American Issues

Determining the Fate of Planet Earth: An Overview of Climate Change

by Holly Todd

Summary of Threat

In the 21st century, climate change poses major threats to earth’s environment, global societies, and national economies. A myriad of possibly irreversible effects related to these threats exist. Among the most serious are deforestation, acidification of ocean water, long-lasting droughts, melting glaciers and ice sheets, biodiversity loss, depletion of non-renewable sources, and food and water shortages. Immediate action is required worldwide to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Climate Change Is Real

The primary cause of climate change is the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and other pollutants released by the burning of fossil fuels are the primary causes in the U.S. Other polluting gasses are chlorofluorocarbons, methane, and nitrous oxide. Together they contribute to what is called the greenhouse effect. Sea levels rising, glaciers melting, catastrophic storms, forest fires, heatwaves, persistent droughts, and flash flooding are all becoming more and more frequent events across the globe. There is no time to lose. The degree of devastation that will result from continued inaction – or from positive actions taken to combat the effects of climate change – will be determined by the current living generations of people.

In 2015, the Obama administration, through the Environmental Protection Agency, pledged to reduce power plant GHG emissions by one-third by 2030. But in 2017, under the Trump administration, EPA politically-appointed officials proposed repealing this action. In December 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement representing 195 countries, including the United States, signed a pledge to keep the average global temperature rise below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and, if possible below 1.5C (2.7F). In 2017, President Trump delivered his official intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, which, if not reversed, will occur in 2020.

Overpopulation Complicates the Issues

Significant population growth and economic development, particularly of developing countries over the next few decades, is expected to considerably exacerbate emissions rates leading to more rapid climate change. Without worldwide concerted efforts to address the increasing negative effects of climate change, the outlook for sustaining the necessary resources to support this growing number of people is not positive.

We Cannot Afford to Wait Any Longer

While there is hope that the Paris Agreement will result in continued and increasingly aggressive efforts on the part of the participating countries to lower emissions levels, much more is needed to contain climate change. In the United States, wealthy and powerful special interest groups are at work to discredit and overturn efforts to address climate change, many of whom have the support of the Trump administration. So, it is up to the governments of states, local communities, and individual citizens to take the lead and become actively engaged in the struggle NOW. A great way to start is to work to elect environmentally responsible candidates in 2020 at all levels of local, state, and federal government.

References

To learn more about climate change, check out the following resources:

Environmental Advocacy Organizations
Books
YouTube Videos
  1. Causes and Effects of Climate Change|National Geographic, August 2017, 3:04 min.
  2. Climate Change Report vs. EPA Chief Scott Pruitt|The New York Times, August 9, 2017, 2:03 min.
  3. Time to wake up: Climate Progress: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), March 21, 2018, 18:45 min.
  4. “Freakishly Warm” Arctic Weather Has Scientists Reconsidering Worst-Case Scenarios on Climate Change, March 2018, Democracy Now, 7:08 min.
  5. Chilean scientists take on climate change in Antarctica, February 2017, 3 min..
  6. What Can You Do Right Now to Save the Earth?, July 2017, 3:07 min.
  7. Climate Change 101 with Bill Nye|National Geographic, December 2015, 4:09 min.
  8. Climate Change (according to a kid), September 2015, 2:11 min. (for children)
  9. Bill Nye Explains Climate Change with Emoji, June 2015, 1:50 min. (for children)
  10. Climate Change: The View from Minute Earth|#OursToLose, November 2015, 2:48 min. (for children)
  11. Is Climate Change Just A Lot of Hot Air?, June 2015, Minute Earth (for children)
  12. How Do Greenhouse Gases Actually Work?, May 2015, Minute Earth (for children)

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