The rising fear over climate change

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The rising fear over climate change

Human activity is suspected to be the main reason behind the rising climate.

Human activity is suspected to be the main reason behind the rising climate.

Zachary Khouri

Human activity is suspected to be the main reason behind the rising climate.

Zachary Khouri

Zachary Khouri

Human activity is suspected to be the main reason behind the rising climate.

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Four hundred and eleven million people across the world would be exposed to drought.

Eighty million people to drowning.

As much as 56 centimeters on average would the sea level rise; in some places, 50 feet.

The chances of land being suitable for the transmission of deadly diseases, such as malaria, would go up by 27%.

Coral reefs, ice in the Arctic, and half of the range used by certain insects and plants would completely disappear.

That’s what climatologists estimate would happen if the average temperature around the world rose by just 2 degrees.

Now imagine what would happen if it were to increase even more.

After all, a 5-degree increase brought about by a meteor that struck Earth millions of years ago was able to kill the dinosaurs.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), climate change is expected to contribute to an additional 250,000 deaths per year from 2030 to 2050 — yet, when it comes to climate change, many are indifferent. According to Yale, as much as 23% of Americans would describe themselves as either disengaged, doubtful, or dismissive of climate change.

However, the extent of climate change — and its effects — are, in most cases, underestimated.

For example, between 2010 and 2015, India’s government had to pay a total of $30 billion in the aftermath of natural disasters that scientists say were worsened by the effects of climate change. According to the Scientific American, the densely-populated India (with a total of 1.2 billion people), would be hit the hardest by a rising climate — and India is only responsible for half the carbon dioxide emissions in metric tons than the U.S., according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Most have read the U.N. report that stated that climate change will be irreversible in less than 12 years. However, few understand its consequences. Under the 2 degree margin expected to be reached by 2050, crop yields in the Midwest will decrease by approximately 50-70%, which would bring about a severe blow to the U.S. economy.

However, the current President of the U.S, Donald Trump, outwardly denies evidence said to support climate change and has gone as far as to reverse progress made in respect to the climate.

In the two years that Donald Trump has been president, he has been able to vastly transform policies made during the Obama Administration that were originally intended to help lessen the effects of climate change. According to the National Geographic, from greenlighting pipelines to dismantling conservation plans, Trump, among other political leaders across the world, have made the situation more dire to most scientists. 

According to NPR, 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record (the top five all within the last five years), and 97% of scientists have agreed that this was an effect of climate change.

Then there are those like Greta Thunberg, who, in the past year, instigated a movement spanning 71 countries that encouraged students to skip school in order to protest legislators’ inaction in regards to climate change.

In her speech for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Thunberg wanted her audience to be afraid of the said impending consequences of climate change.

I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act, as you would in a crisis,” she said.

Ultimately, tens of thousands would join her and later be inspired in ongoing protests.  

Junior Chloe Stanks agreed with her stance but disagreed with her method.

“I’m not sure about protesting it, because while it’s still bringing attention, you’re not actually doing anything,” Stanks said. “We should take actions to actually try and stop it, and come up with solutions — if you brought them a solution, I’m sure something could actually come of it.”

Sophomore Meagan Freeman approved of their intentions and hoped that it would spread the need for change.

“I feel that people have not been taking climate change as seriously until recently, and more people are now starting to realize that climate change is starting to become an issue,” Freeman said. “We need activists to spread awareness so more people can be involved in solving this growing issue. Hopefully, these protests can inspire others to start making a change.”

Author David Wallace Wells bestselling novel, the Uninhabitable Earth, was able to encapsulate the reasoning behind increased anxiety surrounding climate change. 

“Unless you are a teenager, you probably read in your high school textbooks that [the five mass extinctions in history] were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one involved climate change produced by greenhouse gas,” Wallace wrote. “The most notorious was 250 million years ago; it began when carbon dioxide warmed the planet by five degrees Celsius, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane, another greenhouse gas, and ended with all but a sliver of life on Earth dead.”

In a later article that he would write for the Intelligencer, Wallace-Wells expressed cautious optimism for the climate. He cited the fact that a 2-degree increase is much better than 4, in which global damages from warming would amount to $600 trillion.

“Optimism is always a matter of perspective, and mine is this: no one wants to believe disaster is coming, but those who look, do,” Wallace-Wells said. “So, if optimism is always a matter of perspective, the possibility of four degrees shapes mine.”

Scientist Amol Phadke was able to shed some light of his own on the subject of climate change and its complexities.

“Climate change is not only a rise in the surface temperature of the Earth, but it also brings about more extreme events, such as more wildfires and more extreme cases of hurricanes, as well as glaciers melting because of ecological damage,” Phadke said.  “We are beginning to see some of these effects now, but more of it will be seen in the 2050-2100 timeframe. Especially with the sea level rising, as there are a lot of countries very close to the sea.”

Freeman was also able to summarize the effects of climate change.

“Currently we are seeing a trend with rising temperatures, causing glaciers to melt, sea levels rising, and higher surface temperature,” Freeman said. “Some scientists are arguing human activity has caused climate change to progress much faster than predicted.”

Stanks, an aspiring marine biologist who has done extensive research into the climate, tracks it back to human activity as well.

“I got into an argument with my friend earlier because they said that older generations are not to blame with everything wrong with the environment and climate change,” Stanks said. “My friend said that since they were unaware of the effects of their actions, they can’t be blamed. But it’s still their fault, and we need to try and fix that.”

AP Biology and Bio teacher Sara Shayesteh stressed the importance of believing the science behind climate change.

“I think it’s imperative for all members of society to have some basic understanding of science,” Shayesteh said. “So it’s important for people to understand the science behind what is happening to our planet, rather than just rely on the information or misinformation that they may have gained passively. We should all be science-literate.”

Meanwhile, junior Darby Bryan had a dissenting view from her peers on the subject.

“Obviously, there’s an enormous hole in the ozone layer, and that’s obviously affecting the climate,” Bryan said. “It’s also decreasing temperatures and increasing natural disasters. Everyone’s focused on global warming, which isn’t going to solve the problem. I think it’s exaggerated.”

In their discussion on the matter, Stanks was able to clarify one of the common misconceptions about climate change: if global warming was real, why would there still be winters?

“Global warming just makes everything more drastic, including harsher winters and harsher summers. Just cause the Earth is warming it’s not only going to cause a rise in temperature but it will also make some places colder,” Stanks said. “Another thing is that some people think that we have a long period of time before it can be reversed, but that’s not true. We need to take action now, or it’s all downhill from here.”

With the track that the world is currently on, it is estimated that $77 billion worth of land in San Francisco, California, will be buried underwater by 2050. 

Phanke elaborated on this.

“The science is clear in that climate change is caused by human activity, with emitting carbon dioxide and other dangerous gases,” Phanke said. “Many scientists have come together to establish that this is actually the case, and it is a very serious issue.”

Stanks would agree that human activity is the most prominent cause.

“[The climate] was stagnant for a long period of time before the Industrial Revolution, but after the Industrial Revolution happened, it shot up and it’s been continuously going up since,” Stanks said.

In regards to the gravity of the matter, Phanke thinks that climate change is necessary enough to be integrated into school curriculums.

“Although it is better known among the well-educated, I think it needs to be more widely known. It is very clear that it is happening, and it is not very obvious to some that it can impact lives,” he said. “This knowledge needs to be part of high school education so that younger people are confident and know all the facts and are able to take action.”

He was also able to recommend several sources on climate change for those interested.

“There is a document made by the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. and the Royal Academy of Britain that summarizes the most common misconceptions people have. They have very clear data on the effects of climate change,” he said. “There are hundreds of studies that show that climate change is real, but that is a nice summary of the frequently asked questions.”

Freeman also supported doing research on the subject for oneself and would say that it is important to look at reliable sources.

“Scientists have been studying the effects of climate change for years and have even been comparing data from hundreds of years ago to compile enough evidence to show the upward trend of rising temperatures on the planet,” Freeman said. “Clearly the temperature has not remained the same, especially when we start to find the evidence in nature: the sea level rising, glaciers melting, sea creatures dying from warmer waters. The evidence is there, and scientists can clearly conclude that climate change is occurring.”

Even though it may seem like one’s actions may not have an effect, Shayesteh emphasized the importance of every member of society in reversing the effects of climate change.

“We are all important, voting members of society, and we have the power to cast our vote on important issues,” Shayesteh said. “I think as people become more aware and face the realities about climate change, society may need to vote more on related issues, more committees will form.”

Phanke was also able to share some of his own advice on the subject on how one can play their part.

“It’s very important to vote for candidates who believe in facts about climate change. Our representatives have a lot of power to change the course of climate change, by banning new coal and gas power plans to help solve the problem,” he said. “Think about what impact our actions have on the environment; we only have one Earth to live on, and we are already polluting it so much.”

In regards to representatives, Congress newcomer Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has recently proposed a Green New Deal that aims to limit greenhouse gas emissions and support clean energy industries. However, Republicans have expressed strong opposition of this bill, and, even if the resolution were approved, the legislation is non-binding.

However, despite this setback, legislators here in California are looking towards environmentalist policies of their own, including a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40%. California hopes to achieve this goal by 2020 through minimizing petroleum use by cars and doubling renewable energy production. 

The current Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, has expressed strong support himself for the science backing climate change.

“If anyone is wondering if climate change is real, come to California,” Newson said in a recent press conference. “We are in a very precarious state. There is no debate.”

Phanke would agree.

“Climate change is the most important issue of our generation because once you emit all of this carbon dioxide, it’s irreversible. So if you look at human history over thousands of years, this is the defining moment,” he said. “The next 10 to 20 years are quite critical.”

Phadke also discussed the ways in which the average person can help to improve the situation. In particular, he referred to the fact that clean energy is rapidly decreasing in cost, and, with greater accessibility, is becoming much less of a challenge to utilize. He suggests that everyone gets more acquainted with clean energy. 

Another one of his suggestions was to eat more vegetarian in order to reduce meat production.

According to National Geographic, reducing meat and sugar production is imperative in lowering greenhouse gas emissions. As much as 9% of greenhouse gas emissions have resulted from agriculture, with the bulk due to livestock. Transportation and electricity took the top two spots respectively.

Stanks stressed the significance of reducing meat consumption.

“We should still be able to eat animals, but we need to cut down on our consumption. The production of cows and everything is adding a lot of methane into the atmosphere and is increasing greenhouse gas emissions,” Stanks said. “We shouldn’t be farming and ranching them out in the way we are now because we’re not doing it naturally.”

Shayesteh felt similarly on the subject.

“Much is advertised about turning off lights, carpooling, biking to reduce your ‘carbon footprint,’ but the UN and other organizations have identified that switching to a vegetarian diet just one day out of the week will have more of a positive impact than all those other efforts combined, ” Shayesteh said. “Industrial farming the way it is done today is really detrimental to the planet (the waste the animals produce, the space they take up, the gas they emit, and the water/food they need to consume) and this will need to be addressed if we all want to continue to enjoy eating meat.”

Some have even suggested eating insects to supplement meat in the future.

Students at Carlmont were able to describe how they themselves have been working to better the environment.

“I am trying to improve the environment by making small changes in my life such as using reusable products, learning the proper materials to recycle, and becoming more educated on the topic,” Freeman said. “I think that the more information I am able to learn, the more motivated I will be to make changes in my life and teach others the threat that climate change is having on our world.”

Stanks was able to do the same.

“I don’t use a lot of plastic anymore. I have gone to beach cleanups, and, as I want to be a marine biologist, I want to be able to try and actually help some of the garbage patch in the Pacific and everything like that,” Stanks said.

Stanks refers to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest collection of plastic in the ocean from across the globe. But how did it come to be?

As Shayesteh put, “many people aren’t entirely aware of the fact that plastic never ever ‘goes away,’ or degrades — it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic until they turn into microplastics. These microplastics get ingested by a lot of sea life, especially filter-feeders, and then the plastic just moves up the food chain, and we’re at the top.”

Phadke asserted that educating one’s peers in a subject like this as the most significant effects in curbing climate change and reducing one’s carbon footprint.

“Spread the message,” he said. “You have to convince other people who don’t believe in climate change by showing them the facts. Talk to two or three friends who don’t know the facts, and share with them the science so that they know and can form their own opinions on the issue.”  

Freeman had advice of her own.

“A little bit goes a long way. I know the saying is a cliché, but I think it is so important for global issues. Not everyone needs to completely change their lifestyle, we just need everyone recycling the right materials, conserving water, or even just riding their bikes [rather than using gas-powered cars],” She said.

Bryan also stressed reduction in the use of gas-powered cars.

The world’s richest 10% produce half of all greenhouse gas emissions — in order to reduce it, Bryan considers it imperative to use clean energy.

“Gas emissions is a big part and I try not to drive around everywhere,” Bryan said. “I don’t know how trash contributes to a hole in the ozone layer, but if you can eliminate gas emissions by, say, using solar energy, wind energy, or hydro-energy, it could cut down on the burning of fossil fuels drastically.”

Meanwhile, Shayesteh advocated for the lessening of using plastic bottles.

“Even if you are recycling your plastic water bottles, only less than 9% of it actually gets recycled,” she said. “So it’s great that we collect and separate recyclables, but because much of it isn’t actually being recycled, efforts would be more impactful if people would just use reusable ones and cut out the one-time use plastics altogether.”