What you need to know about the climate crisis.
Climate crisis. Climate change. Global warming. Mass extinction event.
Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, and whatever your values or beliefs are, these issues and concepts affect your life. Whether through media, academia, or word of mouth, environmental issues and the dialogue surrounding them have been exacerbated as the years and even weeks go by. This phenomenon is one with catastrophic proportions, with the potential to impact every single being on this planet to a life-threatening extent.
The reality of this has led to global protests and even mental health issues. This will no doubt have impacted your educational experience, with conversations around the implications of the climate crisis finding their way into the classrooms of many courses on campus, and into the papers and research of many students.
Although climate change has been a concerning issue for decades, the most recent rise in the popularity and presence of climate discourse in mainstream conversation was arguably catalysed by the IPCC report of October 2018 and Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement.
What are the basics?
It is perhaps most important to understand the three main gases that contribute to global warming through human activity. In a profile on greenhouse gases, the David Suzuki Foundation website explains: “Carbon dioxide is the main contributor to climate change, especially through the burning of fossil fuels. Methane is produced naturally when vegetation is burned, digested or rotted without the presence of oxygen. Large amounts of methane are released by cattle farming, waste dumps, rice farming and the production of oil and gas. Nitrous oxide, released by chemical fertilizers and burning fossil fuels, has a global warming potential 310 times that of carbon dioxide.”
As you can see, these gases are created by basic human behaviour: the production of food, the decomposition of waste in landfills, and the production and burning of fossil fuels. In order to understand how individual changes in behaviour can help the environment, one must understand how deep pollution and greenhouse gas production is embedded in consumerist societal practices, particularly in the Global North.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an organization affiliated with and created by the United Nations. According to their website, the IPCC provides policymakers with accurate, scientific information related to climate change and its risks. They work with teams of scientists and offer potential solutions to climate issues. It is important to note that the IPCC is politically neutral; their reports are meant to inform policy, not create it.
The IPCC report, “Global Warming of 1.5°C,” released in October of last year, explains the implications of continued warming. These include extreme heat, drought, extreme weather events, and food shortages more often and in greater extremes than what has been previously experienced globally, pointing out that human activity is responsible for approximately 1°C of warming since the Industrial Revolution.
The report explains the threat of mass extinction of animal species, and the potential for the populations experiencing extreme poverty and disease to increase as a result of greater food insecurity and less inhabitable land.
Ultimately, the report maintains that global warming must be kept below 1.5°C in order to begin to repair the damage that has been done. This includes: a permeation of microplastics into the rain itself, the yearly capacity of the earth’s regenerative resources being surpassed by the global population as of this summer (it’s called Earth Overshoot Day), and disappearing glaciers.
Should I be worried?
The bottom line is this: should governments, corporations, oil companies, and individuals continue on the path we are currently on, our global temperature will rise to that which will render the planet ultimately uninhabitable for human life.
This is an overwhelming truth, which requires conversation and investigation in order to begin to comprehend it. Activism, policy change, system change, and lifestyle change on a global scale are the answer, if the above information is any indication. These changes could alter our day-to-day lives dramatically, and they will certainly come with their own set of challenges. But they are possible, and essential to the restoration of our planet.
How do I know what is true and what is false?
Approach a news article on climate change as you would finding sources for your upcoming research paper. Click on the links journalists and authors cite. Pay attention to where the information is coming from. Question what you read. Is the news source credible and up to date? Is actual, traceable data being included? Opinion pieces are excellent additions to overall discourse and awareness, but they may hyperbolize situations in an attempt to drive their point.
In addition, getting one’s news updates from a singular tweet without further investigation may not be wise, no matter the source. An excellent example of this is the media coverage of the wildfires in the Amazon this summer.
By the time the news broke, celebrities, organizations, politicians, and citizens alike were rallying around the country, demanding change. However, data was often misrepresented, and the some of the most commonly-shared photographs were taken years prior to these particular fires.
Is it important to raise awareness? Absolutely. But when dealing with an issue as dire and complex as the climate crisis, correct information is crucial to collective understanding and progress.
What can I do?
It is important to maintain hope and action in this era of climate crisis, and that includes keeping the conversation going, and figuring out the ways in which one can affect positive change starting with their own lives and actions. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, the following are among the best things you can do to affect positive change in the face of the climate crisis:
- Eat for a climate-stable planet. This can mean switching to plant-based and vegan diets, choosing local or organic produce, growing your own food, or minimizing your food waste as much as possible.
- Green your commute. If your location permits it, avoid vehicular travel as much as possible for local commutes. Try taking the bus, walking, or riding a bike or skateboard. As well, when it comes to travelling long distances, try to avoid plane travel whenever possible.
- Consume less, waste less. Upcycle, reuse, repair, rework, regift, rehome, or compost before simply throwing an item away or recycling it. Secondhand, thrift, consignment, and locally-based shopping are also great alternatives to buying brand new. Plus, you’re usually supporting local businesses in doing so.
- Use energy wisely. This can be as simple as changing the lightbulbs in your home to more energy efficient ones, going without air conditioning in the summer, and turning down the heat in the winter. Unplug electronic devices when they’re not in use, and wash your clothes in cold water rather than hot—and hang them to dry.
- VOTE. And demand climate action from your representatives. Take the climate into consideration when casting your ballot in the federal election this October 21, and make an attempt to support those who have a solid climate action plan in place. You can also send letters to your local politicians, or reach out to them through social media.
Greta Thunberg said it best: “no one is too small to make a difference.”
If you have any questions or comments, including things you may like to see in any future pieces on the climate crisis, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.