths can be satisfied. Imagine all the beef, that is consumed worldwide yearly. Think of all the cows on this planet to meet these demands and how much fecal matter they produce. Excess dung left from cows, releases methane into the atmosphere and greatly contributes to rise in warming climates.
There are more negative correlations to climate change than positive ones. With temperatures rising, access to the necessities of living such as food, water, energy etc. are being greatly altered due to our actions. Additionally, the health of the planet, well-being of biodiversity, and the economy are also affected by climate change. We, however, can make changes to ensure balance between human health and ecological well-being to which we are connected with remain stable or flourish. These changes must occur with our own as well as in societies values, the infrastructure of the economy, and policies that regulate future implications. As a whole, we not only have to understand the physical and biological functions of the Earth, but also be able to grasp the consequences onto various cultures, the social implications that arise, and the numerous economic factors.
Focus on carbon-intensive energy sources, many that today we heavily rely on, such as coal, oil, and gas must be conserved and strategies that center on renewable energy sources should be more developed. This paradigm shift in use of resources isn’t an easy task. It requires radical changes in the way humans consume and use energy as well as investment into further research, technologies, and sustainable business structures. Action, however, can be implemented by all of us. Each individual influences climate change, but we can make positive contributions to reduce our own footprint. Climate change is everybody’s issue. Parallels can be made into every major and field of study. Don’t underestimate your power. Vote responsibly, move towards a plant-based diet or towards eating lower on the food chain, consume less, and support alternative renewable energy. With every dollar you spend, you choose what kind of world you want to live in. No one talks about stopping climate change, however, many of us agree on getting below a two degrees temperature increase. We don’t want to wait until it is too late to take action. Massive disaster is only counting down to occur. Climate has always been changing, but never at this rate.
Again, it is important to remember that climate varies by region. Here in the Midwest, the extremes of climate change are not as visible, yet we are still vulnerable towards its effects. Massive flooding and droughts greatly alter the way we structure our lives. In recent years, we see the likelihood of these events increasing. Polar vortices, a.k.a. the difference between the arctic and the equator, are where we are located. Cold air is thus sent to our region and gives rise to the climate in which we live in.
Typically, environments are designated hardiness based on likelihood to adapt due to rising temperatures. When climate heavily alters environments, species and ecosystems either adapt or perish. These factors also determine whether our society flourishes or falters. Everything is connected, and every action has a cause and effect to some organisms out there. Even if environments and their species within are resilient to fluctuations via climate change, this doesn’t mean we should further test the limits of their adaptability.
Water, which covers seventy percent of the planet, become more acidic, especially oceans, as they absorb more carbon dioxide. The mixture of water and carbon dioxide creates carbonic acid, which threatens the survival rate of numerous species and causes great fluctuations in the food web of life.
Both oceanic and land ice, serves as reflectors to sunlight, otherwise known as albedo. As we lose ice, due to increasing temperatures albedo decreases causing less reflection back into the atmosphere. Heat, thus is absorbed into the ocean causing unstable temperatures and additionally gives rise to thermal expansion which enforces sea level rise. Further degradation, due to sea level rise, affects the amounts of ice melting that is causes from warmer temperatures of the water below.
With fifty-three percent of Americans living along coasts, sea level rise will obliterate their homes, sources of food, and region completely. We already see this occurring throughout different island nations, which creates climate refugees. Where do they go? How will their culture and history survive?
For additional information, I recommend checking out National Geographic’s “Six Degrees Could Change the World” to see how increases average temperatures evenly slightly can have enormous implications onto the planet. The 2014 Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium “Sustainability: Local Connection/Global Impact” that is occurring on September 17, 2014 is still accepting proposals for members of the community to give concurrent sessions presentations. Although their focus isn’t on climate change, it greatly lays the foundation of developing a sustainable future. Please consider applying, as your voice and perspective matters in these issues. You can additionally apply to give a short presentation on April 22, Earth Day. Full descriptions on how to apply to both can be found on the colleges website. How do you feel called to action? The chances to become responsibly engaged are endless but start you becoming well informed, thoughtfully minded, and an active member in enhancing standards for all organisms to thrive in our society.
Kelly T. Knutson 15′ is an opinion columnist for the Concordia who focuses on environmental awareness / concerns in his entries. Originally from the upland prairies of Grand Forks, North Dakota, Kelly recently transplanted to Bemidji where he calls the conifer forests of Minnesota his home. Being ecologically literate and knowing his roots comes at high importance to Kelly. In his spare time he enjoys being immersed as well as fascinated by nature through hiking, birdwatching, mushroom foraging, camping etc. At Concordia he is involved with Sea – Student Environmental Alliance, Concordia Chapel Choir, Eco-Reps as the Coordinator, 2014 Sustainability Symposium planning committee, coordinating the 2014 HILT High Impact Leadership Trip for spring break, and a Lab TA for the Biology department.