2018, High School, Prose
I’ll give this much to humans: they are quite driven.
They possess an energy I would categorize somewhere between willpower, passion, and stimulation. It enables them – from the teenager, sacrificing sleep for good grades; to the middle-aged man exchanging days’ worth of toil for green bills – to pursue their goals tirelessly.
But there’s a catch to this momentous motivation, and that is blindness. Often, humans are so nearsighted in their pursuits that they only concentrate on its immediate benefits and forget about long-term implications. A teenager who’s desperate for As ignores the bodily damage dealt by all-nighters, and a parent hungry for money often neglects their familial duties. So it was sad, but unsurprising, when humankind began exploiting tremendous reserves of gas and oil without a second thought toward the alarming greenhouse gases that were released in this process. As long as it meant they could run their noxious factories and power lights half of them never used, no generation seemed to care about what the world might turn into after they were dead and gone.
After that, it didn’t take long for methane and carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide to pile up in the air and begin absorbing heat, steadily warming the climate. I’d been subject to human cruelty before, but this wave of climate change forced me to finally kick the bucket. I grew riddled and replete with carbon, parts of my body dyed hot gray like ash. Alarmed, my close friend, the Ocean, tried to ease my burden by absorbing the greenhouse gases that’d been heating up the climate.
Neither of us foresaw the toll it would take on her body.
Due to the heat-trapping nature of carbon and other gases, the Ocean’s temperature began rising. When human temperatures rise, they typically simultaneously experience symptoms of illness, becoming sick. Thus, in the way a human might become sick from infection, the Ocean became sick from human-induced climate change.
The implications of a human being sick, however, and the Ocean being sick, are vastly different. The human race continues functioning in the instance of one ill individual – all corners of life suffered as the Ocean’s condition deteriorated. As the Ocean warmed, her body of water expanded, causing her sea level to rise. This actually heightened an already existent process, as the warming climate had melted many of her ice sheets and glaciers. Her sea level has consequently risen eight inches in the past century, and without control, it might rise 6.5 feet within the next (“Sea Level Rise Will…”).
For many humans, I’m sure that the Ocean’s change of eight inches seems disregardable. Like a mere growth spurt. But for her, it’s a harbinger of disaster; rising sea level means that her waters are creeping further inland. Coastal areas (like beaches) and coastal ecosystems (like estuaries), which require a certain balance between my own freshwater and the Ocean’s saltwater, are being flooded, signifying increasing losses of habitat for many of the Ocean’s endangered children (“Sea Turtles Threatened by…”).
Climate change also served as a catalyst for a variety of other “symptoms.” The same greenhouse gases that’d brought heat to the Ocean also brought acidity, subsequently dropping the Ocean’s pH. In a human, a change in pH of just .2 triggers seizures and death. So when the Ocean became increasingly acidic, many of her children – more formally known as marine organisms – either died or became deranged. Animals had to abandon activities like eating and reproducing so they could reserve their energy for regulating body chemistry instead, decreasing survival rates; the shells of calcifying organisms, like clams and scallops, withered (“Ocean Acidification”); some fishes couldn’t tell prey from predator due to altered brain function (“Effects of Ocean and…). In perhaps the most obvious brutalization, Ocean’s pride and joy, Coral, was bleached. For millennia, Coral had formed brilliantly colored reefs, but within decades of rapidly warming water and acidification, entire reefs were forced to transform into lifeless white dregs (“Ocean Acidification Causes Bleaching…”). As Coral died, the delicate ecosystem she supplanted was uprooted. Worms and snails that saw Coral as a food source lost nourishment; turtles and fish that lived within coral reefs fled to look for new homes as their old dwellings crumbled apart.
Other aspects of marine life transformed as well. The Ocean’s body has always moved in currents, which shift warm, tropical water from the equator to colder areas over the globe. Many of her children, like sea turtles and several species of fish, rely on these currents for migration. As the Ocean’s body warmed from human greenhouse gas emissions, these currents weakened, jamming her body’s traditional flow and rendering many marine animals unable to use their typical migration patterns (“How Climate Change…”).
Intolerably rapid change has taken place in the last century and a half due to human developments, but it is the marine realm that has taken much of the blow. The Ocean is furious. She’s sickened – experiencing a rising temperature, swelling body, and dipping pH – and consequently, her children have been turned into refugees, with their bodies and minds transfigured.
But in this intricate web of life, humans can’t wreak such devastation upon others without harming themselves. Eventually, without careful regulation of their resources, their carelessness will make their homes as uninhabitable as they made the Ocean for underwater organisms. Perhaps then people will realize that all life is interconnected – and what this means in regards to the price they must pay for their deeds.
A rising sea level is deadly for all coastal creatures – not just turtles, but also approximately 634 million humans that live near the coast (“Study: 634 Million…”). As the sea level rises, coastal erosion (the wearing away of material from a coastal profile) will increase. In the United States alone, 1,500 human homes will be lost to this process yearly, and humans will be forced to dedicate increasing amounts of their energy and resources – billions of dollars, in fact – to alleviate resulting crisis (“Evaluation of Erosion…”). Coastal flooding will increase as well, and considering that much of the human population settles near coastal areas – six out of ten of the largest cities are sea-bound – losses will be unbearable. And unfortunately, it’s the poorest humans that will bear the brunt of this pressure. Citizens in poorer regions like sub-Saharan Africa, as well as South and Southeast Asia, are being forced to move from coastal areas as their cities expand (“Climate Change Will Hit…”). But when the climate warms, their unprotected homes, crops, and lives will be the most exposed to the Ocean’s flooding.
The absence of underwater life also holds ominous implications for humans. Coral reefs and coastal ecosystems have always acted as a barrier to natural disasters approaching coastal areas (“Natural Hazards In…”). With these systems no longer mitigating natural disasters, the destruction of human homes lying along the coastline, as well as the reconstruction costs of seaside places like ports, farmlands, and rice paddies, will increase greatly. Additionally, the intensity of natural disasters has already been heightened by a warmer Ocean, as hotter water surfaces typically mean stronger disasters (“What is Climate Change?”). In other words, the potential of natural disasters will only continue to grow as humans realize the roles of the underwater organisms whose lives they stole.
Even the more internalized, understated characteristics of the Ocean could drastically alter human living conditions. Ocean currents have long played a role in regulating global temperature, keeping areas like Europe and northeastern America warm despite their lengthy latitudes. Thus, when these currents shift, so will the climate in those areas (“Climate Change Is Slowing…”). In the past, climate changes as small as .2 degrees Celsius have disrupted human civilizations by triggering starvation through massive crop failure (“Drought and Climate…”), making it likely that weakening currents will indirectly undermine modern societies. Life on land and underwater life have never been separate. Human practices might first damage the ecosystems humans aren’t directly concerned with, but mark my words, if the Ocean changes, so will the conditions on land. And if marine life perishes, they will drag humans down with them.
To keep this from happening, humans must change their ways now, before indirect consequences destroy them. Past greenhouse gas emissions have irreversibly raised global temperatures, but deaccelerating current emissions will keep temperatures from skyrocketing even more in the future. And it must be all of humankind – not just policymakers or famous environmentalists but also the masses, because global efforts are the only way to combat global warming and its pervasive roots. Thus, whether it be an old man or young child living in Switzerland or Saudi Arabia, each individual effort will help comprise a step on the uphill journey of fighting climate change.
There are flawed and daily mass practices that can be easily addressed. Take, for example, the production of beef; processes used to raise cows, such as deforestation and livestock rearing, release substantial greenhouse gases. The fact that much of the beef produced is actually wasted capitalizes upon the necessity for change. In the UK alone, householders throw away 34,000 tons of beef a year (“UK Households Wasting…”). In other words, food made at the expense of environmental health is not even being used. And when this beef, along with other food waste – which comprises 40% of all food produced – finally makes it to the landfill, it decomposes and releases methane, another highly potent greenhouse gas. All this gas fails to dissipate, increasing the quantity of greenhouse gas that the Ocean absorbs, and ultimately contributing to the ongoing heating of the Ocean (“‘Short-Lived’ Methane…”).
These practices, blurring the line between luxurious and wasteful, have prices that may not appear immediately for every individual, but will cost the human race dearly. However, simple actions like reducing beef intake, or not tossing leftovers, can reduce an individual’s ecological footprint. Similarly, turning off unused lights, reducing standby consumption, and engaging in other generally non-wasteful practices in daily life all help make a difference. Climate change and its effects upon the Ocean may be a complex issue, but one can help combat it through simple matters of awareness and conscious decision-making.
As of now, the price of inaction is devastation. First-world humans living far from the coast may not realize the urgency of this issue, and I admit – it can be daunting to comprehend the extent to which their decisions now will decide the lives of others. Deciding to forgo responsibility and living in a world of denial is the far easier option.
But it’s a moral obligation for people to accept and fix their problematic practices. They owe it to marine creatures, whose lives and habitats have been destroyed by their overindulgence. Beyond that, it’s a debt they must pay to their fellow humans: the impacts of a warming sea have been disproportionately shouldered by those in developing countries, the ones who have likely contributed the least to climate change. And if they want their children to have a home at all, they must attend to the problems that their ancestors wreaked, and change the lifestyles of future generations, before their beaches and coasts are swallowed by waves. The people today no longer simply carry their own lives, which is why change is needed so desperately.
You might be wondering why I’m so interested in the human race, why I’ve dissected their mindsets and future path. The answer is actually quite simple.
My name is Mother Nature. Throughout my reign, life was balanced. I lived in harmony with my friend, the Ocean. The amount of carbon dioxide I produced never breached 400 ppm, and greenhouse gases were carefully regulated so they could be naturally absorbed into the cycle of life. As a result, the Ocean was able to carefully nurture ecosystems into existence; she birthed 2.2 million marine species, whose paths grew to intertwine with my own children’s. But when I gave humankind the gift of life, supplying them with fertile land, rich seeds, and all they needed to grow and thrive, they grew greedy – plundering me of my gas and oil. Steadily, humans transformed those resources into a deadly gun of wasteful cities and urbanized usage, shooting bullets of greenhouse gas straight into my head. After centuries’ worth of deforestation and urbanization, humans finally became the dominant force in the world by changing the climate – seeming to forget that, in the end, they are only human. So now is the Anthropocene (the epoch of human domination), and its implications for the world are growing steadily drearier.
In other words, everything can, and perhaps will be, influenced by human behavior today. Humans have abused their powers thus far, using it to warm the climate, disrupt the Ocean, and harm all that lives inside it. But the implications of Anthropocene aren’t necessarily restricted to a negative scope, because the Anthropocene also speaks of the human potential to keep the climate from warming even further, restore the Ocean to its natural order, and save lives both underwater and aground. The human drive is what brought the Anthropocene about in the first place; I know if humans channel their drive to fight climate change, they can keep the Anthropocene from turning into the last epoch on Earth. As a friend, a mother, and a giver of life, I can only hope humans realize the role that is theirs to fulfill, and change their ways before it destroys them.
Greenfieldboyce, Nell. “Study: 634 Million People at Risk from Rising Seas.” NPR, NPR, 28 Mar. 2007, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9162438.
Parker, Laura. “Sea Level Rise Will Flood Hundreds of Cities in the Near Future.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 12 July 2017, news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/sea-level-rise-flood-global-warming-science/.
Bennett, Jennifer, et al. “Ocean Acidification.” Ocean Portal | Smithsonian, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, 14 May 2018, ocean.si.edu/ocean-acidification.
Anthony, K. R. N., et al. “Ocean Acidification Causes Bleaching and Productivity Loss in Coral Reef Builders.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 11 Nov. 2008, www.pnas.org/content/105/45/17442.
“Drought and Climate Change in Haiti.” CWS, 25 Jan. 2016, cwsglobal.org/drought-and-climate-change-in-haiti/.
“Effects of Ocean and Coastal Acidification on Marine Life.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 21 Dec. 2016, www.epa.gov/ocean-acidification/effects-ocean-and-coastal-acidification-marine-life.
“Evaluation of Erosion Hazards.” What Is Disaster Assistance? | FEMA.gov, The H. John Heinz III Center, www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1553-20490-4134/hz_erosn.txt.
Gillis, Justin. “Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2015, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/28/science/what-is-climate-change.html?_r=1n.
“How Climate Change Could Jam the World’s Ocean Circulation.” Yale E360, 16 Sept. 2016, e360.yale.edu/features/will_climate_change_jam_the_global_ocean_conveyor_belt.
Meyer, Robinson. “‘Short-Lived’ Methane Could Raise Sea Levels for Another 800 Years.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 10 Jan. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/short-lived-methane-sea-levels-for-800-years-solomon/512588/.
Nel, Jeanne L., et al. “Natural Hazards in a Changing World.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 7 May 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4012988/.
Smithers, Rebecca. “UK Households Wasting 34,000 Tonnes of Beef Each Year.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 Feb. 2016, www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/25/uk-households-wasting-34000-tonnes-of-beef-each-year.
Spooner, Peter T. “Climate Change Is Slowing Atlantic Currents That Help Keep Europe Warm.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 11 June 2018, theconversation.com/climate-change-is-slowing-atlantic-currents-that-help-keep-europe-warm-94930.
“The Impact of Rising Sea Levels on Animal Life.” Actforlibraries.org, www.actforlibraries.org/the-impact-of-rising-sea-levels-on-animal-life/.
Vidal, John. “Climate Change Will Hit Poor Countries Hardest, Study Shows.” The Guardian, Guardian News, and Media, 27 Sept. 2013, www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/sep/27/climate-change-poor-countries-ipcc.
“Sea Turtles Threatened by Rising Seas.” WWF International, www.wwfca.org/?19554%2FSea-turtles-threatened-by-rising-seas.
As humans who typically live for just 80 years, we’re usually concerned with immediate issues rather than long-term ones, which is why it’s tempting to ignore the implications of climate change: who cares if the temperature increases a little bit in the next five years if the Superbowl is in five days? That’s why I tried to understand the perspective of an outsider who would have millenia’s worth of environmental experience: Mother Nature. The first thing that struck me was the unfairness of the current situation: underwater life is being subjected to conditions that they had no roles in creating. Meanwhile, many humans who were responsible for creating these conditions don't have interest, or even awareness, in changing their faulty behaviors. That moment was a jolt: climate change was practically a method of “slow” murder, and people more interested in “immediate issues” were either unaware propagators or bystanders. This sense of guilt, for creatures I’ve never met that live in a place I’ve rarely ever been to, signifies the necessity for change. It might be long overdue, but this essay was a way for me to start that journey toward change.