By Julie Whitney
According to NASA, “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely the result of human activities.”
Furthermore, the earth has unequivocally warmed dramatically since the 1950s, due in most part to human activities. In fact, during that time period, many of the observed changes are “unprecedented over decade to millennia.”
The earth is like a greenhouse. The technology we use, as well as normal human activity, have resulted in ever increasing amounts of gases being released into the atmosphere. The build-up of these greenhouse gases prevents heat from escaping the earth’s atmosphere.
This, in large part, leads to the current symptoms of climate change we have all experienced: warmer climate and ocean temperatures, more extreme weather events, a rising sea level, and dilution of the ocean’s salinity from melting glacial ice sheets to name a few.
Gases released in the highest concentrations include CO2 (man-made sources caused predominantly by burning of fossil fuels and loss of forests), methane (man-made sources caused predominantly by garbage and waste), and nitrous oxide (man-made emissions caused by fertilizers and fossil fuels.)
Because these activities have led to increased gases in the atmosphere in ever-increasing amounts, climate scientists overwhelming believe human activity is more to blame for this than natural earth trends caused by angle variations of the sun. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2014:
Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.
NASA has a good, easy to follow compilation of the causes of changes in the earth’s atmosphere, as well as explanations and viewpoints of disparate groups.
The Skeptics and the Media
I probably don’t need to tell you that this has been a divisive issue. For one reason – the issue is political. People are afraid of losing their known way of life. Industry, which has feared regulation and reduced profits, has lobbied heavily and supported information campaigns that distort information.
The media hasn’t helped.
In an effort to be “fair and balanced,” the media have likely done the opposite. By reporting both viewpoints on whether climate change is real or not, they have led the public to believe there are actually two equally relevant sides. Scientists are trained to be objective and report facts. Sometimes studies by scientists are commissioned by groups with an agenda, although both sides do that.
When 97 percent of a diverse group of scientists agree, it is strong evidence that climate change is a real problem.
To be truly fair and balanced, the media needs to present 97 stories discussing how and why the earth is warming, against just 3 representing the opposite viewpoint. Say, for example, you have 97 gallons of chocolate ice cream but 3 gallons of vanilla. If you mix them all together, do you have chocolate, or chocolate and vanilla? It’s going to taste like chocolate no matter how you mix it.
Some media outlets have gone out of their way to show only one side, the side of the 3 percent of scientists who call the rest into question. Who are they?
Amazingly, the same three scientists who championed the idea that nicotine is not addictive when suits against the tobacco companies were brought are the leading voices representing the contention that the science on climate change isn’t settled.
Even if you have your doubts about these things, please consider the ramifications of ignoring the issue.
What if these changes to the earth are irreversible? How is it moral or even spiritual to turn your back on the earth that your children and grandchildren will inherit? Doesn’t it make economic and moral sense to consider acting individually to help in your own home or in your community?
If you really become inspired, you can take it to the streets and become an activist. Or, simply contact your legislators. Even if you don’t, the world will still benefit by some simple things you can do now. While we’re debating the causes of global warming, you and I can help reduce the problem. In the end, we live in this world together and should take care of it and each other as best we can.
What You Can Do
- Pass this information on to your neighbor. Discuss these issues with them and provide them real unbiased information directly from your mouth.
- Take steps in your daily life to reduce the use of electricity, such as lowering the temperature of your heater in winter by a degree or two, and by raising the temperature of your air conditioner in the summer, if you use one. Turn it off when you aren’t home, or at least raise the temperature setting. Unplug appliances when they aren’t in use.
- Eat more foods that are plant-based. Am I asking you to give up meat? Not if that is a non-starter for you. Just reduce the amount. It will help the planet, and contribute to a healthier (and perhaps longer) life. Eating less meat is associated with lower blood pressure, lower risk of diabetes and lower risk of cardiovascular issues.
- Eat foods that are local. They require less transportation — which results in less burning of fossil fuels — are higher in nutrients because they’re fresher, and doing so supports your neighbor farmers.
- Consider planting a garden for uber-local food! If your garden produces more than you can use, freeze or can the extra, consider giving some to the people in your community. Also, keeping food out of garbage cans and dumpsters prevents the release of greenhouse gas emissions (methane in particular).
- Throw vegetable peelings and wasted foods into a compost bin. Remember to mix equal parts greens (this includes vegetable scraps) and browns (such as soil or twigs) and layer them. Also, add some water to affect the breakdown and include a variety of sizes of entrants to the bin. If your town or city doesn’t have a program to provide such bins, start the discussion. Click the link for more information from the EPA on composting.
- Recycle as much as you can. If your city/town doesn’t provide recycling bins, research who takes recycling in your area. If you see places where people are dumping bottles into regular trash cans, find out if the location can add a recycle container to the mix. The more you can reuse a container is even better. You not only keep it out of the waste stream, but you prevent the manufacture of a new one, which relies on fossil fuels currently.
- Plant trees in your yard. Development brings with it many stresses on climate, not the least of which is the removal of the existing trees. Trees are nature’s way of absorbing greenhouse gases.
- Where possible and safe, consider mass transit, walking to work, or biking.
- If you have to use a vehicle for transportation, keep your existing car running instead of buying new. The manufacture of a new vehicle is a large source of carbon footprint. Opt for cars that get better gas mileage or that don’t burn fossil fuels.
Extra steps: Community Organizing.
- If you have extra time and determination, go to local bars and restaurants and find out how they manage their recycling, especially if you don’t have mandatory recycling in your municipality. Find out if a youth group in town would like to take on collecting those containers as a fundraiser for different goals and programs the group has, and put them in touch with the bar or restaurant. Go to your local grocery stores and find out where their wasted produce goes. Maybe you can work with a local food bank to help orchestrate regular pickup by volunteers for delivery to programs for the poor.
- Ask your town council or legislative body to add discussions of ways to make biking safer and more realistic to potential bikers.
- Support community efforts and planning to include tree planting.
- Explore the NASA Climate Change portal as mentioned above. Bring what you learn to the community. Share it with your neighbors.
- If you drive, consider avoiding single-purpose trips. Try and build your shopping trips into your other trips. For example, stop at the grocery store on the way home from work or school rather than making a special trip just for groceries. Add a cooler and ice pack to your car or trunk when you leave in the morning so you have a place to store things that could spoil, especially if you live in a hot climate or it’s summer.
- Insulate your homes better from air gaps. For example, if you live in a cold climate, cover your windows with plastic if you don’t already have window quilts or some sort of extra insulation from the cold on your windows. Regardless of where you live, put new weather stripping in your doorways to the outside. On a property with many deciduous trees that generate lots of fallen leaves in the fall, bag those leaves up and put them around your foundation before winter. In the spring, add those leaves to your compost bin. At that point, you have come full circle!
It starts with you. Whether you believe in regulation or market forces, the planet isn’t going to wait for us to all get on the same page. In the meantime, you can do things to help it.
Julie Whitney, an animal lover and married mother of two grown sons, is currently a second year law student at Thomas Jefferson School of Law interested in serving underserved populations. She and her husband run TheLaw.net, a small company that provides affordable case law to solo practitioners and small law firms. Julie has been a fan of conservation and protecting the environment since the 1970s.