Written 11/13/2019

Climate Change

The earth's temperature rises and falls over time. Over millions of years, there have been ice ages, and times when half the land has been covered with water. There have been five mass extinctions over the course of time, the most famous being the fall of the dinosaurs. Today, the dinosaurs live on in an unexpected creature: the bird. Birds are an essential part of our ecosystem. They spread seeds, eat pests, and provide beauty in the form of song and colour. However, over a thousand species of birds and more than 28,000 species of animals and plants in general are listed on the IUCN Red List as threatened or endangered. We are now in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, and part of it is our fault. Our carbon footprint and the general one-use society of our species is damaging the planet and impacts not only the natural wildlife, but also ourselves as well.

Everyone has heard about pollution. Most of the time, we think of the large smokestacks on factories spewing thick, black smoke into the sky. This is a serious issue, as it adds to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and makes the air less clean and less suitable for sustained life. However, this is not the only form of pollution made by humans. Littering, or the act of leaving trash on the ground without putting it in the garbage bin, is another problem.

In coastal areas, beaches become covered with plastic bottles, string, and wrappers that no one bothers to clean up. "It's just one piece," everyone thinks. "Just one straw, just one candy wrapper, just a twist tie." However, if everyone follows this mindset, that's automatically over 7.5 billion pieces of trash on the ground. When the garbage is carried out into the ocean, eventually it finds its way to one of several large collections of debris, appropriately named garbage patches. The most famous one, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is made up of the Western Garbage Patch and the Eastern Garbage Patch, and because it is so far from any country's coastline, no one will provide funding for cleanup, and the plastic slowly breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that eventually become microplastics. These microplastics are then swallowed by fish, which we catch. When people bring in seafood, there is a good chance that several of those creatures have eaten microplastics at some point in their lives. When we buy and eat those fish, we eat those microplastics as well. Microplastics are not good for anyone's health and can potentially cause a number of health issues when they enter the gut.

We have overworked the earth, and it cannot recover itself fast enough for us. Trees cannot become fully grown in a year, like seasonal crops, and humans are chopping them down faster than others can replant them. Fossil fuels such as coal and oil take millions of years to form naturally, and us humans are unable to create them synthetically. The number of pieces of trash in the ocean is expected to outnumber fish by 2050.

Greta Thunberg, a sixteen-year-old Swedish climate change activist and Time Magazine's 2019 Person of the Year, has capitalised on these issues, meeting with world leaders, attending important climate events, and organising the school strike for climate called Fridays for Future. She explains in a three-and-a-half minute video named "This is Not a Drill" that natural solutions can be used to restore the climate, and restoring nature can also curb the ever-increasing number of natural disasters occurring around the world (Carrington). In the video, George Monbiot concludes that planting trees is the fastest and cheapest way to reduce the carbon already in the air. Thunberg adds that to bring the world back to its former glory, we must "protect, restore, and fund" Natural Climate Solutions, which only receives two percent of all money that goes toward solutions to protect the climate (Thunberg). Another scientific analysis agrees that planting billions of trees around the world would be the easiest way to go about addressing the issue, although carbon emissions must drop drastically as well. The study also produced maps which show what areas in the world could be potentially covered with trees without encroaching on existing farmland, which is an important part of human life as crops must be able to grow to produce food (Bastin). By covering the available space with trees, we can significantly reduce the amount of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases in the air.

If we continue with our normal daily routines, the earth will soon be overwhelmed and will become unfit for anyone to live. Fossil fuels will eventually run out, and the oceans will become vast, empty spaces of debris and sea grass. The oceans will also rise to levels that will flood coastal cities, and tropical storms will become more and more frequent and destructive. Animals will no longer have natural habitats to live in as the world becomes more and more industrialized and urbanized, and those who live in zoos will eventually die off as well. Scientists predict that if we cannot keep the earth's global temperature below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, it will be catastrophic not only for wildlife, but for us as well.