On a flight to Tokyo, I read an article in the USA Today that had a profound effect on me. This little article, about the Pope’s 180-page encyclical on global warming, brought me to a realization: climate change is an issue that affects everyone, no matter his or her nationality, race, or ethnicity. I knew when I read that article that I needed to write about this issue, and I began to wonder: what really is the truth about climate change? And why do so few people seem to know it?
Science was never my best subject in school. But I had to understand this. And having learned that pizza is one of the Pope’s favorite foods, I figured he’d be right about this too (he’s also a trained chemist). So I began researching the subject and discovered more than the Pope’s gastronomic preferences.
One thing I learned is that somehow, while most of the world has accepted global warming to be as true as evolution, many Americans have remained in denial, or at least confused or uncertain. And da Nile is not just a river in Africa.
According to studies, ninety-seven to ninety-eight percent of the world’s climate scientists are convinced that the Earth’s climate is heating up and human activities are a primary driving cause (Doran and Zimmerman 2009; Anderegg et al. 2010). Through tree ring analyses and other measures, scientists have concluded that because of human-generated greenhouse gases trapping heat, air and ocean temperatures are increasing, sea levels are rising, glaciers are retreating, extreme weather events are on an upward sloping trend, one-half of the world’s coral reefs are threatened, and climate patterns are shifting. Greenhouse gasses include: CO2 from fossil fuels and deforestation; methane from animal farms; nitrous oxide from vehicles, fertilizer, and more; halocarbons from fridges and Styrofoam; and aerosols, which are not gasses, but are second to CO2 in their contribution to global warming (Abatzoglou, 2014).
More than one-third of manmade CO2 comes from electricity; solar, wind, hydroelectric, and nuclear energies emit minimal if any greenhouse gases. Transportation is the second biggest source of CO2 in the US; CO2 emissions from vehicles are approximately equal to the total emissions of India, even though India’s population is almost four times the population of the US. Third is human activities such as raising livestock (vegetarians, you’re helping) and the presence of landfills. Smokestacks and tailpipe emission are the main producers of aerosols (Abatzoglou, 2014).
So if these are all agreed upon facts, why is the American public dubious? There’s even a new field called climate psychology to explain this phenomenon. The Cold War generation is that of imminent calamity, raised with “duck and cover” exercises in the classroom. The environmental problems of the 1980s, such as the destruction of the Amazon, were easy to identify. Global Warming is intricate, messy, and incremental. It is hardly newsworthy (Revkin, 2014).
But as my grandma once said, the proof is in the pudding. And global warming is a problem now. In 2004, climate-induced flooding in Bangladesh displaced 30 million people. The Bangladeshi government, fearing an attack from India, put millions of dollars in the military and had nothing left to build a system of dykes. Sudan experienced a climate-induced drought; more than 1,100 people died in the heat wave of India just this year. The poorest countries, those with the least resources to handle climate change, will be affected the most.
Don’t get discouraged or depressed. There have already been tremendous successes in climate change. A global policy to curtail the usage of CFCS worked – when was the last time your coffee was served in a Styrofoam cup? While Germany and Switzerland shift to renewable energy, President Obama has outlined a climate action plan that covers a lot: reducing US greenhouse gas emissions, doubling renewable energy (including in the Department of Defense, which is the single largest consumer of energy in the country), placing pollution standards on factories and vehicles, and preparing for natural disasters. Dude wants to help.
Who is actually denying climate change? Who else but a US senator – Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, who also happens to be chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, concerned about a tax increase, actually blamed the poor, claiming they “spend the largest portion of their expendable income to heat their homes.” Check your numbers, Senator: today, one-fifth of the world’s population survives on one percent of the world’s product, while another one-fifth lives on eighty percent.
Back to the Pope: he doesn’t point a finger at politicians; he blames us, those who are indifferent or resigned. I have to admit that I agree with him. I realize I may be breaking all the rules here; I may be alienating readers by saying this. But it’d be easy for me to blame a senator. This is my longest blog post yet because this issue is too important for us to misunderstand. Plus, I’m buzzing on coffee right now.
As I travelled through Japan, I remembered how I once lived seven years ago. There wasn’t AC in my room and it took me about a month to get used to it. From then on, it wasn’t inconceivable to me to sacrifice my personal comfort for the sake of humanity. But even more, I observed how the Japanese lived their daily lives. At a temple, buying my entrance fee from a monk, I noticed an empty Barilla tomato sauce bottle. He had cleaned it and brought it with him to be reused for spare change. This resourcefulness stuck out to me. If more people were conscious and took action to create change, the world would be a better place. Climate change is a human problem. Show that you care.
What can we as individuals do to help? Turn off the light when you leave the room. Try not to come to conclusions about climate change based on the weather that day – or that season. If you’re going to research the subject, read “Inside Climate News,” climantecentral.org, or check my references. Take public transportation, carpool, bicycle, and don’t drive SUVs. ACs running in large houses and offices have a profound effect, and at least in your car, open your window if you can. My dog loved sticking his head out the window, letting the fresh air blow his fur. If it worked for my dog, it could work for anyone.
DiMento, Joseph, and Pamela Doughman. Climate Change: What it Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014: Print.
Rice, Doyle. “Global Warming deniers unmoved.” USA Today 19 June 2015 US ed. Print.
United States. Executive Office of the President. The President’s Climate Action Plan Washington: GPO, 2015: Print.
Zoroya, Greg. “Pope: ‘No right’ to destroy the earth.” USA Today 19 June 2015 US ed. Print.
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