Editorial: The Debate is Over, But the Burden is Real on Climate Change

By Joanne AMLAG

Last year, I read a shocking paragraph while reading The Stranger, my favorite eclectic and locally produced newspaper in Seattle (founded by Tim Keck, who had previously co-founded the satirical newspaper The Onion). In their yearly edition of “We Regret These Errors” staff apologize for errors they have made throughout the previous year. One dubiously talented writer, Cienna Madrid, regretted not knowing where the Philippines was located on the map when Typhoon Haiyan devastated millions of Filipinos worldwide in November 2013 with over 35,000 reported dead, injured or missing. Madrid said that she “regrets not being able to identify where the Philippines is on a map, but give it 10 years and it won’t be on any maps.”

I probably should have prefaced my shock given the context that most of my relatives on both sides of my family live in the Philippines. Of course, after reading Madrid’s comment I shouldn’t really be shocked knowing that half of young Americans can’t find New York on a map (or 25% of Americans don’t know the Earth circles the Sun). Sadly, this kind of ignorance has lost its shock luster.

What is more interesting is not that Madrid waved her hand away at the country of my birthplace, but that she so simply stated that it will all be under water someday. All jokes aside, this was quite a provoking thought. That would be 7,107 islands, over 101 million people, more than 52,000 wildlife species, and a whole country’s history and culture all submerged into the depths of the Pacific Ocean like a post-apocalyptic Atlantis.

Dare I say dramatic? Maybe not so much. I knew the “global climate change debate” was over when Republicans started agreeing with Democrats. Now that’s dramatic. But evidence is more irrefutable now than it ever has been:

  • Sea level rise: Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.
  • Global temperature rise: All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.
  • Warming oceans: The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
  • Shrinking ice sheets: Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.
  • Declining Arctic sea ice: Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.
  • Glacial retreat: Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
  • And the list goes on.

Beyond political agreements there is still much more work to be done. When it comes to individual action we should do what we can. In many ways, for most of us, that is all that we can do. Even the smallest of efforts is the greatest difference between doing something and doing nothing. And although action addressing global climate change can often feel like swallowing the sun, there are a few very simple actions:

  • Switch to Clean Energy: When we get electricity from renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, we avoid the carbon dioxide emissions that would have come from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, or natural gas.
  • Use Less Energy: Most of the energy you use at home and at school comes from burning fossil fuels. Using less energy means burning fewer fossil fuels and putting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Travel Green: Cars, trucks, airplanes, and other kinds of vehicles are responsible for about one–third of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Smart transportation choices can make a big impact on reducing emissions.
  • Watch Your Water Use: Did you know that letting your faucet run warm water for five minutes uses about as much energy as leaving a 60–watt light bulb on for 14 hours?
  • Reduce Waste: Reducing, reusing, and recycling means you buy (and throw away) less stuff, and that helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we’re adding to the atmosphere.

Of course, there are many other ways to get involved with organizations and policies that are working on large scale solutions.

For now, I do what I can. And after reading the tiny two sentence paragraph written by Cienna Madrid, I decided to cut out that little slice of newspaper and keep it in my journal where it’s taped to a world map, perfectly covering the small but significant 7,107 islands of the Philippines.

 

 

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