By: Khandaker Mushfikuzzaman
View all Khandaker Mushfikuzzaman's works
Fighting climate change with the most powerful weapon: education.
Mahatma Gandhi, a social activist and leader of the national movement against the British rule of India, once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And that change we must be. Or, rather stop that change.
Imagine toxic gases trapping heat in our atmosphere. Large glaciers and icebergs melting under the scorching sun. The sea levels rising and swallowing up land. Trees falling like dominoes. More than a million species hanging by a thread. These are all effects of the notorious issue we call climate change. Like Gandhi, we must rise to our responsibility and take on the challenge headfirst. Unlike Gandhi, our generation faces a problem that knows no borders, race, or gender. We must form a battle plan to attack and defeat this threat. To accomplish that, let’s take some advice from the wise words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
We live in a world where a simple conversation starter like “The weather is pretty nice” can cause a heavy and aggravating discussion. Climate change and global warming is continuously becoming a larger and more substantial global issue. The ice caps are gradually melting and the greenhouse effect is getting irrepressible. It’s a problem the entire world faces. Our generation is left with scraps and ashes left by previous generations to reassemble a sustainable Earth for generations to come.
The fact of the matter is, every one of us needs to contribute to this seemingly insurmountable conflict, and to do that, we need to educate ourselves on the topic first. We must learn about all the different effects—from global warming, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, deforestation, and endangered species—and configure ways to tackle each and every one of those subissues. Climate change not only endangers animals, but is also a threat to human extinction. After we’ve burned our only planet to a crisp, where will we go? To the farthest reach of our knowledge, there is no Planet B. What’s more saddening is that we have no one to blame but ourselves. Even more shocking is that some people don’t even believe in climate change. They fail to acknowledge the evidence slapping them in the face and make it out to be a hoax or whatnot. Nevertheless, it’s not too late. Although the already daunting task would have spared us some hope if we’d gotten started earlier and made more progress, we can still raise awareness and vanquish this seemingly insuperable situation. In 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the worst impacts of climate change could be irreversible by 2030. It’s been more than three years and not much has changed, leaving us with less than a decade to scramble and get to work on averting the worst repercussions before they become unalterable. Our ultimate goals are to create an efficient and beneficial renewable energy system globally, and reduce all harmful environmental pollution. We need to harness each type of renewable energy source, decipher the pros and cons, and innovate a way that is wholly and systematically lucrative. While a lot of things remain uncertain, what we know for sure is that there’s a lot of work to be done.
Class Climate Change, Taking Attendance!
We’ve been ranting on and on about climate change and what a menacing issue it is and how we need to enlighten ourselves to combat it. But what exactly is it? What specifically are the effects? What causes them? Why is it threatening? Who or what is responsible?
On a fundamental level, climate change is the long-term alteration of temperature and typical weather patterns. Climate change, however, is not the same as the changing of weather or a specific season. This is a common misconception. Weather is short-term, day-to-day atmospheric conditions, while the climate is the average condition of a region over a long period of time. Seasons are also a short period of time in comparison to the overall climate. The climate, not only in a specific area but the entire world, is changing in various, drastic ways. Why is this such a terrible thing? Well, this change isn’t occurring in the natural way it’s supposed to, which is over eons of time. It’s being caused by none other than us humans.
“Climate has been changing since Pangaea, the breakup of the continents,” says Diana M. Duran, Senior Geological Advisor for Occidental Petroleum at OXY. “The main problem is the rate at which the climate has been changing. Anything that’s natural is hard to control. But with the civilizations and population getting greater, you’re going to have that acceleration.”
One of the prime consequences is global warming. Global warming is the gradual increase of the Earth’s atmosphere, and it’s largely due to escalating quantities of carbon dioxide emissions. This is directly connected to the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect works like, well, a greenhouse. A conservatory is made of glass walls and roof, and used to grow plants. It’s created to trap the Sun’s rays to help the plants grow better. Now, that might sound like a good thing. But since the Earth’s atmosphere works in a similar way, the Sun’s ultraviolet rays get trapped inside due to greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. While carbon dioxide is the gang leader, water vapor, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons also play a part.
Who is at the root of the problem? Humans. Burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil inputs more CO2 into the atmosphere. “When oil and gas exploration first began, the process was very rudimentary. Now, the method is a lot more structured. You need permits to dig a well and the rules and procedures are a lot more clean. It wasn’t always that way. In the 1920s and 30s, you’d just have pools of petroleum over the grass and harmful explosions,” according to Duran.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the global annual temperature has increased by one degree Celsius, or about two degrees Fahrenheit. Between 1880 and 1980, it rose on average 0.07℃ (0.13℉) every 10 years. Since 1981, however, the rate of escalation has doubled. The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with 2016, 2019, and 2020 being the top three. This will continue to happen until we use non-renewable energy in a balanced way. However, even with a cleaner source, it’ll take centuries to repair the damage we’ve caused. Which is why, more than ever, we should get started in a determined way, letting nothing stop us.
“There’s a good intention behind fossil fuels. Which is to provide energy that we need. That our species is heavily dependent on. I’m going to share a story. Earlier this year, in Houston, where I live, a power plant blew out. It was very cold and we didn’t have electricity for 4 days. Many people didn’t even have water.
It was all over the news. Barely any help. We live in 2021. This was shocking. We can’t just stop using fossil fuels. We need a balance,” says Duran.
While global warming is the most infamous effect, climate change has other prominent ramifications. However, they are all interrelated. One effect is caused by another, which causes another. They all fall under the umbrella of climate change. As you can imagine, global warming also directly affects the liquefying of ice caps. As the world consistently gets warmer, glaciers all over the planet are also consistently melting. This diametrically correlates with the rising of sea levels. Around 2.1 percent of all Earth’s water is frozen in glaciers. If it all were to melt, sea levels would rise 230 feet, drowning all coastal cities and shrinking land significantly. Not only that, but the ice caps store 69 percent of the Earth’s freshwater. This cannot be good, considering the fast rate that we’re approaching overpopulation. According to Compassion International, 8.6 billion people will be living on Earth by 2030 and 9.8 billion by 2050. This rate is alarming, given the fact that climate change was principally caused by an increase of population, which then led to increase of industry.
It doesn’t end there, however. The ice serves as a home for a variety of animals, including narwhals, walruses, and polar bears. Snow leopards in the Himalayas are also endangered not only because of global warming, but also because of tree line shifts. Giant pandas are also at risk due to habitat destruction. And this saddening path leads all the way to the iconic Bengal tigers. A recent study in Science and the Total Environment concluded that sea level rise could eliminate suitable tiger habitats in the next 50 years. Climate change has no shame. Beautiful monarch butterflies are heavily sensitive to temperature change, and warming global temperatures promptly influences and disrupts critical stages in the butterflies life cycles. While green sea turtles already face extinction by human plastic pollution, they face another threat at the hand of rising sea levels and stronger storms demolishing their coral reefs. The list goes on and on.
Making Renewable Energy Anew
Ah yes, renewable energy. Savior to all our problems. Hero of the story….but not quite. Renewable energy is utilitarian energy that is collected from renewable resources. Which raises the question: what are renewable resources? Renewable resources are sources of energy, like sunlight, wind, water, etc., that replenishes on a human timeline; the sun won’t run out of fuel for billions of years to come and wind and water will stay around for a long time as well. Solar, wind, and hydropower are major sources of renewable energy. They’re considered such because we’re able to harness them using technology. Each of them work in different ways and similarly have their own pros and cons.
Eighth-grade science teacher, Mrs. Lisa Chiappetta, at P.S./MS 194 says, “We need to move away from fossil fuels and focus on clean, renewable energy. Building more wind farms off-shore and in the Midwest, promoting the development of less expensive solar panels for mass use, and continuing to develop and promote electric cars are some good steps to slow emissions that are heating up the planet. Additionally, many are giving up the consumption of beef, as emissions from cows contribute greatly to greenhouse gases.”
“The benefits of renewable energy are clear: they reduce greenhouse gases, reduce our dependence on fossil fuel, and they are renewable. Disadvantages include the need of vast expanses of land or coastline for wind turbines and exorbitant costs. Some believe that windmills are harmful to birds and are unsightly.”
Let’s dive deeper into this. Simply put, solar energy is produced by the Sun’s rays hitting solar panels, which is then manifested into energy. It is the most abundant energy source on the planet. There’s enough sunlight hitting the Earth every hour to meet humanity’s power needs for an entire year. Why don’t we harness all of that energy? Well, it would be quite difficult to, given that solar panels are quite expensive and it takes a lot of labor to assemble. Although it would seem one of the cons of solar power is that it’s weather dependent and we won’t have it everyday, “Every ounce of oil, every lump of coal, and every cubic foot of natural gas could be left in the ground if only we could capture one hour’s worth of solar energy each year,” journalist Travis Hoium disagrees. While solar power plants can be effective for about 20-25 years, it doesn’t mean it has to go to waste. The infrastructure has a lot of value and we can replace the old panels with new ones as the price slowly decreases. We are definitely on the right path, however. Solar panel costs have fallen up to 99 percent since 1977. We need to innovate a way to efficiently harness as much of the sun’s rays as we possibly can, all over the world, and be able to distribute it to homes across nations.
Wind energy is also very straightforward. Wind turns the propeller-like blades of the turbine which rotates the generator, making electricity. However, there are many disadvantages of wind energy that need to be taken into account to determine whether they outweigh the benefits. As a renewable resource, wind is clean and is surprisingly cost-effective. While wind farms can be costly to initially install, they don’t require much maintenance afterward. That is great, except for the fact that wind is heavily unreliable. Now, the sun isn’t completely reliable either, but it still generates a huge amount of power if harnessed properly. On the other hand, wind can be extremely weak on some days and we need to consider the country and local climate. Furthermore, many people think the turbines can be unappealing aesthetically. Although beauty may be irrelevant in terms of saving our planet through clean energy, turbines can also cause harm to many types of birds. Which is very ironic, since we’re trying to save animals from climate change. Clearly, there’s a lot of work to do in further developing this specific type of renewable energy, but we can’t let that work stop us.
There’s also the topic of when renewable energy does indeed become more accessible, who exactly will have access to it?
“At this point, the affluent have much more access to renewable energy like electric cars and solar panels because of the prohibitive cost, so there definitely is a social justice issue,” Chiapetta says. “As the government becomes more committed to climate change, grants and tax breaks can make it more accessible to all. We can also see that, as the technology improves, and with mass production, the prices come down, which leads to more access for all. Of course, a plant-based burger costs more than a beef burger, and only government intervention can bring accessibility to all.”
What Can You Do?
As shocking as it may be, many people believe climate change is fake. The conspiracy theories that climate change deniers subscribe to include believing that global warming is part of the natural cycle of Earth heating up and cooling down; believing that since it rains and winters are long then climate change can’t be real; and arguing that climate change a hoax because there is no scientific consensus. A hoax to scandalize and accomplish what exactly, I’m not sure. These assertions are all laughable and have already been debunked, which is why we need to spread more awareness on the issue.
“I’m approaching 80 and I grew up in the South, and I can tell you without a doubt there’s definitely climate change,” Ronald Johnson, a former military officer, says. “You can deny it if you want to, but it’s at your own peril. My childhood home is in Florida. I left there last week and it’s hotter there now than ever. I’ve been all over the world in the military and there’s definitely change, therefore it’s science.”
Climate change affects our day-to-day lives. At the park, Tilero Ruiz was out jogging. “Climate change is very bad. This year we are in, it’s not healthy. Our forests are on fire and it’s hotter than before. I am running and it’s not as easy to breathe. We have to not waste paper, plastic bags, and you know, recycle,” says Ruiz.
Fossil fuel companies are portrayed as the enemy. However, that’s not the case. As mentioned, we rely too heavily on fossil fuels to stop using it. Diana Duran stated, “I’m very proud to be working at OXY. Especially because our CEO is a member of the oil and climate initiative around the world. And not all CEOs of fossil fuel companies are there. Only the ones who pick to participate because they care about our environment. They care about having balanced energy. We’re a company, we still have to make a profit. But we care. So a few of those commitments are to support the agreements and their goals to keep fighting and reduce methane and CO2 emissions. And also to assist climate change risks and how we integrate that into portfolio planning. So what that means is that, now this becomes part of our company’s portfolio and we have teams that look into it.”
“It’s very urgent. We’re talking about the Earth. We live in it. We’re talking about billions of cubic feet of water. Billions of acres of land. So it is very urgent, but remember all change takes time. I think we’re now more focused and technology has advanced more, and it’s never too late to start. First we have to change the way we think. In a sense that we don’t think negatively. Or express ourselves in a negative way. We can be assertive with our thoughts but not aggressive. Because anything that is communicated within a positive light will go farther.”
As youth, it’s up to us to do everything in our power to fix the problem previous generations left us. Many people, including ourselves, laugh at Gen Z. After all, we’re the generation with all this technology and social media and all we care about is posting on Instagram and watching TikTok. What do we know about serious topics such as climate change? It’s completely ludicrous that we’re going to solve it! We’ll probably make it worse, there’s no hope. Well we need to change all that. We can’t accomplish anything if we’re just the laughingstock pile of kids, teens, and tweens who have attitude but no responsibility. Although it’s nearly impossible to change the entire mindset of a whole generation, we can’t do anything but get to work on it. Slow progress is the way to go. What exactly do we do though?
“I think climate change is really important to our society because it can affect us everywhere, so I feel like we need to make this change quickly or else in the future it could become a larger issue,” Adrick, 10, says. “I think the role I would play is doing what I can, like picking up garbage. And even if it might not seem like a big part, if we all do it, it could create a big change in the world.”
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Ghandi
There you have it. We all need to play our part. Although that might sound clichè, and you’ve probably heard it enough times, why aren’t you playing your part then? After reading all this, you know the facts. You know the disastrous effects. You know what could happen—what is happening. You know what we need to do with renewable energy. It doesn’t end there. There was no point in reading all of this if you’re going to litter. If you don’t pick up trash when you see it. If you don’t recycle. If you don’t urge others to do the same. Why read this and think, “Yeah, you all should do that,” and “Everybody does need to get to work” when you, yourself aren’t playing your part?
Why Does it All Matter?
Look outside. From wherever you may be. If you’re somewhere inside, take a glance outside the window. If you’re already outside, look around you. Look up at the sky. Feel the sun beating down on the planet we call home. Now feel it scorching, putting everything to flames. Fire all around. Or watch the clouds, fluffy and white, or gray and stormy. Watch the rain drizzle or pour. Feel the wind pick up and then slow back down. Now feel the hurricane around you. Relentless and unforgiving. Nowhere to escape. Or follow the snowflakes as they drift to the ground. Now feel the blizzard surrounding you. Coldness in every fiber of your being. Ice attacking you in the sharp, dangerous form of hail. Or look up at the sky filled with countless stars, filled with a couple, or filled by none; a blanket of pure darkness. Now look at all the people going about their business, or the absence of them—every tiny little detail. All the irrelevant objects, places, people, or ideas. And all the huge, important ones. All the cultures, structures, animals. From every atom and molecule, to all the continents and oceans. Everything.
It’s all worth saving.