Patchwork for Change
Des Moines, IA
2021, Middle School, Interactive & Multimedia
Project description: This submission combines art, film, spoken word, and writing to display information on sea levels. Art is included on the smaller cards to illustrate concepts and form the larger image. I wrote and read aloud a speech to create a narrative with my cards, which I am able to share with this film.
Water makes up most of the earth, much of our bodies, and brings life to the planet. But more water isn’t always better. Living in Iowa, thousands of miles from the rising sea levels, leads to many disregarding our impact. My family has never evacuated our home in fear of hurricanes, seen destroyed buildings due to flooding, or experienced storm surges, things coastal citizens deal with regularly. Like many other Midwesterners, I had no idea my actions had a direct impact on sea levels, but our choices can and will change lives if we open our minds to the result of our actions. If we have the power to impact sea levels negatively, that means anyone can positively take action to lower sea levels too, even thousands of miles away from the effects. By looking at the problems we are causing for others, getting informed, and zooming in on our actions, we can support our coastal neighbors, however far away they seem.
Let’s break rising water down, beginning with learning how this issue was created in the first place. While taking a step back to analyze, we can pinpoint the causes to be similar to those of global warming, a more familiar topic. Global warming increases thermal energy because of trapped greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere, which also causes sea levels to rise. When we omit greenhouse gasses, they prevent warm air from escaping, leaving the heat trapped in the atmosphere, and the temperature to rise. Well, when temperatures rise, ice melts, and when ice melts, more water is formed, a chain reaction (1). This is occurring with the earth’s icecaps, leading to more than 14,000 tons of new water in the oceans each second. (2)
While most of us don’t have the power to slow the burning of fossil fuels, or stop the destruction of forests by ourselves, we can do other things to stop greenhouse gasses from indirectly causing water to rise. By using less electricity, we can lower greenhouse gas levels because of the use of burned gas or coal. We can shut off lights when rooms aren’t occupied, get energy conservative
lightbulbs, or be careful about energy usage, to reduce a fourth of all greenhouse gasses to be in the atmosphere. Traveling with environment safe transportation is another poignant cause of greenhouse gasses, and by making the choice to bike or walk places prevents cars, trucks, or buses from producing greenhouse gasses, not to mention being healthier for our bodies. Another cause of carbon dioxide emissions is food use, specifically eating less meat. It’s said that 10% of greenhouse gasses produced in the US are from agriculture and livestock (3). This is because along with respiration producing carbon dioxide, the places for them to live often cut down trees, which raises carbon dioxide levels.
Because there is already greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it’s important to not only take action to slow the production, but also to get some of the carbon dioxide out of the air, which we can do by planting trees. Trees, like all plants, do photosynthesis by converting the carbon dioxide, into oxygen, which then cycles back to us. This can get rid of some of the excess carbon dioxide, bringing down the amount of greenhouse gasses in the air, resulting in a cooler planet and lower water levels. When the number of trees doesn’t provide a healthy ratio to the human population, the amount of carbon dioxide we produce will not continue in the cycle of respiration and photosynthesis, resulting in extra carbon dioxide. As a society, we are hindering the problem by cutting down almost 2.5 million trees daily, just in the US (4). As you can predict, a solution to deforestation and the amount of greenhouse gasses can be combatted by planting trees. Together, if everyone planted a single tree today, the carbon dioxide level would decrease by 6% (5), from something so simple.
By learning not only how to slow the problem, but also how to stop the negative effects, coastal cities will have a more positive experience regarding sea levels. With people evacuating, utilities being destructed, and lives being lost, (6) flooding proves to be a crucial effect to prevent, which we can do by helping coastal cities to take precautions. To combat the effects, things like flood-safe buildings and escape routes can be funded and created, something inlanders have an impact on despite their distance. Those who live near communities in danger of flooding can also take volunteer opportunities to combat
the issue and to assist their fellow citizens. Or, they can plant trees, which help with flood control from storm surges, and greenhouse gas reduction. Half of all deaths from hurricanes in the Atlantic ocean were caused by storm surges (7) and storm surges are caused by water rising. This is when water is pushed onto land by high wind speeds, like those in hurricanes, which are also more likely to occur with high water levels. The possibility of dangerous surges also increases with sea levels, as it’s easier for the water to be pushed onto land, causing flooding.
Inland citizens don’t see water rising’s effects, and some aren’t even aware of the impact it has on other’s lives. But, if we don’t take action, our coastal neighbors will suffer. We must educate ourselves on how to help them, knowing our actions spark a chain reaction that can lead to finding solutions to bigger problems. We don’t have to dedicate our entire lives to the cause, or change every aspect of our routines, but when everyone educates themselves and makes small changes, someone in a coastal area will live a better life, thanks to our teamwork and resilience. When we zoom in on the small actions necessary to lower sea levels and to prevent unsafe effects, the big picture of water rising will change for the better.
Allain, Rhett. If Each of Us Planted a Tree, Would It Slow Global Warming?https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-sea-level. 2019. Website.
Kelleher, Kevin. Melting Arctic Ice Adds 14,000 Tons of Water Per Second to Rising Sea Levels, Study Says. https://fortune.com/2018/12/27/melting-arctic-ice-adds-14000-tons-water-second-rising-sea-levels-study/#:~:text=BriefingArctic%20Circle-,Melting%20Arctic%20Ice%20Adds%2014%2C000%20Tons%20of%20Water%20Per,Rising%20Sea%20Levels%2C%20Study%20Says&text=Melting%20Arctic%20ice%20from%20glaciers,a%20recent%20scientific%20survey%20found. 27 December 2018. Website.
Lindsey, Rebecca. “Climate Change: Global Sea Level.” Climate.gov. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions. January 25 2021. Website.
Nunez, Christina. Sea level rise, explained. https://www.reference.com/science/many-trees-cut-down-day-42bf5e6262028f2d#:~:text=This%20equates%20to%20about%202.47,maintain%20the%20health%20of%20forests. 19 February 2019. Website.
Rappaport, Edward. Fatalities in the United States from Atlantic Tropical Cyclones: New Data and Interpretation. https://www.wired.com/story/plant-a-tree-for-climate-change/#:~:text=This%20says%20that%20if%20every,percent%20from%20the%20current%20level. 1 March 2014. Website.
Refrence. How Many Trees Are Cut Down Each Day? https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/sea-level-rise-1#:~:text=Consequences,fish%2C%20birds%2C%20and%20plants. 7 April 2020. Website.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/bams/95/3/bams-d-12-00074.1.xml#:~:text=Storm%20surge%20was%20responsible%20for,of%20the%20fatalities%20(49%25). 14 April 2021. Website.
As a teen living in Iowa, we aren't taught in school about sea levels, or more importantly, our relationship with the ocean. Because of this, many have not taken the necessary steps to maintain a healthy ocean. I decided to do what I can to spread knowledge on the matter, which I believe will lead to actions being taken and positive changes being made. Learning about we can help our environment gave me hope; hope that by spreading awareness, change will come. It amazed me how ordinary, daily choices can alter out planet for the better. I chose a mosaic for my art piece, representing our small choices making up the big picture, impacting something bigger than any one of us. My goal is that my art can deepen someone's understanding of their impact on sea levels, prompting them to take action and educate others, with a beautiful chain reaction ending in safer seas. Things like planting trees, and conserving energy are now implemented in my daily life, and my hope is that these actions are in other's routines, too, thanks to education and teamwork.